Fun Fact: Accounting for 16% of a person’s total weight, our skin is our body’s largest organ. Whoa. *insert any gif you please about blinking in disbelief.
Even so, it’s really easy to forget how dynamic skin really is. When we see the skin’s surface, sometimes it can appear incredibly basic. Let’s take a closer look and discover just how much more is going on in your skin. Hint: it’s more than you might have thought.
*Cue: Bill Nye The Science Guy Theme Song*
SURPRISING SKIN FACT #1:
IT ACTUALLY HAS MORE THAN THREE LAYERS
Perhaps you’re thinking of the primary layers, of which you have three—the epidermis, dermis, and subcutaneous layer (subcutis – the visible version of this is the cuticles where your skin connects to your nails… I just looked too). However, there are numerous layers within both the epidermis and dermis. When you get down beneath the surface there are actually up to 37 layers.
- Basal cell layer
- Squamous cell layer
- Stratum granulosum
- Stratum lucidum
- Stratum corneum made of 10–30 thin layers of skin that are in the process of shedding
The dermis is much thicker than the epidermis, but it has just two layers: the papillary layer and the reticular layer. Side note – this is where your tattoo’s go. Since the ink particles are too big to be broken or consumed by white blood cells, they simply aggregate in the papillary layer just under the epidermis. Visible, but safe from shedding, regrowth, or loss when your skin has completed its entire 6 week cycle (on average).
Subcutis, the deepest portion of the skin, is one single layer. Nothing much to talk about here – the red-headed step-child of this blog.
SURPRISING SKIN FACT #2:
THERE ARE TWO TYPES OF SKIN
You don’t have to be Legolas, with your incredible elf eyes to see that the body has two types of skin; hairy and glabrous skin. Hairy skin (the biggest reason we love Jeff Goldblum or Tom Selleck) contains hair follicles that help regulate body temperature and facilitate perspiration. The vast majority of the body is covered by hairy skin (still lookin’ at you Magnum P.I.). Glabrous skin is hairless and found in areas like all of Justin Beiber or Timothée Chalamet (not complaining). Or more scientifically the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.
One distinct difference between the two types of skin is how they respond to touch (we’ve moved on from the Timothée Chalamet / Tom Selleck). Touch provides more sensory information for glabrous skin, whereas hairy skin receives emotional information through touch (like gooseflesh, or when your hackles raise, or “skin crawling” sensation when we see or feel things we don’t like).
SURPRISING SKIN FACT #3:
90% OF THE SKIN’S THICKNESS IS IN THE DERMIS
The middle portion of the skin is the dermis. Even though it’s only 1.5–4mm thick, it is by far the thickest layer of skin. This is where the skin carries out most of its essential functions, such as storing water, transporting nutrients, or blockin’ out the haters that are gonna hate (thick skin).
However, there are two parts of the epidermis that are about the same thickness as the dermis for functional reasons: the skin on the palms of the hands and bottom of the feet is about 1.5mm thick. More glabrous skin makes for more nerve endings and sensory receptors (less space being taken up by hair follicles and pigment). That’s a very basic and broad reason as to why our hands and feet feel so much and are so sensitive (I just cringed at the thought of stepping on a lego… anyone else?)
SURPRISING SKIN FACT #4:
THERE ARE MILES OF BLOOD VESSELS IN THE SKIN
One of the primary functions of the skin is to circulate blood so that nutrients like vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin) can be transported to the rest of the body. This is done through blood vessels and capillaries in the dermis layer of the skin. The extensive network includes about 11 miles of blood vessels. Another side note – I also got distracted reading that children’s book that was cited, as it was actually quite fascinating. Learned a lot honestly.
SURPRISING SKIN FACT #5:
THERE’S OVER ONE TRILLION BACTERIA ON THE SKIN
The body is a breeding ground for bacteria, many of which are quite beneficial. Being the largest organ that’s exposed to the outside world, it’s only natural that the skin would have a large number of bacteria. However, many people are surprised to learn that the number can exceed one trillion (similarly to learning about the recent stimulus incentive. Both of these facts basically turned me into Roger Rabbit my eyes shot so far out of my head). In total there are over 1,000 bacteria species on the skin at any given time.
Here’s another interesting fact about skin bacteria: body odor doesn’t come from sweat. The smell actually comes from the bacteria that feed off the fatty compounds in sweat.
SURPRISING SKIN FACT #6:
EVERYONE HAS THE SAME NUMBER OF MELANIN-PRODUCING MELANOCYTE CELLS
Skin color is a byproduct of melanin production in the skin. Melanin is produced by skin cells called melanocytes. Every person has roughly the same number of melanocytes, which equates to about 7% of all skin cells. How active the melanocyte cells are determines the darkness of skin, not the number of melanocytes. The more melanin each melanocyte produces the darker the skin will be. When a person is born without melanocyte cells, this causes the condition known as albinism.
Understanding that UVB radiation causes the burning of the epidermis, its counterpart, UVA rays, trigger (or rather help fuel) melanin in producing more melanocytes. Melanin is the body’s way of protecting skin from burning. Darker-skinned people tan more deeply than lighter-skinned people because their melanocytes produce more melanin. But just because a person doesn’t burn does not mean that they’re equivocally protected against skin cancer and other problems. Always remember to wear sunscreen.
Speaking of which –
SURPRISING SKIN FACT #7:
20% OF AMERICANS WILL HAVE SKIN CANCER AT SOME POINT IN THEIR LIVES
The American Academy of Dermatology notes that one in five Americans will get skin cancer during their lifetime. Of those, one in every fifty-eight skin cancer cases is melanoma, the most life-threatening type. While those numbers are low, it’s still a serious concern considering the huge, and ever growing, number of skin cancer cases. Every year there are over one million new cases of skin cancer. Almost every hour of every day, one person dies from melanoma.
Please, all jokes aside, wear your sunscreen.
SURPRISING SKIN FACT #8:
SOME PEOPLE ARE BORN WITHOUT FINGERPRINTS
Back to something a little lighter, and quite awesome honestly. Everyone knows our fingerprints are one of the most identifiable parts of our bodies, and that every fingerprint is unique, but a small portion of the population is born without them. And a small portion of secret agents have them removed. It’s illegal for you to ask me how I know.
The unique ridges embedded in the skin are missing in people that have one of two rare genetic defects. Dermatopathia pigmentosa reticularis (took me five tries to write let alone say, and I have copy and paste) and Naegeli Syndrome are both caused by defects in a protein called keratin 14. These are inherited conditions that are passed down from one generation to the next. Without fingerprints, it can be more difficult to hold on to objects because fingerprints increase friction. Not to mention you have to troubleshoot with Apple and Google to figure out how to unlock your phone – it’s a process.
SURPRISING SKIN FACT #9:
SKIN IS WATERPROOF
There are two types of people in the world, hydrophobic and hydrophilic. Everyone on Earth is the former. The Aliens from Signs are also the former, but just… on a hyperbolic scale. The word “hydro-” means “water.” So, the term “–phobic,” originating from “phobia,” would translate into “fearful of (water).” Hydrophobic molecules and particles, therefore, can be defined as those that do not mix with water – they repel it. On the other hand, hydrophilic molecules are those that interact well with H2O.
One of the many ways skin protects our insides from the outside world is by keeping liquids from penetrating through the epidermis. Skin cells are surrounded by fatty acids, lipids, and ceramides that make them hydrophobic. This unique structure also keeps water from evaporating out of the body. Just as oil doesn’t mix with water, the oil on our skin (hydrophobic by nature) keeps outside water out, and inside water in.
Sometimes, prolonged exposure to water (or even air, dirt, or your pillows) breaks down, rubs off, or washes away these oils. On a cellular level, the cell walls don’t have these same hydrophobic tendencies. They start to absorb water, or resort to hydrophilic tendencies, and then you get those infamously prune-y fingers, or ya know… a breakout.
So, the next time you get angry about a wrinkle or a zit (or weird prune-y bathtub fingers), instead appreciate your skin (and Tom Selleck’s wonderful non-glabrous skin for what it’s worth) for all its wonderful complexity.
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