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About Skin

The skin is the largest organ of the body and is made up of 80% water, and fifteen per cent or more of this is in the dermis. Weighing in at 7 to 9 pounds, the skin measures an average of 20 square feet. Within one square inch of skin there are 650 sweat glands; 65 hair follicles; 19 yards of capillaries; 78 yards of nerves and thousands of sensory nerves. All of this in a thickness equivalent to a few sheets of paper!

The skin serves a multitude of purposes. The most obvious of these functions is to protect the body systems and internal organs from injury, heat, invasive chemicals and light exposure. The skin also acts as a temperature regulator, enabling the body to adapt to different temperatures by controlling moisture loss.

The outermost layer of your skin--the part you see and skin care and beauty products work on--depends for its youthful looks and resilience on a constant supply of water from the lower layers and its ability to retain that water without losing too much through evaporation.

Also up there on the surface, sebum (the fatty secretion of the sebaceous glands), sweat and evaporating water mingle to form a slightly acidic, protective emulsion called the hydro-lipidic film which in turn helps to prevent excessive evaporation of water. It's a perfect irrigation system when all is working well, but so much can upset it.

Even a normal skin can dry out if it spends most of its days stuck in the dry atmosphere of many air-conditioned buildings or goes through a long winter of temperature changes from over-enthusiastic central heating indoors to icy cold and skin-stripping winds outside.

All the hormonal changing conditions such as periods, pregnancy, menopause, and even the Pill, can throw out the natural balance of your skin. Other culprits might be air travel, a holiday in the sun, drastic dieting and over-harsh or poor cleansing processes. Illness, even a relatively minor one that's treated with over-the-counter medication, can change your skin's behavior.

Sebum output and the skin's natural moisture content diminish as we grow older. And a down period at any time in your life when you're short of sleep, eating irregularly or living with negative stress can play havoc with your skin.

Nothing remains static on the skin front and you may be weary of hearing talk of dry, oily or combination skin when yours seems to vary from day to day, and certainly from season to season. But you really do have a basic type, which will naturally move to drier, wherever it starts, as the years go by.



The surface of the skin, the part that is visible to the naked eye and upon which skin care products are applied, is in fact a covering of dead skin cells. Under this surface, the many functions of the skin take place through three thin yet very distinct layers of cellular tissue--the epidermis, the dermis, and the subcutaneous.

Epidermis. This layer is responsible for the look and health of the skin, as well as protecting it from moisture loss and penetration of bacteria. The epidermis gives the skin its glow, suppleness, youthfulness and texture. This is also where signs of poor diet, smoking, excess sun exposure and free radical damage are visible.

In the layers of the epidermis, skin cells develop and are generated to the surface over the course of time. It takes approximately 28 days for a new cell to generate to the surface of the skin where it becomes flat and eventually will be exfoliated naturally or through cosmetic products.

Dermis. This second layer of the skin is much thicker and more resilient than the epidermis. This layer serves two principle functions. One is the nutrition of the skin through its network of blood vessels and capillaries. The second is the formation of a supporting framework. The dermis gives the skin elasticity.

Subcutaneous. This is the skin's third and last layer. It is highly elastic and has fat cells (adipose) acting as "shock absorbers," thus supporting delicate blood vessels and nerve endings. It is in this, the deepest layer that collagen collapses or wrinkles develop first.



There are two types of glands within the skin directly related to the ability of the skin to hold onto its own moisture. The first is the oil gland or sebaceous gland. The primary function of the oil gland is to secrete oil or sebum. This oil lubricates the surface of the skin and serves as a barrier against moisture loss.

Excessive oil production is associated with the appearance of acne while the lack of oil secretion is associated with dry skin. The disproportionate distribution of oil on the face is caused by a greater number of oil glands on the forehead, nose and chin than on the sides of the face.

The sweat glands or eccrine/suderiferous glands, function as a cooling system for the body releasing moisture onto the skin surface. The most vital fluid to the skin is its water content. The water distribution on the face is in far greater proportion to the skin, but it is the skin's ability to hold onto its water that is most significant. As this moisture mixes with oil on the skin's surface, the skin develops routine characteristics or skin type.




Normal to Oily - Combination
Generally balanced with tendency to have shiny, oily patches. Prone to blemishes or acne.

Normal to Dry - Combination
Generally balanced with the occasional tendency to be dry or flaky.

Oily - Blemish Prone
Skin tends to be oily, shiny, or feel unclean. Pores often congested or enlarged. Prone to blemishes.

Dry - Damaged
Skin may feel tight, drawn, flaky and unable to retain moisture. May be wrinkled or sun damaged.

Pale, thin, red, irritated, allergic or inflamed skin. May appear blotchy or flushed.




· Rashes

A rash is an area of red, inflamed skin or a group a individual spots. These can be caused by irritation, allergy, infection an underlying disease, as well as by structural defects--for example blocked pores or malfunctioning oil glands. Examples of rashes include acne, dermatitis, eczema, hives, pityriasis rosea, and psoriasis.

· Viral infections

These occur when a virus penetrates the stratum corneum and infects the inner layers of the skin. Example viral skin infections include herpes simplex, shingles (herpes zoster) and warts. Some systemic viral infections, such as chicken pox at measles, may also affect the skin. Viral infections cannot be cured with antibiotics.

· Bacterial infections

Such infections are caused by a variety of bacteria, the most common types being staphylococ streptococci. Bacteria may infect the topmost layers of skin, the follicles, or the deeper layers of skin. If not treated correctly, these infections may spread throughout the body. Examples include impel folliculitis, cellulitis, and Lyme disease. Antibiotics are effective against bacterial infections.

· Fungal infections

Harmless fungi are always present on surface of the skin, and infection occurs when these organisms enter into the body. These infections are usually superficial, affecting the skin, hair, and nails; examples include athlete's foot, jock itch, and ringworm. However, in people with suppressed immune systems or who have been taking antibiotics long-term, the fungi may spread to deep within the body, causing more serious disease.

· Parasitic infections

These infections occur after exposure to parasites such as lice, fleas and scabies.

· Pigmentation disorders

The amount of pigment in the skin is determined by the amount of melanin being produced by the body. Loss of pigment (hypo pigmentation) can be caused by an absence of melanocytes, malfunctioning cells, exposure to cold or chemicals, or some types of infection.

An increase in pigment (hyperpigmentation) may be caused by skin irritation, hormonal changes, aging, a metabolic disorder, or another underlying problem. Age spots, freckles, and melasma are examples of hyperpigmentation; vitiligo is an example of hypopigmentation.

· Tumors and cancers

These growths arise when skin cells begin to multiply faster than normal. Not every skin growth is cancerous: Some tumors are harmless and will not spread. Skin cancer is the most common of all the cancers, affecting 800,000 Americans each year. It is caused, in 90 percent of cases, by sun exposure.

The three types of skin cancer are basal cell cancer (the most curable), squamous cell cancer (which may grow and spread), and malignant melanoma (the most deadly form). Prevention involves protecting the skin against damaging ultraviolet rays. Early detection helps to improve the chances of a cure, so regular self-examinations are recommended.

· Trauma

Trauma describes an injury to the skin caused by a blow, cut, or burn. Any time the surface of the skin is broken, the body becomes more susceptible to infection and disease.


Wrinkles, rosacea, spider veins, and varicose veins are among those conditions that cannot be neatly categorized. Wrinkles are caused by a breakdown of the collagen and elastin within the dermis, which results in sagging skin.

Rosacea is a long-term disorder in which the skin of the face becomes red and develops pimples, lesions, and more rarely enlargement of the nose. Its cause is unknown. Spider veins and varicose veins become apparent when blood vessels enlarge and become visible through the surface of the skin.



Comedones or blackheads, are a worm-like mass of keratinized cells and hardened sebum appearing most frequently on the face, chest, shoulders, and back. Blackheads accompanied by pimples often occur in youth. The activity of the sebaceous glands is stimulated, thereby contributing to the formation of blackheads and pimples.

When the hair follicle is filled with an excess of oil from the sebaceous glands and an accumulation of dead cells occurs, a blackhead forms and creates a blockage at the mouth of the follicle. Should this condition become severe, professional attention is necessary.

To treat blackheads, the skin's oiliness must be reduced by local applications of cleansers and the blackheads removed under sterile conditions. Thorough skin cleansing each night is a very important factor. Cleansing lotions often achieve better results than do common soap and water.

Milia or whiteheads, is a disorder of the sebaceous glands caused by the accumulation of dead, keratinized cells and sebaceous matter trapped beneath the skin. This may occur on any part of the face, and occasionally on the chest, shoulders, and back. Whiteheads look like small grains of sand under the skin.

Acne is a chronic inflammatory disorder of the skin, usually related to hormonal changes and overactive sebaceous glands during adolescence. Common acne is also known as acne simplex or acne vulgaris.

Eighty percent of any human population will experience some manifestation of acne. Twenty-five percent of them will have acne serious enough to merit some form of treatment, professional or otherwise.

The social, economic, and psychological effects of acne can be painful. For many sufferers, acne causes depression and gets in the way of social and sexual relationships.

Frequent and vigorous washing is good treatment. Acne flare-ups are caused by emotional stress. If one can live a stress-free life, the condition of the skin will certainly improve.

Sexual activity is good/bad for the skin and excessive/infrequent sex causes blemishes to develop. Certain foods cause acne breakouts. Avoiding these foods is essential to clear skin. All of these mistaken notions show quite clearly that today's youth and many older people as well still cling to outmoded ideas about the causes and treatment of acne.

Acne appears in a variety of different types, ranging from non-contagious pimples to deep-seated skin conditions. Though acne generally starts at the onset of puberty, it also afflicts adult men and women.

Modern studies show that acne is often due to heredity, but the condition can be aggravated by emotional stress and environmental factors.

Adhering to a well-balanced diet, drinking plenty of water, and developing healthful personal hygiene habits are all recommended. Acne is not caused by any particular food, drink, or personal habit.

Acne is accompanied by blackheads, pustules, and pimples that are red, swollen, and contain pus. The pus is seen as a yellowish or white-tinged center in some blemishes. In more advanced cases of acne, cysts appear, which are red, swollen lumps beneath the surface of the skin.

Seborrhea is a skin condition caused by over-activity and excessive secretion of the sebaceous glands. An oily, or shiny, condition of the nose, forehead, or scalp indicates the presence of seborrhea. It is readily detected on the scalp by the unusual amount of oil on the hair. Seborrhea is often the basis of an acne condition.

Rosacea formerly called acne rosacea, is a chronic inflammatory congestion of the cheeks and nose. It is characterized by redness, dilation of the blood vessels, and the formation of papules and pustules. The cause of rosacea is unknown. Certain things are known to aggravate rosacea in some individuals. These include consumption of hot liquids, spicy foods or alcohol, being exposed to extremes of heat and cold, exposure to sunlight, and stress.

A steatoma or sebaceous cyst, is a subcutaneous tumor of the sebaceous glands, ranging in size from a pea to an orange, the contents consisting of sebum. It usually occurs on the scalp, neck, and back.

Asteatosis is a condition of dry, scaly skin, characterized by absolute or partial deficiency of sebum, usually due to aging or bodily disorders. In local conditions, it may be caused by alkalies, such as those found in soaps and washing powders.

A furuncle also called a boil, is caused by bacteria that enter the skin through the hair follicles. It is a subcutaneous abscess that fills with pus. A boil can be painful and should be treated by a physician.



SUN-DAMAGED SKIN (Hyperpigmentation)

The consequences of sun damage (aside from the temporary sting of sunburn) are initially invisible and are sometimes hard to comprehend.

The truth is, as much as 90 percent of wrinkles, brown spots, and sagging skin what we usually think of as aging an be attributed to sun damage, says the American Skin Association, a national organization for education on skin health. What's worse, skin cancer is now the most common cancer, striking more than 800,000 Americans each year, according to the American Cancer Society.

If you're still tempted to head out the door without sun protection, stop to consider what's going to happen to your skin. Melanin, the protective pigment found in the epidermis, defends the skin against sun damage by absorbing the sun's rays and dissipating the energy as heat.

The more sun exposure, the more melanin the skin produces, which results in a suntan sign that the skin has already been damaged by ultraviolet UV rays. If sun exposure continues, the UV rays will damage cells and blood vessels in the outer layer of skin, causing the redness and painful inflammation of sunburn, actually a minor burn.

The UV rays that are not absorbed by melanin may prompt the formation of free radicals, destructive scavenger molecules. Because free radicals lack electrons, they attempt to steal electrons from other molecules, damaging the molecules in the process. Free radicals that get inside a cell can damage the cell's genetic material and cause mutations, and they may even trigger cancer.

But the damage doesn't stop there. Urocranic acid, a chemical found in the epidermis, also reacts with ultraviolet light. The reaction also creates free radicals, which then break down the collagen and elastin in the skin, causing wrinkles. In addition, the sun's rays are thought to decrease immune system function within the skin, meaning that any invading organisms have a better chance of causing infection.


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