by Vanessa Hrvatin (excerpt)
Skin is a big deal—as the largest organ in the human body, it plays a major role in our overall health and can also cause a lot of grief, with more than 3,000 known skin disorders. Do you know everything there is to know about skin?
Skin is made up of three layers called the epidermis, the dermis, and the hypodermis. Each have an important function when it comes to keeping us healthy. The epidermis acts as a protective barrier by keeping bacteria and other germs from entering the body. Cells in this layer also make up part of the body’s immune system and are critical in producing new skin cells.
The dermis is responsible for producing collagen and elastin proteins, which keep the skin resilient and flexible. There are also sweat glands in this layer which help regulate body temperature, and nerves which give us a sense of touch.
The inner most layer of the skin is largely responsible for protecting muscles and bones by providing a fatty cushion.
No two humans have the exact same skin — it can vary in colour, hydration content, and oil content, says dermatologist Dr. Jaggi Rao.
The reason for this is mostly genetics. For example, Rao says when humans first evolved to live near the equator, they adapted to have less hair – which traps heat – and darker skin – which is less likely to burn – to protect themselves from the sun.
Dermatologists use the Fitzpatrick scale from one to six to classify skin types, with type one being a person with light skin and light eyes, and type six, a person with dark skin and dark eyes. Rao says this scale has practical implications for skin treatment.
“If someone has Fitzpatrick skin type five or six, laser sometimes burns the skin, so we need to keep that in mind when looking at treatment options,” says Rao. “If we’re treating acne, we might do something more aggressive like pills for someone with type five or six skin, whereas a person with type one or two we might treat it with creams.”
Many factors are at play when it comes to acne, the first of which is dead skin cells that build up and clog pores. Another contributor is oil production. According to Rao, some people produce excessive oil which bacteria like to grow on, and overgrowth of bacteria can lead to pimples. In some individuals, a robust immune system can lead to blocked hair follicles which become inflamed, resulting in acne.
Stress, medication, and hormones are also all contributors to break-outs.
Dermatologist Dr. Lisa Kellett says the most important thing for your skin is sun protection which includes sunscreen, hats and sun protective clothing. Applying vitamin C and vitamin A products such as retinol to the skin is also beneficial.
“At the end of the day, I would cleanse my skin using something that isn’t irritating,” says Kellett. “If you tend to have acne or black heads you can use a gentle exfoliating cleanser that’s non foaming. If you have underlying eczema or dermatitis, use a cleanser that’s milder.”
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