Our skin – layer by layer

As the largest organ in our body, our skin is full of vital functions in each layer. It envelopes us, protects us and helps us breathe and regulate our body temperature.

Text: Janine Radlingmayr; photo: Nathan Dumlao / Unsplash

Without skin, we would be entirely at the mercy of the elements and all of life’s events: cold, rain, heat, injuries, infections, sun and wind. In dangerous situations, it warns us with pain.

Functions of the skin

The surface of the skin, which is around 1.7 square metres in an adult, plays a crucial role in our survival. Three million sweat glands help the body keep cool during physical activity and in hot temperatures by producing up to 10 litres of sweat. As the sweat evaporates, it cools the skin and helps the blood maintain a tolerable temperature.

And the skin doesn’t only react to heat. If the body is cold, tiny muscles at the hair roots in the skin contract to create goosebumps. However, this reflex no longer offers effective protection against the cold, because humans today don’t have enough hair. Our furry ancestors benefited from a cosy layer when their dense body hair was activated.

Structures of the skin layers

From the outside, we only see part of the two billion or so skin cells that protect us. Our skin has a complex design. Every single layer of skin has its own structure: On the surface it is callused, while the dermis is criss-crossed with fine blood vessels, and the subcutis consists of loose connective tissue.

Each of the three layers of the skin have different functions:
The upper layer (epidermis) fends off pathogens. For this to work, the thin, protective horny layer, which is 0.1 mm thick, renews itself completely every four weeks.In contrast, the dermis , with its blood and lymph vessels and millions of nerve cells, is much thicker. It is thanks to this layer that we can feel touch and perceive sensations such as pain, temperature and pressure. It is also the job of the dermis to supply the epidermis with nutrients and oxygen.The fatty tissue in the subcutis stores energy and protects us against cold, pressure and shocks to our internal organs. The sebaceous and sweat glands are also found in this layer. While the sebaceous glands produce the protective film for the skin’s surface, the sweat glands help with heat regulation and the body’s defence.

Our skin is a miracle whose properties are used for a great many functions.

Our skin as a mirror of our soul

The skin also reveals our inner selves. Through our skin we involuntarily communicate with the outside world and express our feelings: we go pale with fear, blush with shame or get red blotches when we’re nervous. Many people see the skin as a mirror of our soul, and it’s true that symptoms of skin diseases can worsen when we’re stressed or worried.

Internal and external skin care

Our skin is our protective shield, so it goes without saying that we have to protect and care for it. Spots and a sallow complexion are evidence that some habits are bad for our skin.

  • Poor nutrition leaves visible traces. Unhealthy eating habits can lead to oily and impure skin, and foods with a high sugar or fat content can damage the skin’s appearance.
  • Drinking plenty of water – at least two litres a day – helps prevent dry skin. The skin will look healthier after just a few days. This doesn’t apply to alcohol, which weakens the connective tissue in the long term and causes the skin to lose its elasticity
  • Staying away from nicotine keeps the skin fresh, because smoking causes the blood vessels to contract, thus impairing the blood supply to the skin. Collagen fibres, which keep the skin elastic, lose their elasticity faster.
  • Eating as much fresh fruit and vegetables as possible such as carrots, tomatoes, broccoli and peppers nourishes the skin from within. A varied and balanced diet automatically supplies the skin with all the vitamins and minerals it needs.
  • Sleep well for a good complexion: While we sleep, regeneration processes take place throughout the body including the skin.
  • Sun, hot water, exhaust fumes and heated air are bad for the skin, so we need to take care of it through regular gentle cleaning and moisturising as necessary. It’s important to pay attention to the individual needs of the skin, so we have to choose the right face care products, apply the right sun protection factor and use the right amount of product.