We often forget an important fact about our skin: it’s an organ. Our largest organ, in fact! Treating our skin well isn’t just about taking care of its surface layers, as this outer layer is only one of many. Having a better understanding of how your skin works is the first step in understanding how to best take care of it.
The Epidermis: Just The Tip of the Iceberg
The top layer of skin, called the epidermis, is the layer we’re most often concerned by. This surface layer — not much thicker than a sheet of paper — is powerful and deeply integral to the correct function and health not only of the rest of the skin, but of the body’s internal organs.
The epidermis is made up of flat squamous cells with basal cells layered on top of them. Squamous cells function as a barrier, while basal cells produce melanin to protect the skin and are consistently multiplying and shedding themselves. Within these layers are lipids, or fatty molecules, that lubricate and protect the skin. This creates a surface seal in conjunction with the squamous cells that protects deeper layers of the skin from environmental damage and infection. The epidermis also regulates the amount of water released from our skin into the environment.
The Dermis: Where the Magic Happens
This next layer is truly the epicenter of our skin. While the epidermis protects, the dermis maintains structure, serving as a base for the intelligent functions of the skin. It’s made up of dense, irregular connective tissues that support the skin, regulate the function of the epidermis, and provide a cushion that gives skin bounce and elasticity.
More importantly, the dermis is where most of our skins’ processes begin. Rich in blood vessels, elastic fibers, and collagen, this key layer maintains correct skin function and nourishment, and contributes to a youthful, healthy appearance. The dermis contains many key structures of the skin including sebaceous glands, which produce sebum, a lubricating substance that assists the epidermis in protecting our skin. Hair follicles, sweat glands, and temperature receptors are also located in the dermis.
The Subcutaneous Layer: Keeping Your Skin Well-Stocked
While this deepest layer is typically address by skincare products, the subcutaneous layer is equally important. You can’t have a delicious pie without a good firm crust, and that’s what the subcutaneous layer functions as: the solid base for healthy skin.
This third layer is made up of fatty tissues, arteries, and veins, which enable blood to flow in and out of the epidermis and dermis to ensure they are properly nourished and cushioned. The subcutaneous layer is also what helps to insulate the body from environmental extremes, providing temperature regulation.