Skin Anatomy and Physiology Part 1

The Skin

Although the skin is less complicated than most other organs, it is still one of the most architecturally advanced of all. It covers the entire body and accounts for about 7% of our total body weight, making it the largest organ. It has been estimated that every square centimeter of skin contains 70 cm of blood vessels, 55 cm of nerves, 100 sweat glands, 15 oil glands, 230 sensory receptors, and about 500,000 cells that are constantly dying and being replaced.

The skin, which varies in thickness from 1.5 to 4 mm or more in different regions of the body, has two distinct layers. The outer layer is the epidermis, a thick membranous tissue. Located below the epidermis is the dermis, a fibrous connective tissue. And, just below the dermis lies a fatty layer called the hypodermis. Although the hypodermis is usually not thought of as part of the skin or integumentary system, it shares some of the skins functions and will be discussed in this chapter.

The skin performs many functions, most but not all of are protective. It cushions and insulates the deeper body organs and protects the entire body from physical damage like bumps and cuts. The skin also offers helpful protection form harmful chemicals, thermal damage (heat and cold), and invading bacteria. The epidermis is waterproof, preventing unnecessary loss of water across the body surface. The skins rich abundance of blood flow and sweat glands regulate the loss of heat from the body, helping to control body temperature. The skin also acts as a mini-excretory system: Urea, salts, and water are lost as sweat. Skin also reduces ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun, and its epidermal cells use these UV rays to synthesize vitamin D. Finally, the skin contains sensory organs called sensory receptors that are associated with nerve endings. By sensing touch, pressure, temperature, and pain, these receptors keep us aware of what is happening at the body surface. As this chapter describes the anatomy of the skin, we will explore its function in greater detail.

HYPODERMIS

Just below the skin is the fatty layer of the hypodermis (“below the skin” in
Greek). This layer is also called the subcutaneous layer (“below the skin” in Latin). It consists of both areolar and adipose connective tissue, although the adipose tissue
normally dominates. Besides storing fat, the hypodermis anchors the skin to the underlying structures (mostly to muscles) and allows the skin to slide relatively freely over those structures. Sliding skin protects us by ensuring most blows just glance off our bodies. The hypodermis is also and insulator: Since fat is a poor conductor of heat, it helps prevent heat loss from the body. The hypodermis thickens distinctly when one gains weight, but this thickening occurs in different body areas in the two sexes. In females, subcutaneous fat accumulates first in the thighs and breasts, whereas in males it first accumulates in the front abdominal area.

DERMIS

The dermis, the second major layer of the skin, is a strong, flexible connective tissue. The cells in the dermis are identical to those of any connective tissue in the body.
The dermis binds the body together like a body stocking. Tattooing involves multiple punctures of the skin to instill pigment into the dermis.

The dermis is richly supplied with nerve fibers and blood vessels. The blood vessels of the dermis are so extensive that it can hold 5% of all blood in the body. When organs, such as exercising muscles, need more blood, the nervous system constricts the blood vessel located in the dermis. This shunts more blood into the general circulation, making it available to the muscles and other organs. On the other hand, the dermal blood vessels swell with warm blood on hot days, allowing heat to radiate from the body creating a cooling effect.

The collagen fibers of the dermis give skin its strength and resilience. Thus, many jabs and scrapes usually do not penetrate the tough dermis. Furthermore, elastic fibers in
the dermis provides the skin with stretch and recoil properties.

The deeper part of the dermis is responsible for markings on our skin surface called flexure lines. These lines are easily observed as the deep skin creases on the palms. Flexure lines result from a continual folding of the skin, often over joints, where
the dermis attaches tightly to underlying structures. Flexure lines are also visible on the wrists, soles of the feet, fingers, and toes.

EPIDERMIS

The epidermis contains four distinct types of cells: keratinocytes, melanocytes, Merkel cells, and Langerhans cells. Keratinocytes are by far the most abundant cells of
these, so we will discuss them first. We will discuss the other types of cells later as we examine the various layers of the epidermis.

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