How Does Skin Function?

Mon, Mar 22, 2010

Skin Basics

Our skin protects us – and continues to do so year after year throughout our lives – because it replaces itself constantly. In young people, the entire skin is replaced within less than a month. In old folks, it may take the body as long as 45 days to replace the skin. During an 80-year lifetime, then, we do not live in a single skin but in almost 1,000 different skins. (Snakes shed their skin as they grow. But they do so episodically; we do the same thing constantly.)

This regenerative process has the obvious advantage of replacing any damaged, discolored, or otherwise shopworn skin with new skin. However, it has a second huge advantage, namely that the dead skin cells – now dry and as hard and horny as your nails – form a barrier called the stratum corneum. Although this layer is quite thin, it holds back most of your skin’s attackers. It does so most effectively where the skin is under the greatest attack, accommodating itself accordingly – hence the tough, calloused skin on the hands of manual laborers, as compared with the soft surface on the hands of a typical computer techie.

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