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Skin: A Protective Blanket That Mends Itself
Beyond its soft, seemingly delicate outer layer, skin acts as a living barrier between us and the harsh world outside. Check out Groupon’s guide to the body’s pliable armor.
If you were to take all your skin and spread it out, it would, on average, cover a twin bed. And though that might be a blessing when you’ve run out of clean sheets, it would leave you defenseless against hazards such as bacteria, chemicals, sunlight, and even water. A complex system of more than 300 million constantly regenerating cells, nerves, and glands, the skin is not only the body’s largest organ, but also its first line of defense against the environment, a flexible, waterproof sheath for all the muscles, bones, and sensitive electronics inside.
In most cases, we can only see the skin’s outer layer, or epidermis, but two more layers lie just below the surface—the dermis, full of flexible collagen and elastin, and a subcutaneous layer of fat meant to cushion and insulate our insides. Of the three layers, the dermis is the workhorse, bracing the capillaries that regulate our body temperature and hosting millions of follicles that knit new hair and expel softening oils. But despite its importance, nobody will ever tell you how nice your dermis looks. Beauty, after all, is only epidermis deep, and it’s there where we see the most change. New skin cells are constantly replacing the old, pushing off roughly 1.5 pounds of dead cells every year, and over time the epidermis slowly loses its ability to retain moisture or spring back into place, resulting in wrinkles, dryness, and other signs of wisdom gained.
One of skin’s most useful attributes is its regenerative ability. When the skin breaks or needs repair, the blood vessels amp into overdrive, carrying much-needed nutrients straight to the site on pallets of platelets. This is why a cut forms a scab and, oddly enough, why our face turns red when we’re sunburned; the color isn’t actually a burn—it’s blood rushing to the face to repair the cellular damage caused by UV rays.