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Introduces the structure and function of skin.

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Why is your skin important?

Some people put a lot of time and money into maintaining their skin. They may use special creams and lotions. While expensive creams may not be necessary, it is a good idea to take care of your skin. It does a lot of things for you, from protecting you from disease to sensing your environment.

Your Skin

Did you know that you see the largest organ in your body every day? You wash it, dry it, cover it up to stay warm, and uncover it to cool off. Yes, your skin is your body's largest organ. Your skin is part of your integumentary system (Figure below), which is the outer covering of your body. The integumentary system is made up of your skin, hair, and nails.

Functions of Skin

Skin acts as a barrier that stops water and other things, like soap and dirt, from getting into your body

Skin acts as a barrier that stops water and other things, like soap and dirt, from getting into your body.

The skin has many important functions. The skin:

  • Provides a barrier. It keeps organisms that could harm the body out. It stops water from entering or leaving the body.
  • Controls body temperature. It does this by making sweat (or perspiration), a watery substance that cools the body when it evaporates.
  • Gathers information about your environment. Special nerve endings in your skin sense heat, pressure, cold, and pain.
  • Helps the body get rid of some types of waste, which are removed in sweat.
  • Acts as a sun block. A pigment called melanin blocks sunlight from getting to deeper layers of skin cells, which are easily damaged by sunlight.

Structure of Skin

Your skin is always exposed to your external environment, so it gets cut, scratched, and worn down. You also naturally shed many skin cells every day. Your body replaces damaged or missing skin cells by growing more of them. Did you know that the layer of skin you can see is actually dead? As the dead cells are shed or removed from the upper layer, they are replaced by the skin cells below them.

Two different layers make up the skin: the epidermis and the dermis (Figure below). A fatty layer lies under the dermis, but it is not part of your skin.

Illustration of the layers of skin

Skin is made up of two layers, the epidermis on top and the dermis below. The tissue below the dermis is called the hypodermis, but it is not part of the skin.

The Epidermis

The epidermis is the outermost layer of the skin. It forms the waterproof, protective wrap over the body's surface. Although the top layer of epidermis is only about as thick as a sheet of paper, it is made up of 25 to 30 layers of cells. The epidermis also contains cells that produce melanin. Melanin is the brownish pigment that gives skin and hair their color. Melanin-producing cells are found in the bottom layer of the epidermis. The epidermis does not have any blood vessels. The lower part of the epidermis receives blood by diffusion from blood vessels of the dermis.

The Dermis

The dermis is the layer of skin directly under the epidermis. It is made of a tough connective tissue. The dermis contains hair follicles, sweat glands, oil glands, and blood vessels (Figure above). It also holds many nerve endings that give you your sense of touch, pressure, heat, and pain.

Do you ever notice how your hair stands up when you are cold or afraid? Tiny muscles in the dermis pull on hair follicles which cause hair to stand up. The resulting little bumps in the skin are commonly called "goosebumps" (Figure below).

Goosebumps are caused by tiny muscles in the dermis that pull on hair follicles, which causes the hairs to stand up straight

Goosebumps are caused by tiny muscles in the dermis that pull on hair follicles, which causes the hairs to stand up straight.

Oil Glands and Sweat Glands

Glands and hair follicles open out into the epidermis, but they start in the dermis. Oil glands (Figure above) release, or secrete an oily substance, called sebum, into the hair follicle. Sebum “waterproofs” hair and the skin surface to prevent them from drying out. It can also stop the growth of bacteria on the skin. It is odorless, but the breakdown of sebum by bacteria can cause odors. If an oil gland becomes plugged and infected, it develops into a pimple. Up to 85% of teenagers get pimples, which usually go away by adulthood. Frequent washing can help decrease the amount of sebum on the skin.

Sweat glands (Figure above) open to the skin surface through skin pores. They are found all over the body. Evaporation of sweat from the skin surface helps to lower skin temperature. The skin also releases excess water, salts, sugars, and other wastes, such as ammonia and urea, in sweat.

The Integumentary System Song can be heard at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MeTaBniB0ok.


  • Skin serves many functions, from acting as a barrier that keeps particles and water out of the body, to helping to cool the body.
  • Skin is made up of two layers, the epidermis and the dermis.

Explore More

Use the resources below to answer the questions that follow.

Explore More I

  1. What is the relationship of the epidermis to the dermis?
  2. What is the importance of the basal layer? Is this part of the epidermis or the dermis?
  3. What structures can you find in the dermis?

Explore More II

  1. What are the four functions of skin?
  2. What is the hypodermis? What kinds of tissue are found here? Why is it important to controlling homeostasis?
  3. What is the function of keratin?


  1. Is the skin an organ?
  2. What are two functions of the skin?
  3. Your skin gathers information about your environment. What is meant by this statement?
  4. Describe the structure of the skin.
  5. List three components of the dermis.

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dermis Layer of skin directly under the epidermis; made of a tough connective tissue.
epidermis Outermost layer of the skin.
integumentary system Outer covering of your body, including skin, hair, and nails.
melanin Brownish pigment that gives skin and hair their color.
perspiration Sweat, made almost completely of water, with tiny amounts of other chemicals like ammonia, urea, salts, and sugar.
sebum Oily substance secreted in the skin.
sweat gland Small gland that secretes sweat.

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