Five insanely interesting things you didn’t know about your skin

Five insanely interesting things you didn’t know about your skin

The skin is an incredibly important organ and has a multitude of physiological functions. But to keep it simple and interesting. I am going to give you five of the most interesting things about skin from the perspective of a plastic surgeon and a pharmacist.

#1. The skin is an organ, just like the heart, lungs, or kidneys and in fact it is the largest organ in the body. On average an adult’s skin weighs approximately 9 kilograms (or 20lbs) that is 5-15% of an entire person! The next heaviest organ is the liver coming in at only 1.5 kilograms (or 3lbs). If you removed all the skin and stretched it out across the ground it would span approximately 2 sq meters, the same dimensions of a king-sized bed.

#2. The skin acts as a barrier to the world and layers upon layers of skin block bacteria and dirt from entering. The outer layer of skin, the epidermis, produces skin cells as a barrier wall to the outside world. These skin cells will eventually shed off the body each time we scape, bump or brush across an object. From the origin of the cell being formed in the deepest layer of the epidermis and working its way to being shed from the body, the whole process happens over 30 days. An average human sheds approximately 1 million skin cells a day. That’s something like 30 billion skin cells over a lifetime.

#3. You are what you eat. Or alternatively what you don’t eat. There are certain vitamins that are absolutely critical to the strength of your skin. One such vitamin deficiency that wreaks havoc is not enough vitamin C. Lack of vitamin C results in poor crosslinking of collagen molecules and ultimately results in poor wound healing and a deficiency for long enough results in open wounds and bruising from minor trauma. This disaster of a problem, also known as scurvy, plagued sailors as they went months at sea without access to fresh citrus fruits rich in vitamin C. This resulted in numerous deaths and eventually discovery by a British Royal Navy sailor, James Lind, that citrus juice from lemons or limes (high in vitamin C) could reverse and stop the problem. This vital knowledge led the British Royal Navy to have individuals that juiced limes for the boats, which lead to the American slang term of a British person being a “Limey”.

#4. We could get deep into the ways to take care of your skin, but that’s for another article. Suffice to say, cleansing or washing your skin cleans away dirt and grime and keeps it healthy.  The way we accomplish this goal is with soaps and detergents. Soaps come from the term saponification, which is the action of combining fats or oils and alkaline solutions. Amazingly, saponification can be dated back 5,000 years to ancient Mesopotamia around 2800 B.C. At that time people were using animals fats combined with ashes from a fire to create soaps. Detergents are solutions using materials other than fatty acids, which are typically synthetic rather than found in nature. This process started to see a boom in the 1900s with commercial laundry detergents. Most cleansers today are detergents, although descriptors of “soap” or “detergent” are often interchanged.

#5. Finally, something that can save your life. Have you ever wondered why on a sunny day as you lay out and tan that eventually your skin darkens? The answer is melanocytes. These cells in the epidermis produced melanin influencing our skin tone and natural complexion. In response to sunlight’s ultraviolet (UV) rays, melanocytes produce more melanin, which absorb ultraviolet light and decrease damaging free radicals in response to sunlight. Unprotected skin being hit by sunlight is more likely to burn the skin and without proper sun protection overtime is associated development of skin cancers. So make sure you protect your skin with sunscreen!

Hopefully, after this short review of five insanely interesting facts about your skin you have an appreciation for the beauty of your skin’s complexity. Make sure you take care of it, because it makes up most of you, is constantly changing and protecting you from harm.

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