TABLE OF CONTENTS
We all want beautiful skin, right? No one wants to walk around with their skin looking blotchy, lifeless or like an acne haven. However, for us to get the skin that we will truly love and others admire, we should first seek to understand the foundation of skincare and that is, having a general knowledge of the skin, what it is and how its different layers co-exist, then I believe, we will have a better appreciation of the skin, but most importantly, self. Let’s discuss!
The skin is considered the body’s largest and heaviest organ and comprises of about 650 sweat glands, 20 blood vessels and more than 1,000 nerve endings. The skin makes up around 16% of our body’s weight. Being the body’s outer covering, the skin protects us against heat, light, injury and more so, infections. Most importantly, the skin regulates the body’s temperatures and acts as a reservoir for water, fat and vitamin D, a fat-soluble vitamin, which is essential for the building of strong bones. The skin consists of three (3) main layers, the epidermis, the dermis and the subcutaneous tissue.
The Three (3) Main Layers of the Skin:
- The Epidermis.
- The Dermis.
- The Subcutaneous Tissue.
The epidermis is the outer layer of the skin, the part that we can feel, touch and where those pesky little pimples show up unannounced. It is also that layer which gives the skin its tone. The epidermis can be super thick on most parts of the body such as the palm of your hand and the bottom of the feet and thin elsewhere such as under the eyes and the eyelids.
As such, it is recommended that we treat these delicate areas with care so as to avoid irritations and keep wrinkles at bay. Being the outermost layer, the epidermis does not have any blood supply and so it is kept nourished by the blood that comprises the dermis, the underlayer. Further, the epidermis comprises of four (4) main cells, the keratinocytes or squamous cells, melanocytes, Langerhans and merkel.
Keratinocytes are the most predominant type of cells of the epidermis and the ones that make the protein – keratin. In fact, about 90% of epidermal cells produce keratin. Keratin makes the skin waterproof and tough due to the special fat that it produces; it also helps to produce hair and nails. Remember the saying ‘the skin renews itself every 3-4 weeks? Well, this renewal process takes place at the lower layers of the epidermis – at the keratinocytes. As the keratinocytes cells mature, they lose water and then make their way to the surface of the skin. This then causes the skin to become hard and dead cells are shed. (We shed around 500 million skin cells each day). Dead cells are continuously shed from the epidermis and replaced by new ones. The Keratinocytes also act as a barrier against bacteria, parasites, fungi, viruses, heat, water loss and most importantly, ultraviolet (UV) rays from the
The melanocytes, which are another vital cell of the epidermis is that which produce that all-important melanin which gives our skin its colour and tone. Melanin is the primary determinant of skin colour and behaves differently for all of us. It is initiated by our exposure to ultraviolet rays which causes the skin to darken. Therefore, someone with a darker skin tone is said to produce more melanin than someone that is lighter. However, some people have very little or no melanin synthesis in their bodies, which causes a condition known as albinism. An important feature of melanin is that it protects the skin from micro-organisms such as bacteria and fungi as well as from chemical stresses. Importantly though, melanin is able to block the absorption of about 99.9% of UV rays.
Langerhans is another set of important cells of the epidermis and forms part of the immune system. These cells determine the appropriate adaptive immune response (inflammation or tolerance) by interpreting the micro-environmental context in which they encounter foreign substances.
Finally, the merkel cells. These cells are located in the deepest layer of the epidermis and are the least amount of cells in comparison to the others mentioned. These cells act as sensory receptors and are essential for light touch sensation. Overall, the condition of the epidermis is a clear indicator of how well the skin absorbs moisture as well as how fresh or dull the skin looks and feels. However, the dreaded wrinkles are not formed at this layer, oh no, but rather at skin deep – the Dermis.
The dermis is made up of collagen and elastin in the second layer of the skin and is about 20-30 times thicker than the epidermis. Collagen and elastin are important proteins that give skin its structure, strength, integrity and resilience, which is vital for overall skin health. The dermis also houses the tiny blood vessels called the capillaries as well as the lymph nodes, sebaceous glands, hair follicles, nerve and muscle cells. The blood vessels are responsible for the transportation of oxygen and nutrients while the lymph nodes protect the skin from microorganisms.
The sebaceous glands are of utmost importance as it produces sebum, which is the oily protective substance that lubricates the skin as well as the hair. As such, if the sebaceous glands produce too little sebum, then the skin will become overly dry which will cause it to be more prone to wrinkle. On the other hand, too much sebum can lead to the formation of the dreaded acne.
The Subcutaneous or Hypodermis
The subcutaneous or hypodermis is located beneath the dermis and is the third and innermost layer of the skin. Technically speaking though, the subcutaneous is not a part of the skin. However, it does provide that all-important function of helping to attach the dermis to the body, providing the body with nerves and blood supply. The subcutaneous tissue comprises mainly of fat, connective tissue and elastin which helps the tissue to return to its normal shape after being stretched. Hence the reason you can pinch your skin, and it doesn’t stay pinched, hopefully. Further, the subcutaneous tissue helps to insulate the body and thus regulates the body’s temperature and acts as a padding for bones and muscles.
Here is an illustrative summary of the layers of the skin.
The Effects of Skin Bleaching
Bleaching of the skin has become a widespread phenomenon in the world and Jamaica is no exception. Almost every other man, woman and their grandma is participating in this ‘skin altering’ practice. While the dangers of skin bleaching have been preached, sung and debated, the practice seems to be far from ending. But does one really knows the damage that this practice has on the skin? According to Simmons (1989), the skin is not only the sheet of the body but also the protector between the body and the environment. Therefore, the skin manages the loss of water from the body as well as against the entrants of harmful micro-organisms and radiation from the Sun.
The skin also cushions the body from mechanical shocks as well as regulates its temperature. When one adds substances that are corrosive or those that are intended to alter the natural colour of the skin, it becomes compromised, which of course commences the process of lasting damage. Bleaching or ‘toning’ damages the epidermis and vital components of the dermis which causes it to become thin over time as well as exposes it to irritants, which creates further damage as the skin is no longer able to naturally combat their effects. Also, bleaching can cause swelling of the skin, the formation of dark spots and blotchiness, especially due to the formation of acne. In addition, most of the chemicals that are used in bleaching products such as hydroquinone and mercury, methylparaben, Urea or carbamide, hydrocarbons (benzpyrene) etc, have been incriminated as chemical carcinogens.
Further, due to the depletion of melanin which acts as a barrier to UV rays, the skin becomes susceptible to the development of cancer-related to UV light. As such, the skin is no longer able to withstand the harsh elements of the environment and thus becomes even more vulnerable to infections and skin abrasions. So, is it worth bleaching? Just love your skin and take care of it through a sensible diet, exercise and some of the wonderful topical products that are available with safe ingredients to feel and look your best.
Let’s Sum Up!
Our skin is a wonderful organ and a unique conception of our Creator. The beauty that transcends all skin types sometimes leaves you in awe. The skin is layered for a purpose, as we sometimes use substances that are damaging, but the skin oftentimes endures. The skin is the body’s shield, as it protects it from destructive environmental elements as well as infections and the damaging effects of the ultraviolet rays. However, the practice of changing the colour of the skin is one that should be discouraged at all levels of society. People must be taught to love themselves and thrive to live their purpose, from an early age. However, while the practice of bleaching may continue in the near future and beyond, it is hoped that through knowledge, the practice can be diminished or totally eradicated as we begin to just love the skin we are in! Promise? Right!
You can also learn about some of the ingredients that you need to avoid using on your skin as well as ‘must have’ ingredients to take care of it all year round.
- Oh No! Not on my Skin – Five (5) Skincare Ingredients to carefully examine or just avoid.
- Niacinamide – Another anti-aging powerhouse – Here are Five (5) Reasons why!
- Kumar, V, Abbas, A.K, Fauston, N, Robbins, S.L. and Cotran, R.S. (2005). Cotran pathologic basis of disease, 7th edn.
- Saladin, K.S. (2004). Anatomy and physiology: the unity of form and function, 3rd edn. McGraw
- Simmons, J.V (1989). The science of cosmetics, MacMillan Press, London.
- Montagna, W. (1985). The evolution of human skin. Journal of Human Evolution, 14(1), pp. 3-22. 10.1016/S0047-2484(85)80090-7.