Understanding the Skin

Learn more about your skin and pores with these skin facts.

| January 2018

  • The skin is a truly amazing organ that plays a number of important roles in the body.
    Illustration by AdobeStock/designua
  • “Glow” by Nadia Neumann is full of recipes and skincare DIYS that utilize real ingredients.
    Cover courtesy Page Street Publishing

Glow: The Nutritional Approach to Naturally Gorgeous Skin by Nadia Neumann (Page Street Publishing, 2017) helps you get healthy and gorgeous skin by adjusting your diet and skincare routine. The author gives a brief explanation of the roles of the different layers of skin and pores.

Your Body’s Largest Organ 101

Pump the brakes. My skin is an organ?

Yep! The skin is actually your body’s largest organ. And in my personal opinion, one of the most fascinating. Knowing how it works is key to understanding where things go wrong and how we can make them right again.

The skin does a lot more than simply keep all of our insides wrapped up (though that in itself is very important). It controls the body’s core temperature and is the body’s first line of defense from outside intruders, such as bacteria and allergens, making it a key player in the body’s immune system. The skin is also your body’s main source of vitamin D, an absolutely critical vitamin to health and vitality — the skin synthesizes vitamin D when exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays.The average adult has about 20 square feetof skin weighing 10 pounds. Our skin sheds 30,000 to 40,000 dead skin cells every minute.



Layers of the Skin

The skin has three main layers: the epidermis, the dermis and the hypodermis (or subcutaneous fat layer). It helps to think of the skin and its layers as an orange: The epidermis is the very thin, bright orange part of the peel; the dermis is the thicker, white part of the peel that’s visible when you cut the orange; and the hypodermis is the pulp of the fruit.

The Epidermis

The epidermis has many of its own layers and contains four principal types of cells, though it’s less than 1 millimeter thick. About 90 percent of the epidermis is composed of keratinocytes, which make the protein keratin and are rapidly dividing. Keratin is a very strong protein that acts as a barrier and protects the skin from microbes, heat and abrasions. Another roughly 8 percent of epidermal cells are melanocytes, the cells that produce melanin. Melanin gives the skin its pigment and absorbs UV light from the sun. The epidermis also contains tactile cells, which detect the sensation of touch, and Langerhans cells, which are an important part of the body’s immune system and launch immune responses against invading microbes.

Unlike most other organs, the skin is constantly renewing itself. As the keratinocytes divide and multiply, they crowd out the older cells. These older cells are pushed up and eventually shed as dead skin cells. This is great news for anyone struggling with a skin issue since it means that the skin you currently have will be gone in about a month’s time, replaced by totally new cells.

The Dermis

The dermis is mainly composed of collagen and elastin, proteins that give the skin strength and structure. Collagen makes up about 70 percent of the dermis, while elastin holds the collagen in place and keeps the skin flexible. The dermis is also home to nerve receptors, blood vessels, sweat and oil glands and hair follicles — an absolute ton of them! The average square inch of skin contains more than 1,000 nerve receptors, 20 blood vessels, 650 sweat glands and 65 hair follicles (I told you it was fascinating).

The Hypodermis

The hypodermis is the fatty layer that covers the muscles, insulates the body and provides cushioning. It contains nerve endings and large blood vessels that supply the upper layers of the skin.

Where Do Pores Come into this Picture

We can’t look at our skin without seeing pores, those little tiny holes that are a source of unending frustration for so many of us. Well, when you see a pore, you’re actually looking at a hair shaft.

A hair is nothing more than a thread of dead skin cells fused together (which is why when you work on creating beautiful skin from the inside, fabulous hair is likely to be a welcomed side effect). The root penetrates into the dermis and is surrounded by a hair follicle that is made of epidermal cells. Sebaceous (oil) glands are connected to the hair follicles and also housed in the dermis. They secrete sebum, the skin’s natural oil, into the hair follicle. Sebum has a purpose other than creating a lucrative market for blotting papers and mattifying powders — it is meant to keep hair and skin moisturized, prevent water from evaporating from the skin and to inhibit the growth of certain bacteria. Problems occur, however, when the hair shaft becomes clogged with dead skin cells. This causes the sebum to get backed up in the pore and the sebaceous gland to inflame. This creates what we lovingly call a zit. Pore size is unfortunately mostly determined by genetics (thanks a lot, Mom and Dad). However, you can take measures to prevent pores from sagging and appearing larger, as typically happens with age and free radical damage. Topical products with astringent properties can help pores temporarily appear smaller, but cannot permanently reduce pore size. Sitting atop the skin is a fascinating little world in and of itself. The skin’s sebum creates a protective barrier called the acid mantle on the surface of the skin. The acid mantle has a distinct, slightly acidic pH that must be maintained. Let’s go back to middle school science class for a moment: The pH scale is used to identify the acidity or alkalinity of a liquid and runs from 0 to 14, with 0 being acidic, 7 being neutral and 14 being alkaline. The pH of the skin’s acid mantle is around 5.5. This is the skin’s happy place. This is the pH at which all is calm and peaceful. If the acid mantle is disrupted, bad bacteria are allowed to thrive and the skin’s shedding process may be disrupted. This is especially important to keep in mind when considering topical skincare products, as many have a more alkaline pH and so can irritate the skin by shifting the pH of the acid mantle away from its happy place.



Within the acid mantle is the skin’s own microbiome. This is really just a fancy name to represent all of the bacteria living on our skin. Now don’t get the heebie-jeebies, but it’s estimated that there are over 1,000 different species of bacteria living on the skin! It’s very important to know that not all of these bacteria are bad. In fact, few are and others are even believed to benefit the skin.

More From Glow:

Curried Avocado Chicken Salad
Siren Seaweed Mask
Keep Hormones Healthy and Skin Happy
Support Your Gut


Nadia Neumann is a nutritional therapy practitioner, nontoxic-living advocate, author of The Complete Home Detox Guide, and founder of the healthy living website Body Unburdened.


Reprinted with permission from Glow: The Nutritional Approach to Naturally Gorgeous Skin by Nadia Neumann and published by Page Street Publishing © 2017.






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