Your skin is the largest organ on your body, made up of several different components, including water, protein, lipids, and different minerals and chemicals. Its job is crucial: to protect you from infections and other environmental assaults. The skin also contains nerves that sense cold, heat, pain, pressure, and touch.
Throughout your life, your skin will change constantly, for better or worse. In fact, your skin will renew itself approximately once a month. Proper skin care is essential to maintaining the health and vitality of this protective organ.
The skin is made up of layers. It consists of a thin outer layer (epidermis), a thicker middle layer (dermis), and the inner layer (subcutaneous tissue or hypodermis).
Epidermis: The Outer Layer of Skin
The outer layer of skin, the epidermis, is a translucent layer made of cells that function to protect us from the environment. The most superficial portion contains dead skin cells that are continually shed. The deepest portion contains basal cells that are responsible for skin renewal.
Keratin, a protein made within the cells of the epidermis, protects the skin from harmful substances, such as chemical products and bacteria. The epidermis also contains cells that produce melanin, which gives skin its color.
The epidermis is responsible for the look and health of the skin and it holds a large amount of water. The younger the body, the more water there is in the skin. The capacity of the skin to retain water decreases with age, making the skin more vulnerable to dehydration.
The epidermis is responsible for the look and health of the skin and it holds a large amount of water. The younger the body, the more water there is in the skin. The capacity of the skin to retain water decreases with age, making the skin more vulnerable to dehydration and wrinkles.
- Keratin: Keratin is the strongest protein in your skin. It also gives hair and nails their strength.
Dermis: The Middle Layer
The dermis contains two types of fibers that lessen in supply with age: elastin, which gives skin its elasticity, and collagen, which provides strength. The dermis also contains blood and lymph vessels, hair follicles, sweat glands, and the sebaceous glands, which produce oil. Nerves in the dermis sense touch and pain.
- Collagen: Collagen is the most abundant protein in the skin. It makes up 75% of your skin. This is also your “fountain of youth,” for it’s responsible for warding off wrinkles and fine lines. Over time, environmental factors and aging diminish your body’s ability to produce collagen.
- Elastin: This protein is found together with collagen and is responsible for giving structure to your skin and organs. As with collagen, elastin is affected by time and the elements. Diminished levels of this protein cause your skin to wrinkle and sag.
Hypodermis: The Fatty Layer
The subcutaneous tissue, or hypodermis, is mostly made up of fat. It lies between the dermis and muscles or bones and contains blood vessels that expand and contract to help keep your body at a constant temperature. The hypodermis also protects your vital inner organs. Reduction of tissue in this layer is what causes your skin to sag.
Sebaceous Glands and Sweat Glands
The sebaceous glands secrete sebum, an oily substance that helps keep skin from drying out. Sebum reduces water loss from the skin surface, protects the skin from infection by bacteria and fungi, and contributes to body odor. Most of these glands are attached to hair follicles.
When your body gets hot or is under stress, sweat glands produce sweat, which evaporates to cool you. Sweat glands are located all over the body but are especially abundant in your palms, soles, forehead, and underarms. The apocrine glands are specialized sweat glands that emit an odor.
Your Skin Type and buying skin care products
The most important thing to remember when researching over-the-counter skin care products is to trust yourself: No one knows your skin better than you. There are a lot of skin care products on the market and it’s easy to waste a lot of time and money trying to find the best solution.
So take a minute to educate yourself before purchasing skin care products. Remember, this information serves as a guide only. Be sure to check with your dermatologist, internist, or family doctor if you have specific problems with your skin.
Assess Your Skin Before You Buy
Before you consider buying any over-the-counter skin care products, there are a few basic facts about your skin you must know. These include:
- Your skin type. Is it oily, dry, normal, sensitive, or a combination?
- Your skin complexion. Do you have fair skin that burns easily or light to medium skin that may burn? Or do you have a medium tone that usually tans or a darker complexion the only rarely burns? Or is your complexion so dark that you never burn?
- Your skin concerns. Do you want preventative maintenance to avoid premature aging? Do you have a skin problem, such as persistent acne, age spots, melasma (better known as “the mask of pregnancy”– when women get the darkened areas on sun-exposed parts of their face) or rosacea. You may also have large pores, sun damage, facial wrinkles or fine lines that require special attention. Do you have eye puffiness or under eye bags that will require special care?
- Your personal habits. Are you a smoker? Do you spend a lot of time in the sun? Do you take a daily vitamin? Do you consume a well-balanced diet? All these factors will affect how you should care for your skin.
With this information, you can wisely sort through skin care products to find the ones suited for your specific skin type. If you need help, ask a skin aesthetician at your local health spa or skin care counter for his or her recommendations.