The Skin Barrier


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A diagram of a section of skin. The bottom layer is the hypodermis and is mostly made up of large circular cells (fatty tissue). The next layer up, and the thickest layer is the dermis. At the bottom of the dermis are blood vessels, lymph vessels, and nerves, all of which run throughout the dermis. Sweat glands are coiled tubes that lead to the surface. Hair follicles are thick vase-shaped structures containing a hair; an oil gland is attached to the hair follicle. The top layer is the epidermis and is made of many layers of flat cells.
Human skin has three layers, the epidermis, the dermis, and the hypodermis, which provide a thick barrier between microbes outside the body and deeper tissues. Dead skin cells on the surface of the epidermis are continually shed, taking with them microbes on the skin’s surface. (credit: modification of work by National Institutes of Health)

OpenStax Microbiology

One of the body’s most important physical barriers is the skin barrier, which is composed of three layers of closely packed cells. The thin upper layer is called the epidermis. A second, thicker layer, called the dermis, contains hair follicles, sweat glands, nerves, and blood vessels. A layer of fatty tissue called the hypodermis lies beneath the dermis and contains blood and lymph vessels.

The topmost layer of skin, the epidermis, consists of cells that are packed with keratin. These dead cells remain as a tightly connected, dense layer of protein-filled cell husks on the surface of the skin. The keratin makes the skin’s surface mechanically tough and resistant to degradation by bacterial enzymes. Fatty acids on the skin’s surface create a dry, salty, and acidic environment that inhibits the growth of some microbes and is highly resistant to breakdown by bacterial enzymes. In addition, the dead cells of the epidermis are frequently shed, along with any microbes that may be clinging to them. Shed skin cells are continually replaced with new cells from below, providing a new barrier that will soon be shed in the same way.

Infections can occur when the skin barrier is compromised or broken. A wound can serve as a point of entry for opportunistic pathogens, which can infect the skin tissue surrounding the wound and possibly spread to deeper tissues.

Source:

Parker, N., Schneegurt, M., Thi Tu, A.-H., Forster, B. M., & Lister, P. (n.d.). Microbiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/details/books/microbiology