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Our skin is the body’s largest organ. Still, it’s easy to forget how dynamic skin really is because what we see on the surface seems so basic. Take a closer look and you’ll discover there’s much more going on in your skin than you ever imagined.
Surprising Skin Fact #1: It Actually Has More Than Three Layers
The skin has three primary layers—the epidermis, dermis, and subcutaneous layer (subcutis). 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. Subcutis, the deepest portion of the skin, is one single layer.
Surprising Skin Fact #2: There Are Two Types of Skin
Our skin may look all the same, but there are actually two types covering our bodies: hairy skin and glabrous skin. Hairy skin contains hair follicles that help regulate body temperature and facilitate perspiration. The vast majority of the body is covered by hairy skin. Glabrous skin is hairless and found in areas like 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. Touch provides more sensory information for glabrous skin, whereas hairy skin receives emotional information through touch.
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 and transporting nutrients. 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.
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 can be transported to the rest of the body. This is done through blood vessels in the dermis layer of the skin. The extensive network includes about 11 miles of blood vessels.
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 actually 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. 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.
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. Fortunately, only one in 58 skin cancer cases is melanoma, the most life-threatening type. But it is still a serious concern because of the huge 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.
Surprising Skin Fact #8: Some People Are Born Without Fingerprints
Our fingerprints are one of the most identifiable parts of our bodies, but a small portion of the population is born without them. The unique ridges embedded in the skin are missing in people that have one of two rare genetic defects. Dermatopathia pigmentosa reticularis 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.
Surprising Skin Fact #9: Skin is Waterproof
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 waterproof. This unique structure also keeps water from evaporating out of the body.
So, the next time you get angry about a wrinkle or a zit, instead appreciate your skin for all its wonderful complexity.