What’s the largest organ in your body? It’s the one you’re probably most familiar with—because you see it every day. But how much do you really know about your skin?
Most of us don’t give a lot of thought to the biology of our skin, but it can be useful to know a bit about it so we can give it the best possible care. Skin isn’t only the largest organ in our body; it plays a crucial role in sustaining our health, preventing germs and damaging cells like free radicals from penetrating our internal system, while helping to maintaining a good balance of moisture and other beneficial elements. Did you know that approximately 15% of the average woman’s body weight is her skin? That’s about 25-30 pounds. You might want to quit blaming those M&M’s for the number you see on the scale!
The Importance of Layering
Skin is composed of three layers, each with a crucial function.
Stratum corneum: This is the skin’s outermost layer. It’s made up of 10-15 layers of “dead” cells, meaning these cells are no longer actively functioning. But they perform an important job: As a barrier, they’re critical to keeping good things in—like moisture—and bad things out—like UVA/UVB rays and free radicals. Our stratum corneum is constantly being sloughed off. In fact, we exfoliate 600,000 skin cells per hour, or approximately two pounds of cells per year! This means that the very top layer of cells is replaced every day and the entire skin surface is replaced about every 3-4 weeks.
As we approach menopause, the process of cell regeneration slows down, so the body takes longer to slough off old cells. And when they start to accumulate on the surface of the skin, it can look dull, rough, and dry. Exfoliation removes those dead cells to uncover fresh cells beneath and allows moisturizing products to penetrate more easily, which increases their effectiveness. Exfoliating regularly will help keep your skin looking fresh and healthy.
Epidermis: In this layer are the functioning skin cells that turn over or slough off roughly every 30 days. Eventually, they form the stratum corneum. New skin cells are “born” in the intersection between the dermis and the epidermis. They subsequently rise to the surface and become a part of the stratum corneum, or skin barrier, so it’s important to keep these cells as healthy as possible to create a strong barrier. An important function of the epidermal cells is forming melanin, the pigment that gives our skin color or tone. As we age and experience sun damage these cells (melanocytes) can start to malfunction, producing too much melanin, which results in hyperpigmentation, or age spots. That’s why one of the most critical things you can do to ensure even skin tone is to apply sunscreen daily and diligently.
Dermis: The largest component of the skin contains connective tissue (collagen and elastin), hair follicles, and sweat glands. Collagen and elastin provide the foundation of the skin, giving it the firmness and elasticity it needs to function properly. To maintain healthy collagen and elastin you need to be well hydrated and your skin needs to be moisturized.
That’s the basics. When you think about it, your skin is kind of a miracle of science, isn’t it? And really worth looking after, since you’ll be wearing it every day for the rest of your life!