Anatomy and physiology of the skin

The Skin:

The skin is the largest organ of the body.  There are several skin functions to protect us from external elements:

  • Prevents the absorption of harmful substances
  • Helps regulate body temperature
  • Acts as a barrier to keep out infection
  • Melanin in the skin protects us from the harmful effects of UV light
  • Provides a waterproof coating that prevents us from becoming dehydrated
  • Provides an energy reserve in the form of stored fat

The skin covers the entire surface of the body and weighs approximately one ninth of our total body weight.  It is thinnest on the eyelids and thickest on the soles of the feet.  The skin is continually shedding and renewing itself.  We can feel sensations such as pain or heat because of sensors in the skin which transmit messages to the brain and outer skin plays a major role in maintaining body temperature and in protecting the body from harm

The skin varies in colour due to age, race inherited factors and external factors such as climate.  The skin can vary in thickness depending upon where it is on the body, i.e., eye and lip skin is very thin whereas hand and foot skin is thicker.  The thickness of the skin can affect its colour, for example thin skin will look more pink as the blood in subcutaneous tissue will show through, whereas thicker skin, such as on the soles of the feet, tends to look yellow.

There are also medical reasons for skin colour to change such as with rashes where the skin will be more red, heart or lung conditions which will turn the skin blue, or jaundice which will yellow the skin.

With age and sun damage the skin will lose some of its elasticity due to lack of collagen, at which time wrinkles will appear.  The skin secretes an oily substance known as ‘sebum’ which will help to maintain the skin’s suppleness, although there are no sebaceous glands on the palms of the hand or soles of the feet.

The skin is made up of three layers called:

  • Epidermis
  • Dermis
  • Subcutaneous


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