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The Facts About Human Skin

May 29, 2008
How important is healthy skin? Considering that the skin is your body's largest organ, it's very important! We take care of our skin so that it can look smooth and beautiful. However, our skin has a more important role than making us look good: it acts as a barrier between us and our environment.

It protects us from the harmful rays of the sun, keeps us hydrated by preventing fluid loss from our body, and produces vitamin D (with the help of the sun) to maintain strong bones. The skin also plays an important role in maintaining our body temperature. Healthy skin goes hand in hand with a healthy lifestyle.

The skin is made up of 3 layers: the epidermis (outer layer), the dermis (middle layer), and the hypodermis (bottom layer).

The three layers of skin.

Although the epidermis is paper-thin, it is made up of 5 layers. Cells in the lower epidermis (basal cells) divide constantly and continuously move up towards the surface layer. During this process, the cells flatten and accumulate keratin, which is a protein found in hair.

As they reach the outermost layer of the epidermis (stratum corneum), the squamous cells (flat cells that look like fish scales) die and can flake off. Melanocytes are also found in the epidermis and produce a pigment called melanin, which absorbs UV light. Excessive light can cause these cells to enlarge, resulting in freckles and discolourations.

The dermis is where collagen, elastin, and reticular fibres are found. These proteins give skin its strong yet elastic properties. This layer makes up the active part of the skin, holding the hair, muscles, blood supply, oil and sweat glands, and nerve receptors.

The hypodermis is made up of fat tissue. This forms an insulating layer and reduces heat loss from the body. It also holds larger blood vessels, nerves, the roots of oil glands, and hair follicles, and it serves as an energy store.

All the components of the skin work together to carry out its important functions. When damage occurs to these intricate structures, it is not always immediately visible. For example, excessive exposure to the sun may give skin a bronze glow today but can lead to wrinkles and sagging skin later on in life. The goal is to take care of your skin now to maintain healthy skin throughout your life!

The sun emits harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which can result in skin damage ranging from freckling to cancers. There are essentially three types of UV radiation: UVA and UVB, which penetrate the ozone layer, and UVC, which is the most harmful but for now is absorbed by the ozone layer so does not reach the earth's surface.

UV radiation causes damage to the epidermis (the outer layer of the skin) through its effects on connective tissue, DNA, and increased production of free radicals. Free radicals are oxygen-containing molecules that are normally produced and cleared by the body, but are damaging in excessive amounts.

UVA radiation is responsible for photoaging, which is skin damage due to excessive sun exposure. Photoaging describes damage such as premature wrinkling, dry rough leathery skin, freckles, and discolorations (solar lentigines, or age spots) on the face, back of hands, arms, chest, and upper back.

Both UVA and UVB radiation contribute to the risk of developing actinic keratosis (a precancerous condition) and skin cancer. Cancers develop due to damaged DNA and, if not detected early, can result in disfigurement and even death.

Tanning and sunburns are two visible signs of sun damage. Many people think that they are not serious and are part of enjoying the season. However, the damage accumulates over time and results in photoaging or skin cancers. It is well known that fair-skinned individuals have less skin pigmentation and are at a higher risk of sun damage. However, even darker-skinned people are not exempt from developing skin cancers and should also protect their skin from the sun's harmful rays.

So the general rule is that everybody needs to use some form of sun protection!

SPF stands for sun protection factor. The SPF rates a product's ability to protect an average user's skin from sunburn when the product is used properly. When used properly, an SPF 15 sunscreen protects the skin from 93% of UVB radiation; SPF 30 and SPF 45 sunscreens provide more than 96% protection from UVB.

Even though they block the harmful UV rays, sunscreens do wear off, so it is very important to reapply them frequently. Make sure you use the correct amount of sunscreen, too. Adults should use about 35 mL (about one ounce) of sunscreen to cover their entire body. Generally, a 250 mL (about 8 ounce) bottle should last a family of 4 less than a week.

To take care of your skin effectively, you need to identify your skin type. When choosing how to cleanse and treat your skin, remember that what works for someone else will not necessarily work for you. Based on the characteristics of your skin, skin types can be grouped into one of the following:

Dry skin: Often feels uncomfortably tight and rough. For this particular skin type, avoid cleansing with hot water and using soaps and alcohol-based products. Cleansing creams or cloths will help infuse moisture into the skin without stripping away natural surface oils. It is important to moisturize your face with lotions or creams to keep your skin hydrated and looking its best!

Oily skin: Skin may appear shiny with dilated pores and is prone to blackheads and pimples. Use a mild cleanser twice a day. If acne breakouts are a problem, talk to your dermatologist to help you select a medicated face wash best suited for your skin. Don't make the mistake of over-scrubbing acne-prone skin - it will worsen the problem.

After cleansing, follow up with an astringent to remove the excess oil. Moisturize with a light oil-free product specifically formulated for oily skin types. Avoid using any type of oil-based cosmetics on your skin, as they may clog pores and promote pimples and blackheads.

Combination skin: People with combination skin have areas that are dry and areas that are oily. The nose, forehead, and chin tend to be the oily zones. There are many products on the market that can be applied to both areas of your face.

Normal skin: People with "normal" skin have a pinkish, glowing complexion with hard-to-see pores. This type of skin maintains a balance between dryness and oiliness. As this skin presents no particular problems, its water/oil balance does not need adjustment - just ongoing maintenance. Therefore, the use of a skin care product that helps the skin keep its water balance is recommended.

People with sensitive skin should always use beauty aids that are mild. Always test the product on a small area on your arm to see how your skin reacts before using it on your face. Don't assume that a "natural source" product doesn't contain ingredients that can irritate your skin.

Try cleansing with gentle, milky, water-soluble lotions and tepid water. Avoid face-cleansing gels or soaps that contain drying alcohol, preservatives, or strong-acting acid, since these ingredients can irritate the skin. Do not use exfoliating scrubs or astringents on sensitive skin, because they can cause inflammation.
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