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Your skin is the largest organ of your body. It covers the outside of the body, but is also found inside, covering internal organs and lining passageways (this skin is called the mucous membrane).
The skin has many functions:
- It protects the body and its internal organs from injury and is a barrier to infection and parasites.
- It helps control the loss of water, and body temperature.
- Waste substances are released as salts through the sweat glands.
- It conducts the sensations of touch, heat, cold, and pain.
- It stores food and water, and makes and stores vitamin D.
The skin is made up of three main layers. The surface layer is called the epidermis. The layer beneath is the dermis, and below that is the fat layer. These layers have been labeled in the diagram below.
Skin cancer begins in the epidermis.
For a more detailed diagram of the skin, click on the link to open the Wikipedia website: (It will open in a new window). http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/34/Skin.jpg
The epidermis contains cells that are constantly dividing at the deeper levels, allowing the skin to grow, renew and repair itself. The cells push upwards, stacking up to the skin’s surface. As they rise, they become scalier, harder and flatter. The changing cells create several layers to the epidermis.
- The outermost layer of the epidermis is called the stratum corneum, or horny layer, and is made up of skin cells that have died and that will be shed. This is the layer that mostly makes the skin waterproof.
- The next layer is called the prickle cell layer. It is a strengthening layer in the skin, and includes cells that help the body to fight infection. The prickle cell layer contains squamous cells called suprabasal keratinocytes, or prickle cells. These cells can divide, allowing the skin to grow and repair itself.
- The lowest layer is the basal cell layer, where a type of squamous cell called basal keratinocytes are found. These cells continually divide and push upward. As they rise, they are modified, and replace the cells of each of the other layers of the epidermis as they die. Between the basal cells are the melanocytes. These are the cells that produce the melanin pigment, which gives skin its colour and protects it from the ultraviolet rays of the sun. The pigment is transferred to neighbouring cells and absorbed into all the other layers of the epidermis. Melanocytes may also have a role in fighting infection.
A mole (naevus, beauty spot) is the result of an overgrowth of melanocytes.
The dermis is the sensitive layer of the skin, containing the nerve endings. It is much thicker than the epidermis. It is made up mostly of connective tissue (collagen), which binds and gives support, flexibility and strength to the skin. The dermis carries the blood vessels and lymph vessels. The roots of our hair are in the dermis. So are the oil glands which make our skin moisturised, and the sweat glands, which help to keep us cool. The sweat reaches the surface through tiny openings called pores, and oil (sebum) is secreted into the hair follicle ducts.
The epidermis and dermis are between 0.2 millimetres and four millimetres thick, depending on the part of the body.
The fat layer
The fat layer is the deepest layer of the skin. It keeps body heat in and helps to protect the internal organs.