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Skincare - Your Skins Structure and Function

The skin has been described as the body's "cutaneous envelope" and as an envelope it both contains us and protects us from the outside world - an outer shield.Sun and Skin Care Protection

The skin is the body's largest organ, an immune system organ. Fifteen percent of the average adult's weight is skin, and it covers a surface area of nearly 2 square meters. 5% of the body's macrophages (langerhans cells) reside beneath the skin.

The importance of this complex organ to our survival is graphically illustrated by the mortality rate of people who have been badly burned. When our cutaneous envelope is destroyed, our lives are threatened. The macrophage is critically important to our defense. It first contacts antigens, then communicates to T-cells the vital information to mount the correct immune response.

Protection is the skin's most important job. This covering cushions the body from physical trauma and helps guard against the entry and growth of microorganisms.

The skin acts as a barrier to harmful substances, absorbs and blocks ultraviolet radiation, and protects against damage from low-voltage electrical current.

The skin plays a vital role in regulating body temperature and protecting us from extreme environmental temperatures, both hot and cold. Our cutaneous envelope also helps maintain fluid and electrolyte balance.

The skin is an important sensory organ that transmits sensations such as pressure, touch, warmth, cold, and pain.

The skin has three main layers: the epidermis, the dermis, and the subcutaneous tissue. The epidermis is the thin, protective outer layer. The dermis is the tough, elastic second layer. The subcutaneous tissue is the layer of fatty and connective tissue beneath the dermis.


The epidermis is incredibly thin - about as thin as a piece of paper - especially when compared to total skin thickness. The epidermis is a layered epithelium made up of five distinct cell layers.

  • Stratum Corneum - The Outer Layer (Horny Cell Layer)
  • Stratum Lucidum (Clear Cell Layer)
  • Stratum Granulosum (Granular Cell Layer)
  • Stratum Spinosum (Prickle Cell Layer or Spinous Cell layer)
  • Stratum Germinativum (Basal Cell Layer)

The skin is in a continuous process of self-renewal, and each epidermal layer corresponds to a specific stage in this process, which is called keratinization.

The process is called keratinization because the stratum corneum is mainly keratin, the tough protein that is also the major component of hair, hoof, horn and nails.

Normal keratinization and desquamation depend on timing and balance. A healthy stratum corneum is produced when cells are manufactured at a normal rate, when cells are shed at a normal rate, and when these two processes are in sync with each other.

If keratinocytes are produced faster than they can possibly be sloughed off, as is the case in psoriasis, scaly plaques form. If desquamation takes place too early, the skin isn't an effective protective barrier.

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Some of its essential functions include maintaining structure of the proteins of the body and helping the formation of keratin, which is essential for hair and nail growth. Sulfur is often referred to as nature's "beauty mineral" because the body must have sufficient sulfur to synthesize collagen for healthy, beautiful skin, hair and nails.


The dermis is 20 to 40 times thicker than the epidermis. This skin layer provides a flexible support structure and encloses blood vessels, nerves, and skin appendages (eccrine and apocrine sweat glands, hair follicles, and sebaceous glands).

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Blood vessels in the dermis provide nutrition to the skin, help maintain a constant body temperature, and provide circulating white blood cells that help defend against infection and foreign substances. This is where the Langerhans cells play their major role in maintaining the integrity of the skin.

The skin constantly faces insult and damage; therefore, the constant need for repair. When the skin is damaged, macrophages are responsible for scavenging the dead and dying cells and along with fibroblasts, restoring them. Daily household exposure to the chemicals in cleansers and detergents and aging can cause the immune system's ability to respond to decline. The skin becomes less able to heal and cope with insults and infections.

Macrophages, when activated, can prevent or stop growth of infectious agents by attacking and destroying them. Macrophages can release substances such as the epidermal growth factor that encourage new skin cell growth. It is critically important to have Langerhans cells (skin macrophages) ully functional. Beta-1, 3-D glucan is a substance that activates and supports all of these macrophage functions.

While other ingredients are thought to be effective only when they penetrate the skin, glucan effects are actively relayed into the cells via their dendritic tentacles.

Use of an exfoliator prior to beta glucan application is important. It partially removes the outermost of the dead skin, thereby exposing more Langerhans cell extensions to the glucan.

Many exfoliating products on the market contain alpha, beta, or a combination of hydroxy acids. When used at high concentrations, these acids may produce significant irritation. Beta-1, 3-D glucan can significantly reduce these irritations. It produces a fast and powerful healing effect on chemically treated skin.

The Most Popular Enzymes 

As mentioned earlier, there are several enzymes in the body, each performing a specific function. It is beyond the scope of this post to discuss all of them. Here is a brief discussion of the most popular enzymes:

Amylase: Amylase is an enzyme that breaks down carbohydrate (starch) into simpler unites which can then be converted to sugar (glucose) by other enzymes to provide body with energy. It was the first enzyme to be discovered and isolated in 1833 by Anselme Payen. It is synthesized and secreted by glands in the mouth into saliva and pancreas into the intestines. This means carbohydrate digestion starts in the mouth. There three classes of this enzyme including alpha-amylase, beta-amylase and gamma-amylase. However, alpha-amylase is the most active [1].

Bromelain: Bromelain is not a human enzyme. Rather, it is a mixture of proteolytic (protein degrading) enzymes found in large quantities in the juice and stems of pineapples. It was discovered and isolated in 1891 the late 1800s by the Venezuelan chemist Vicente Marcano. The enzyme is an important immune modulator with anti-inflammatory properties. This means it can reduce inflammation resulting from injuries and infections [2].

Coenzyme Q10: Although classified under enzymes, this compound is more like a vitamin. It is found in all parts of the body, especially in the liver, heart, pancreas and the kidneys. Small quantities can also be obtained from seafood and certain meats. Coenzyme Q10 was first discovered and isolated by Professor Fredrick L. Crane and colleagues in 1957 at the University of Wisconsin–Madison Enzyme Institute. It is a powerful antioxidant and also aids in metabolism [3].

Lactase: Lactase is an endogenous enzyme that breaks down a sugar named lactose found in milk and milk products. Everyone who consumes milk as an infant synthesizes the enzyme and those with it deficiency will suffer from milk intolerance. There is very little information as to the discovery and isolation of lactase but available evidence indicates that it was several thousands of years to help people with lactose intolerance consume milk [4].

Protease: Protease is a class of enzymes that begin the process of breaking down protein molecules into amino acids. Amino acids are vital structural elements of all the cells of the body. There are six classes of proteases based on the catalytic residue they use. Proteases as well as other proteolytic enzymes were discovered and isolated by William Beaumont “Father of Gastric Physiology” in early 1800s as he researched on human digestion [5].

Lipase: Claude Bernard realized that a pancreatic secretion could saponify and emulsify fatty substances, in 1848,. He would eventually attribute these reactions to an enzyme that was later named pancreatic lipase. It is an enzyme that catalyzes the breakdown of fat/lipids in food so that the body can assimilate it for use in cell membrane synthesis, deposit in adipose tissue as well as other functions. It is produced by pancreas and in the mouth and stomach in small quantities. Deficiency of this enzyme can cause a lot of diseases [6].

Maltase: Maltase is an enzyme that catalyzes the hydrolysis of disaccharide called maltose into simple sugars that can be used directly by the body. This means it comes right after amylase. The discovery date of this enzyme is not clear but available evidence indicates its isolation and testing relates to Robert Kohler in 1898. He only confirmed that maltase could actually synthesize maltose from glucose units but the first known use was in 1890 [7].


  1. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003464.htm and http://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Amylase.html
  2. http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/bromelain and http://www.med.nyu.edu/content?ChunkIID=146651
  3. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/938.html and http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/coenzyme-q10
  4. http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/news/070401_lactose
  5. http://www.enzymeessentials.com/HTML/protease.html
  6. http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/lipase
  7. http://worldofenzymes.info/enzymes-introduction/maltase/2/