When you think of organs, your heart, lungs, and kidneys may be first to come to mind.
But you might be overlooking your body’s largest and most visible organ: the skin.
Far from simply looking pretty, the skin plays a crucial role in protecting your body from harmful organisms and regulating body temperature.
It’s much more than something you see in the mirror every day. Good skin health can lead to better overall health.
Read on to peel back the layers of what your skin can really do and how you can best care for this superhero organ.
The skin accounts for about 15 percent of your body weight, says Barry Goodman, MD, a New York-based private dermatologist affiliated with Cornell Medical Center.
It also serves multiple purposes.
“It’s part of a team of organs that work together,” Goodman says.
“You can’t view the skin as simply something that wraps or covers up the body,” says Kemunto Mokaya (“Dr. Kemmy”), MD, a board certified dermatologist and author of “Live and Look Younger.” “It’s an important and essential organ system that’s complex and has many roles.”
The skin is a superhero organ for its ability to:
- provide immunity
- cover and protect internal body parts and functions
- release sweat
- synthesize vitamin D
- make melanin
- allow us to differentiate between textures, temperatures, and more via touch
Protects us from invaders
The top layer of the skin, or the epidermis, is the front line — literally — when it comes to defending our bodies against harmful external forces, like viruses.
“Intact skin can prevent pathogens from gaining a foothold,” says Goodman. “A disrupted skin barrier allows bacteria and viruses to penetrate deeper into the skin and cause infection.”
But even if pathogens penetrate the skin, this superhero organ will keep on fighting.
According to a 2020 review, skin cells team up and organize immune signals to help the body protect against and attack pathogens.
“White blood cells from the body constantly circulate through the skin, conducting immune surveillance,” Goodman says.
The skin also contains epidermal keratinocytes, cells that create proteins and peptides with antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties
The sebaceous glands also secrete oil that adds another layer of protection against foreign substances. As a bonus, it keeps the skin soft.
Sheaths the muscles, bones, internal organs and nervous system
The skin’s protective properties don’t end with immunity.
Goodman says that the third layer of skin, the hypodermis or subcutis, is composed of fat that serves as a natural shock absorber.
If the body experiences trauma, such as a fall or car crash, this fat is essentially a thick cushion that stifles the blow and keeps our internal body safe.
Sweat isn’t simply a sign of a workout well done.
“Sweat helps to cool the skin and prevent the body from overheating,” Mokaya says.
Sweating occurs through two types of glands. Eccrine glands cover most of the body and open onto the skin’s surface. Apocrine glands open …….