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Know your skin

Skin is the largest organ of the body, spanning over a whopping 20 square feet. Using a complex system of, glands, fat, blood vessels and connective tissue, it is indispensable to the proper functioning of the human body. The skin protects us from microbes, the elements, helps regulate body temperature and regulates sensory responses to touch, heat and cold.

Whilst preserving vital nutrients and chemicals in the body, it helps synthesize vitamin D and acts as a shield from harmful ultraviolet radiation emitted by the sun. Skin color, texture and folds are aspects inextricably linked to our overall well-being and to a great extent our identity and individuality too.

Anything that disrupts the proper skin function can potentially have major consequences for your physical as well as mental health. To that end, it is important to understand the layers of the skin to understand what it really is.

Human Skin has three layers

The outer layer: The outermost layer of your skin is called the epidermis. It acts as a barrier for your body, keeping out water and pathogens. It also has no blood vessels, being nourished by blood capillaries in the lowest layers,

which is why a shallow cut on your finger for instance won’t necessarily bleed. And the epidermis is also responsible for your skin tone.

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The middle layer: Right below the epidermis is a layer called the dermis, mostly composed of connective tissue. This thick, fibrous layer is what makes your skin more elastic, as well as giving it tensile strength.

That strength is why you can poke your skin with a needle and not immediately break it, while the elasticity is what allows it to stretch over time when you put on weight.

The dermis is also comprised of a full ecosystem of hair follicles, sweat glands and blood vessels – each with its own unique function. With the help of this, the dermis plays a crucial supporting role for the outer layer of skin, enabling it to thrive.

Your nerve endings in this layer allow you to sense pain, touch, pressure and temperature. Some areas are more sensitive than others because it has denser clusters of nerve endings. The sweat glands meanwhile produce sweat in response to heat or stress, playing a crucial role in cooling your body. It’s in fact a specialized form of these sweat glands in the armpit and genital regions that secrete a thick, oily sweat, giving you body odour after its digested by bacteria in those areas.

Your hair follicles are also rooted here in varying densities and textures across your body. Though they also play a minor role in protecting you from the elements and injury, they primarily enhance your sense of temperature and touch. A portion of the follicles also contain stem cells that help regrow damaged outer skin.

Then there are sebaceous glands located alongside the hair follicles that secrete sebum into them. Sebum is meant to keep the skin moist and soft and protect it from foreign substances.

Lastly, the blood vessels of the dermis nourish the skin and regulate its temperature. Rising heat makes the blood vessels swell, which creates a rush of blood to the skin’s surface where the heat finds a release. Colder temperatures on the other hand cause the vessels to narrow as a way to retain body heat.

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The inner layer: Also known as the ‘fat layer’, the hypodermis insulates the body from heat and cold, provides protective padding and stores energy reserves. It also serves to connect the upper layers of the skin to your muscles.

The fat in question here is contained in cells held together by fibrous tissue. This layer may vary in thickness from person to person, from a fraction of an inch to several inches in other parts of the body.

This is a quick primer of the parts of your skin. Take your time to understand them, their roles and their position as they will be referenced at various points on We Care For Skin.

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Skin Colour

The human skin comes in a variety of colours, ranging from the near-black to the palest of white. The pigmentation a person ends up with is a result of genes inherited from both parents. That is turn is also a result of evolution, as people living in more tropical regions have more melanin in their skin to protect them from the harsh sun’s UV rays.

However, a person’s skin colour can also vary over time, as a result of exposure to the sun, though the base colour doesn’t vary. There are three broad categories of skin colour, called skin tone:

Light skin
Light or fair skin tones are most common in Northern Europe and North America, where countries experience frequent snow or cloud cover, thereby making extra melanin unnecessary. The skin is usually very light, and is the most susceptible to sunburn. Light-skinned individuals are also more likely to turn pink as a result of physical exercise. This is the also the skin type most likely to feature freckles.

Medium skin
Medium skin is most commonly seen in Southern Europe and North Asian populations. Sometimes called “olive” skin, it’s a milder beige-like tone partway between light and dark skin. It’s much easier to get a nice tan with this type of skin, though it’s still possible to overdo the sun exposure.

Dark skin
Dark skin is most is often seen in tropical countries with the most exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun. This includes areas like the Middle East, India, and Africa. The hues here can range from lighter browns to near-black shades, and everything in between. Though dark-skinned people have evolved to avoid getting sunburned under the harsh tropical sun, they’re not immune to the effects of sun-aging, so it’s probably wise to still use sunscreen.

Skin Type

When it comes to classification, people are also categorized by the texture of their skin, such as oil, dry, or combination. This is important for dermatologists to recommend the best treatments for various skin conditions, including acne and dandruff. This classification usually refers to the skin on your face, though it sometimes matches the rest of your body as well. There are five main types.

Normal skin
This type of skin isn’t really called “normal” because it’s the norm, but rather because it has no glaring problems. Normal skin is neither too dry nor too oily, it’s not severely sensitive to anything, has barely visible pores, and can usually count on not having to deal with acne.

Oily skin
People with oily skin usually have enlarged pores and more overall sebum production than other types. This means the skin can either appear dull or shiny, depending on the amount of oil their glands produce, and is particularly susceptible to acne, especially blackheads and pimples. And that can be worsened by hormonal changes, stress, and too much heat or humidity.
In this case, you’re going to want to use a gentle skin cleanser and not scrub, and wash your face no more than twice a day and after you sweat a lot. You’ll also need skincare and beauty products that are non-comedogenic, meaning they won’t clog your pores.

Dry skin
Dry skin has really tiny pores, almost invisible, and your skin can often look rough. It also feels less elastic, because of the decreased amount of sebum. Because of this, dry skin is especially susceptible to dry weather, especially in winters. It can become itchy or irritated and can develop cracks.
Some factors like ageing, that make things worse, you can’t really avoid. You can and should however try to avoid cold weather and harsh sun, and long baths that can leach the oils out of your skin. Also try to regularly use a moisturizer after you bathe, to replenish your skin with what it needs.

Combination skin
Now, you might think it’s impossible to have skin that’s both dry and oily, but you’d be wrong. It’s possible for your skin to be dry or normal in some areas and oily in others. For instance, maybe your arms and legs have dry skin but your T-zone (nose, forehead, and chin) is oily. Combination skin usually also features large pores (at least on the face), and therefore is susceptible to acne. It’s actually a fairly common skin type, and needs different care methods based on the type of skin and part of the body.

Sensitive skin
Sensitive skin is less of a type classification and more a measure of how easily it can become inflamed. This can show up as everything from simple redness to a full-blown rash or burning and itchiness. If your skin seems to often become inflamed, it’s advisable to visit a dermatologist and find out what triggers are causing the situation and avoid them.