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Surprising Facts About the Largest Organ: The Skin

Curious about the skin? We can help. Here are some facts about our largest organ that might surprise you

Here's everything you wanted to know about the skin you live in

When we think about our organs—which for most of us isn’t often—we think about those dark, squishy, mysterious body parts hidden neatly away inside our body where we don’t have to see them or often consider them. But did you know that our largest organ, the one that literally keeps us from dissolving and evaporating, and tells our brains critical information about the outside world, is on the outside of our bodies? In fact, it’s the only organ that we can physically care for and maintain. Considering that our entire physical being depends on it, it’s probably a good thing that it’s on the outside where we can take good care of it by protecting it from the sun and by taking care of it whenever this important organ shows signs of trouble.

Yes, we are talking about the largest organ in the human body—the skin.

Just How Large Is The Skin?

An average adult carries around about eight pounds of skin on their bodies. Laid flat, human skin covers about 22 square feet. Our skin is made up of an average of 35 billion cells. Though we walk around all day assuming our skin is a permanent part of us, we actually shed about 500 million skin cells every day—more if we have dry skin. But even if we are using one of the best moisturizers for dry skin, we will still shed about one-third of an ounce of dead skin daily, which ends up lying around our homes, cars and offices, feeding hungry dust mites. Every year we each lose about nine pounds of skin. In fact, the earth’s atmosphere contains about a billion tons of dead skin cells which blow around the earth. You could be breathing in the shed cells of someone from China.

Fortunately, those lost cells are continually replaced by new ones. In fact, the skin’s surface completely regenerates about every 27 days when the new cells (keratinocytes) which are made in the lower levels of our skin, work their way to the surface where they harden and begin their job of keeping our body parts in, and bacteria out. We can help this important cell turnover process by lightly exfoliating on a weekly basis and by using a great moisturizer to keep our newly grown skin cells as healthy as possible. Research shows that having overly dry skin impairs the skin’s ability to perform its critical functions.

What Causes Skin Color?

Humans come in a great variety of skin colors. Our skin contains pigment cells called melanin, and while all humans have about the same amount of melanin-making cells, we don’t all produce the same amount of melanin. The more melanin your skin produces, the darker your skin color will be. The amount of melanin you will produce depends on the genetic codes you inherit from your parents and their ancestors, and what part of the globe those ancestors came from. Because different geographical locations receive differing amounts of UV rays, the people who lived in those places adapted skin color that gave them the best chance of long-term survival. Hence, those ancient people who lived in tropical climates nearest the equator produced more melanin, and those nearer the earth’s poles had lighter skin with less melanin production.

Having more melanin in your skin means you are less likely to suffer damage from UV rays, and the skin aging process is slower for those who suffer less sun damage. However, darker skin also produces more sebum, but less ceramides, the important fatty acid that forms the skin’s moisture barrier. This means darker skin is more likely to lose hydration and suffer from dry skin. This makes it important for darker skinned people to moisturize daily with the best moisturizers for dry skin.

Other Fun Facts About Your Skin

The human skin contains eleven miles of tiny blood vessels and more than a thousand nerve endings. These nerve endings provide the brain with critical information to ensure our health and survival. This conveying of information continues even as we sleep when the skin tells the brain about the room temperature, so your body can respond with sweating, shivering and other means of temperature regulation. You may even scratch an itch while you sleep, because the brain is constantly receiving and interpreting information about our environment.

Our skin contains between two and five million sweat glands, depending on our size. Sweat glands are crucial for regulating our body temperature. Our skin has sweat glands everywhere except the inner ear, the lips, and the genitals, with the most sweat glands present on the bottom of our feet. (That explains a lot!) Scar tissue, which is created when the skin receives any significant tear in the lower skin layers, has no sweat glands or hair follicles.

The skin in specific areas of our body also has a different variety of sweat glands called apocrine glands. These produce a different type of sweat which is higher in fats. That makes these areas a favored feeding ground for fat-loving bacteria, which leads to—you guessed it—odor. These apocrine glands are located in the skin of our armpits, genitals, and around the anus.

Because changes in the appearance of your skin can actually signify changes in a person’s overall health, it is critical that we monitor, maintain, and care for the condition of our skin with proper washing, sun protection, and moisturizing, including using the best moisturizer for dry skin or hand cream to keep it soft and supple so your skin’s critical nerve receptors can do their important job.

Resources— EverydayHealth, Forefront Dermatology, MedicalNewsToday, DiscoverMag

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