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The skin is a tough supple membrane which covers the entire surface of the body.

The structure of the skin

Skin is divided into three layers:

  • EPIDERMIS: a thin cellular, membrane layer.
  • DERMIS: a dense, fibrous connective tissue.
  • SUBCUTANEOUS TISSUE: thick, fat containing tissue.

The Epidermis – the cells of the Epidermis die and become filled with keratin which makes the skin waterproof.

The Epidermis is the outer layer of skin. It is composed of an inner layer of living cells which die as they move toward the surface. As the cells die they become full of a relatively hard protein called keratin. This keratin makes the dead cells and hence the epidermis waterproof. The cells of the epidermis are flat and scale-like and are called epithelial cells. The dead, outer cells of the epidermis are constantly rubbed off. In youth and middle age we grow a completely new skin every 3-4 weeks. In old age, however, the rate of skin renewal slows. This is why wounds take a lot longer to heal in elderly people.

Dermis – the Dermis contains blood vessels, nerve fibres, sweat glands, sebaceous glands, hair follicles and collagen fibres. Collagen fibres are important to help repair the skin and make it flexible.

The epidermis is dependent on the dermis for its supply of food and oxygen. Oxygen and food seeps out of the tiny blood vessels in the dermis and nourishes the cells of the deeper layers of the epidermis. The dermis contains many living cells and is supplied with lots of blood, lymph vessels and nerve fibres. Sweat glands and sebaceous glands are found in the dermis. Hair follicles (where hair grows from) are also found in the dermis. The dermis is supported and held together by connective tissue cells and elastic fibres.

The elastic fibres are produced from special cells called fibroblasts. Fibroblasts are active in repairing skin following an injury (cut, burn, etc). The fibres in the dermis are made up mainly of collagen. Collagen (colla means glue) is a fibrous protein material found in bone, cartilage, tendons and ligaments, as well as in the skin. It is tough and resistant but also flexible. In babies, collagen is loose and delicate but it becomes harder as the body ages and we lose the beautiful soft delicate skin we had when we were young.

Subcutaneous – the subcutaneous (fat) layer protects the deeper layers and acts as a heat insulator.

The subcutaneous layer of the skin is another connective tissue layer that forms fat. Lipocytes (fat cells) are found in this layer and they make and store large quantities of fat. Obviously, areas of the body and individuals vary in the amount of fat they have deposited. This layer of the skin is important in the protection of the deeper tissues of the body and as a heat insulator.

How skin becomes damaged

Most wounds (breaks in the skin) are minor and will heal quickly without leaving a scar. Self-inflicted injuries occur from the moment we become mobile. Toddlers can fall off slippery dips and swings, and fall over on concrete footpaths and stairs. Others can burn themselves on heaters, irons, hot water and stoves. Pre-schoolers and school aged children often fall off bikes and trip onto concrete, gravel or hard
dirt. They can fall out of trees, get bitten by dogs, insects, spiders and other children. They can fall off rocks and burn themselves on the fire when camping! They can also run into plate glass windows.

Once a child beings playing sport the list of possible injuries increases. Footballers receive cuts and grazes and sprain their ankles and knees regularly. Skiers break and fracture bones and twist ankles. Country children often fall off horses, get trodden on by cows and get cut on barbed wire fences. Swimming in the local creek can also be particularly hazardous.

Even as adults we can fall off ladders, hammer parts of our bodies rather than the timber, and puncture ourselves with things like screwdrivers. Even a seemingly simple task such as gardening can lead to punctures in the skin from rose thorns and scrapes and grazes from branches. As adults, people are also prone to back injury. In the kitchen, we can burn ourselves on the stove, cut ourselves on tin cans, cut our fingers on knives and burn ourselves on the iron.

Old age has its own set of problems. Most elderly people’s sight and balance begins to deteriorate and their bones become brittle and their skin very dry, thin and fragile. The skin takes longer to repair and wound healing takes longer. Not only can they fall over on stairs or rough ground but a simple bang on the leg from a chair or table may break the skin and produce a wound that takes a long time to heal. Such injuries however, will finally heal and are called acute (or short term) wounds.

Some people with poor circulation, diabetes or those who are bed ridden may have wounds which can be present for weeks or even months. Such wounds are called chronic wounds and include leg ulcers and pressure sores. The incidence of surgery is also greater in the older population.

Diet tips

  • Include plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, beans and wholegrains in the diet.
  • Foods which should be eaten in moderate amounts include dairy products, red meats, white meats and fish.
  • Foods to avoid include those that are high in saturated fats, highly processed foods, refined sugars, pastries, fast food etc.
  • Try to drink at least 6-8 glasses of filtered water a day.
  • Include fish in the diet at least twice a week.
  • Do not overcook foods and grill or steam wherever possible.

Ask Calanna

Ask your Pharmacist for advice.

  • To help keep your skin in good condition eat a healthy diet. Follow the diet tips.
  • Before you purchase any wound dressings or tape always refer to your Pharmacist for the
    best suggestion. Older people for example may need a hypoallergenic tape.
  • If you have an injury ask your Pharmacist for a suitable antiseptic and wound dressing if one
    is necessary.
  • Do not use harsh cleansing agents on your skin. Your Pharmacy stocks a mild soap and a
    moisturising lotion to be used after bathing. This will help to keep the skin soft and supple.
  • If the diet is inadequate consider some supplements. Vitamin C promotes the production of
    collagen which is used by the body in skin tissue production. Vitamin A is known as the cosmetic
    vitamin and helps keep the skin in a healthy state.

DISCLAIMER: This information is an educational aid only. It is not intended to replace medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, pharmacist, nurse or naturopath before following any medical regimen to see whether it is safe and effective for you.