How important is healthy skin? Considering that the skin is your body's largest organ, it's very important! We take care of our skin so that it can look smooth and beautiful. However, our skin has a more important role than making us look good: it acts as a barrier between us and our environment. It protects us from the harmful rays of the sun, keeps us hydrated by preventing fluid loss from our body, and produces vitamin D (with the help of the sun) to maintain strong bones. The skin also plays an important role in maintaining our body temperature. Healthy skin goes hand in hand with a healthy lifestyle.

The skin is made up of 3 layers: the epidermis (outer layer), the dermis (middle layer), and the hypodermis (bottom layer).

The three layers of skin.

(Image courtesy of the Canadian Cancer Society)

Although the epidermis is paper-thin, it is made up of 5 layers. Cells in the lower epidermis (basal cells) divide constantly and continuously move up towards the surface layer. During this process, the cells flatten and accumulate keratin, which is a protein found in hair. As they reach the outermost layer of the epidermis (stratum corneum), the squamous cells (flat cells that look like fish scales) die and can flake off. Melanocytes are also found in the epidermis and produce a pigment called melanin, which absorbs UV light. Excessive light can cause these cells to enlarge, resulting in freckles and discolourations.

The dermis is where collagen, elastin, and reticular fibres are found. These proteins give skin its strong yet elastic properties. This layer makes up the active part of the skin, holding the hair, muscles, blood supply, oil and sweat glands, and nerve receptors.

The hypodermis (also called subcutaneous layer) is made up of fat tissue. This forms an insulating layer and reduces heat loss from the body. It also holds larger blood vessels, nerves, the roots of oil glands, and hair follicles, and it serves as an energy store. This layer varies in thickness in different parts of the body, the greatest in abdomen and buttocks.

All the components of the skin work together to carry out its important functions. When damage occurs to these intricate structures, it is not always immediately visible. For example, excessive exposure to the sun may give skin a bronze glow today but can lead to wrinkles and sagging skin later on in life. The goal is to take care of your skin now to maintain healthy skin throughout your life.