Skin

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For alternate meanings see skin (disambiguation)
Diagram of the layers of human skin

In zootomy and dermatology, skin is an organ of the integumentary system composed of a layer of tissues that protect underlying muscles and organs. As the interface with the surroundings, it plays the most important role in protecting against pathogens. Its other main functions are insulation and temperature regulation, sensation and vitamin D and B synthesis.

Skin has pigmentation, provided by melanocytes, which absorbs some of the potentially dangerous radiation in sunlight. It also contains DNA repair enzymes which reverse UV damage, and people who lack the genes for these enzymes suffer high rates of skin cancer. One form predominantly produced by UV light, malignant melanoma, is particularly invasive, causing it to spread quickly, and can often be deadly. Human skin pigmentation varies among populations in a striking manner. This has sometimes led to the classification of people(s) on the basis of skin color. See the article on human skin color.

Mammalian skin often contains hairs, which in sufficient density is called fur. The hair mainly serves to augment the insulation the skin provides, but can also serve as a secondary sexual characteristic or as camouflage. On some animals the skin is very hard and thick, and can be processed to create leather. Reptiles and fish have hard protective scales on their skin for protection, and birds have hard feathers, all made of tough β-keratins. Amphibian skin is not a strong barrier to passage of chemicals. A frog sitting in an anesthetic solution will quickly go to sleep.

Damaged skin will try to heal by forming scar tissue, often giving rise to discoloration and depigmentation of the skin.

The skin is often known as "the largest organ in the human body". This applies to exterior surface, as it covers the body, appearing to have the largest surface area of all the organs. Moreover, it applies to weight, as it weighs more than any single internal organ, accounting for about 15 percent of body weight. For the average adult human, the skin has a surface area of between 1.5-2.0 square metres, most of it is between 2-3 mm thick. The average square inch of skin holds 650 sweat glands, 20 blood vessels, 60,000 melanocytes, and more than a thousand nerve endings.

The skin on a person's face is seen by people that person interacts with. For some people, therefore, facial skin care is of particular importance, and they often use cosmetics to deal with the appearance of the face and condition of the skin, such as those for pore control and black head cleansing.

Layers

Skin is composed of the epidermis and the dermis. Below these layers lies the hypodermis(subcutaneous adipose layer), which is not usually classified as a layer of skin.

The outermost epidermis is consists of stratified squamous epithelium with an underlying basement membrane. It contains no blood vessels, and is nourished by diffusion from the dermis. The main type of cells which make up the epidermis are keratinocytes, with melanocytes and Langerhans cells also present. The epidermis can be further subdivided into the following strata (beginning with the outermost layer): corneum, lucidum, granulosum, spinosum, basale. Cells are formed through mitosis at the innermost layers. They move up the strata changing shape and composition as they differentiate, inducing expression of new types of keratin genes. They eventually reach the corneum and become sloughed off (desquamation). This process is called keratinization and takes place within about 30 days. This layer of skin is responsible for keeping water in the body and keeping other harmful chemicals and pathogens out.

Blood capillaries are found beneath the epidermis, and are linked to an arteriole and a venule. Arterial shunt vessels may bypass the network in ears, the nose and fingertips.

The dermis lies below the epidermis and contains a number of structures including blood vessels, nerves, hair follicles, smooth muscle, glands and lymphatic tissue. It consists of loose connective tissue otherwise called areolar connective tissue - collagen, elastin and reticular fibres are present. Erector muscles, attached between the hair papilla and epidermis, can contract, resulting in the hair fibre pulled upright and consequentially goose bumps. The main cell types are fibroblasts, adipocytes (fat storage) and macrophages. Sebaceous glands are exocrine glands which produce sebum, a mixture of lipids and waxy substances: lubrication, water-proofing, softening and antibactericidal actions are among the many functions of sebum. Sweat glands open up via a duct onto the skin by a pore.

The dermis can be split into the papillary and reticular layers. The papillary layer is outermost and extends into the dermis to supply it with vessels. It is composed of loosely arranged fibres. Papillary ridges make up the lines of the hands. The reticular layer is more dense and is continuous with the hypodermis. It contains the bulk of the structures (such as sweat glands). The reticular layer is composed of irregularly arranged fibres and resists stretching.

The hypodermis is not part of the skin, and lies below the dermis. Its purpose is to attach the skin to underlying bone and muscle as well as supplying it with blood vessels and nerves. It consists of loose connective tissue and elastin. The main cell types are fibroblasts, macrophages and adipocytes (the hypodermis contains 50% of body fat). Fat serves as padding and insulation for the body.

Types

Skin can be dividided into thick and thin types. Thick skin is present on the soles of the feet and the palms of the hands. It has a larger stratum corneum with a higher keratin content. Thick skin does not grow hair; its purpose is to help grip. Thin skin is present on the bulk of the body and has a smaller stratum corneum and fewer papillae ridges. It has hair and is softer and more elastic. The characteristics of the skin, including sensory nerve density and the type of hair, vary with location on the body.

Functions

  1. Protection: an anatomical barrier between the internal and external environment in bodily defense; Langerhans cells in the skin are part of the adaptive immune system
  2. Sensation: contains a variety of nerve endings that react to heat, cold, touch, pressure, vibration, and tissue injury.
  3. Heat regulation: The skin contains sebaceous glands and smooth erector pili muscles.
  4. Storage and synthesis: acts as a storage centre for lipids and water, as well as a means of synthesis of vitamin D and B by action of UV on certain parts of the skin. This synthesis is linked to pigmentation, with darker skin producing more vitamin B than D, and vice versa.
  5. Excretion: The concentration of urea is 1/130th less than that of urine. Excretion by sweating is at most a secondary function to temperature regulation.
  6. Absorption: Oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide can diffuse into the epidermis in small amounts. In addition, medicine can be administer through the skin, by ointments or by means of adhesive patch, such as the nicotine patch or iontophoresis. The skin is an important site of transport in many other organisms.

Hygiene

The skin must be regularly cleaned. Unless enough care is taken it will become cracked or inflamed. Unclean skin favors the development of pathogenic organisms. The constantly peeling off dead cells of the epidermis mix with the secretions of the sweat and sebaceous glands and the dust found on the skin to form a filthy layer on its surface. If not washed away the dirt and dead skin slurry begins to decompose emitting a foul smell. Functions of the skin are disturbed when it is dirty and it becomes more easily damaged. The release of antibacterial compounds decreases. Dirty skin is more prone to develop infections. Cosmetics should be used carefully because these may cause allergic reactions. Each season requires suitable clothing in order to facilitate the evaporation of the sweat. Sunlight, water and air play an important role in keeping the skin healthy.

The skin supports its own ecosystems of microorganisms, including yeasts and bacteria, which cannot be removed by any amount of cleaning. In general these organisms keep one another in check and are part of a healthy skin. When the balance is disturbed, e.g., by antibiotics which kill bacteria, there may be an overgrowth and infection by yeasts. The skin is continuous with the inner epithelial lining of the body at the orifices, each of which supports its own complement of flora.

Aging and disease

As skin ages, it becomes thinner and more easily damaged. Intensifying this effect is the decreasing ability of skin to heal itself. Skin sagging is caused by the fall in elasticity. Skin also receives less blood flow and lower gland activity.

In medicine, the branch concerned with the skin is called dermatology.

The skin is subject to constant attack from without, and so can be afflicted by numerous ailments, such as:

Tumors:

Others:

See also

External links