Structure and Function of the Skin
The skin1 is one of the largest organs in the body in surface area and weight. The skin consists of two layers: the epidermis and the dermis. Beneath the dermis lies the hypodermis or subcutaneous fatty tissue. The skin has three main functions: protection, regulation and sensation. Wounding affects all the functions of the skin.
The skin is an organ of protection. The primary function of the skin is to act as a barrier. The skin provides protection from: mechanical impacts and pressure, variations in temperature, micro-organisms, radiation and chemicals.
The skin is an organ of regulation. The skin regulates several aspects of physiology, including: body temperature via sweat and hair, and changes in peripheral circulation and fluid balance via sweat. It also acts as a reservoir for the synthesis of Vitamin D.
The skin is an organ of sensation. The skin contains an extensive network of nerve cells that detect and relay changes in the environment. There are separate receptors for heat, cold, touch, and pain. Damage to these nerve cells is known as neuropathy, which results in a loss of sensation in the affected areas. Patients with neuropathy may not feel pain when they suffer injury, increasing the risk of severe wounding or the worsening of an existing wound.
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1 Tortora GJ. and Grabowski SR. (1993) Principles of Anatomy and Physiology. HarperCollins College Publishers.
Caveat: The information given is a guide only and should not replace clinical judgement.