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Medicine LibreTexts

5.1: The Skin

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  • Skin comes in all kinds of textures and forms. There is the dry warty skin of toads and crocodiles, the wet slimy skin of fish and frogs, the hard shell of tortoises and the soft supple skin of snakes and humans. Mammalian skin is covered with hair, that of birds with feathers, and fish and reptiles have scales. Pigment in the skin, hairs or feathers can make the outer surface almost any colour of the rainbow.

       Skin is one of the largest organs of the body, making up 6-8% of the total body weight. It consists of two distinct layers. The top layer is called the epidermis and under that is the dermis'

    The epidermis is the layer that bubbles up when we have a blister and as we know from this experience, it has no blood or nerves in it. The cells at the base of the epidermis continually divide and push the cells above them upwards. As these cells move up they die and become the dry flaky scales that fall off the skin surface. The cells in the epidermis die because a special protein called keratin is deposited in them. Keratin is an extremely important substance for it makes the skin waterproof. Without it land vertebrates like reptiles, birds and mammals would, like frogs, be able to survive only in damp places.

    Contributors and Attributions

    • Ruth Lawson (Otago Polytechnic; Dunedin, New Zealand)