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Examining Skin: A Functional Barrier
By: Marie Alice Dibon, PharmD
Posted: March 2, 2012, from the March 2012 issue of GCI Magazine.
Skin is like a glove that wraps around the human body to prevent it from both external aggressions and dehydration. This wonderful organ is a thing of beauty, a tool of pleasure, but above and before all, it is an incredibly well-designed protective envelope. Its beauty lies as much in the way it looks as in the way is operates.
Skin is our first line of defense and the guardian of our vital functions. You may have a perfectly functioning heart, a great liver, clean lungs and a pristine brain, but if your skin is burnt beyond a certain percentage of total body area (and depending on your age, according to the Baux score system used by medical professionals to predict the chance of mortality of patients suffering burns), you may die—severely damaged skin impedes the ability to breathe, retain or expel water, and defend against harmful bacteria, oxidants and toxins.
The superficial layers of the skin, although thought of as “dead,” are its most important part from the standpoint of its vital functions. The outermost layer is called the stratum corneum. It is about 10–15 microns thick and constituted by about 10 layers of cells, and it is those 10 layers that we call “dead.” And, technically, they are, but there’s much more to that story.
The stratum corneum is one of the most important and most functional parts of our bodies. So important and so functional that we wanted to tell you the story and the latest on what we have learned about the skin barrier.
The Barrier: A Primer
The skin barrier regulates water loss by regulating evaporation rate. In addition, it prevents the penetration of toxic substances and pathogens.
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