Are you giving your skin the love it deserves? It is, after all your largest organ, and the most visible one. Your skin is your front line defense against chemicals and harmful micro-organisms in the external environment. This amazing organ acts as a shield of protection against the elements. That’s why you shiver when you’re cold, and sweat when your body is overheated. What is skin composed of?
Encompassing a total area of approximately 20 square feet, your skin not only regulates body temperature, but enables you to feel the marvelous sensations of touch. The structure and function of the skin, along with its numerous components, is quite fascinating.
Table of Contents
The Skin Is Made Up Of Three Layers
There are three basic layers that provide the framework for the skin. There’s the epidermis, or outermost layer, the dermis, the middle layer comprised of connective tissue, and the hypodermis, also called the subcutaneous fat layer or superficial fascia. Each layer has its own unique structure and function. Let’s dig deeper into it:
The outermost layer of the epidermis is called the stratum corneum. It is a layer consisting mainly of dead skin cells that are shed periodically, and replaced by new cells. The epidermis acts as a barrier against the external world. In fact, “epi” means “upon” or “over.” This outer layer comes in a variety of tones and pigments, as is demonstrated by the various nationalities and races seen around the world. Melanocytes, or pigment-producing cells, are responsible for the color of skin.
Composed of five layers of epithelial cells, the epidermis is avascular, meaning no blood vessels exist within this layer. The epidermis is referred to as thin skin as is the dermis and hypodermis. Thick skin is only found on the soles of the feet, and palms of the hands. This type of skin contains specialized cells that function as part of the immune system.
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This middle layer of skin connects the epidermis to the hypodermis. It is comprised of connective tissue, sweat glands, hair follicles, nerves, and blood and lymph vessels. Without these components, you wouldn’t be able to sweat, feel pleasure and pain, grow hair, or produce oil. The dermis is composed of two layers of connective tissue, including collagen and elastin, both made by fibroblasts.
Elastin and collagen are the primary structural proteins responsible for skin strength, plumpness, and elasticity. They are also the two proteins associated with aging. As their production declines, signs of aging start to appear in the form of wrinkles, sagging, uneven skin tone, and a dull complexion.
There are two layers within the dermis, the papillary layer and the lower reticular layer, both composed of connective tissue. Think of the dermis as the foundation of the skin. It doesn’t function on its own, and is in constant communication with the epidermis.
The hypodermis is the third, and deepest layer, of the skin. It is composed of connective tissue and fat, and resides just below the dermis. The hypodermis is responsible for attaching the dermis to the bones and muscles via the fascia, and is highly vascularized, meaning it contains a lot of blood vessels. It plays an important role in insulating the body, and regulating body temperature. The adipose tissue, contained within this layer, protects the muscles and bones against falls and injuries thanks to it’s ability to absorb shock.
What Causes The Skin To Age
Aging is the breakdown of the underlying tissues in the skin. A variety of factors influence this breakdown, including sun exposure, dietary habits, and genetics.
The effects of gravity and muscle movement in the face are also factors. Now that we know more about the layers of the skin, what changes occur within these layers that cause the skin to age?
The Outer Layer
The epidermis is self-renewing and consists of five layers. These layers function as a whole to protect, repair, and maintain the skin’s integrity. With age, the rate at which old cells are sloughed off decreases, and new cells take longer to be replaced. This process causes the skin to become rougher and less youthful. Melanocytes, those pigment-producing cells I referred to above, decrease with age.
This can lead to changes in skin tone, formation of dark spots, and an uneven and blotchy-looking complexion. The epidermis thins with age, causing the skin to become more fragile. This can mean more cuts and scrapes as one ages. Immune messengers, or Langerhan cells, decrease in number as well, affecting immunity and potentially causing an increase in skin infections, and possibly even skin cancer.
The take home message is to protect your skin during all decades of your life. Wear sunscreen, or cover up while sun bathing, don’t smoke, and exfoliate regularly to slough off dead skin cells. Your appearance will thank you.
[Read More: How Often Should You Exfoliate?]
The Middle Layer
Aging, think fine lines, sagging, and wrinkles, takes place within the dermis. This layer affects aging as it too thins over time, producing less collagen. Elastin, that remarkable protein that makes the skin elastic, also declines with age. It’s the same concept, as when a pair of pants has to be fixed, because the waistband has lost its elasticity. This same process happens in the skin, leading to a lack of firmness and resiliency.
Within the dermis, both the sebaceous glands and the sweat glands, slow production of sebum and sweat respectively. This double whammy leads to increasingly drier skin as a person ages.
The communication between the dermis and the epidermis slows with age. This impedes circulation, with fewer nutrients being delivered to the outer layers of the skin. Inadequate nutrition accelerates the aging process.
Skin Cancer Occurs Within The Dermis
Tumors can grow within the dermis, whereas, skin cancer occurs within the epidermis. We think of sun protection being relevant only to the epidermis, but this reasoning is faulty. Protecting the dermal layer of the skin is just as important because rays from the sun are damaging to both collagen and elastin, the skin’s support network. In fact, wrinkles and deep lines and folds occur within the dermis.
Hyaluronic acid (HA), a molecule responsible for retaining moisture in the skin, diminishes with age. HA is a glycosaminoglycan, a long-chained sugar, naturally produced in the body. It is responsible for lubrication, hydration, repair, and protection. A reduction in HA, along with a depletion in fat cells, leads to a lack of volume, firmness, pliability, and other visible signs of aging. You can see why HA is a popular injectable filler used in the beauty and cosmetics industry.
The Inner Layer
The inner-most layer of skin, the hypodermis, lies just above the muscles. It is the main storage site of adipose tissue, lovingly known as fat. It is important for storing fat-soluble vitamins, along with hormones like estrogen and testosterone. Fat is an essential energy source in times of famine, it protects the bones and muscles, and provides mobility to the skin.
Like the epidermis and dermis, the hypodermis thins with age. This negatively affects collagen production, and causes the effects of gravity to become more pronounced. The hypodermis begins to atrophy over time as well, and this shows up as sagging skin, and changes in contouring.
One of my favorite anti-aging tools to stimulate circulation, ramp up collagen, and reduce puffiness, is Ashley Black’s range of fascia blasting tools. I’ve used this set for years now, and love it so much that I keep one blaster in my car at all times. I blast every morning, and while I’m driving, and no way am I leaving my tools home when I travel.
These blasters are the perfect size to use on both your face and body. The ultimate in fascia blasting is the paddle blaster with 36 claws. You’ll also want to check out the FaceBlaster gift set, which would be an amazing Christmas or birthday gift.
Watch the video below to see how to use it:
The skin is an incredible organ comprised of three different layers, each with its specific form and function. The epidermis, the most visible layer, is vital for protecting the body from the elements and environmental toxins. The dermis, with its layers of collagen and elastic, keep the skin looking youthful and resilient. The deepest layer, the hypodermis, plays an important role in cushioning and protecting the bones and muscles.
Each of these layers play a part in how the skin ages. As the skin thins over time, the productions of collagen slows, melanocytes become fewer in number, glands produce less moisture, and circulation is impeded, causing the skin to look more aged and less supple. Be kind to your skin. It’s the single most significant factor, of how young or old you’ll look, as you age!
Did you know your skin had so many layers? Let me know in the comments:)