With a background in life sciences and education, Amanda often writes informative, actionable articles about health and well-being.
You live in your skin, so you may think you know all there is to know about it, right? Let's see if you know these fun and interesting facts about skin and some of the icky or strange things that can go wrong with it, such as:
- beauty spots
But first, let's learn a little about human skin in general.
What Is Skin?
Not many people realize that your skin is actually considered an organ—along with your heart, lungs, kidneys and all the rest. Your skin is actually the largest and the heaviest organ in your body!
How Much Skin Do We Have?
- Skin accounts for 4 to 9 pounds (2 to 4 kilograms) of a person’s total body weight. For comparison, that means that your skin weighs as much as a few standard bricks.
- If laid out flat, human skin has a surface area of about two square yards; that’s about as much skin as an elephant has on its ear. (An African Elephant's ear has an approximate diameter of 42 inches.)
How Thick Is Skin?
We've all heard the phrase 'thick-skinned', but how thick is human skin on average? The truth is, there's no simple answer. The thickness of a person's skin varies. It varies not only between different people (yes, some people really are thicker-skinned than others!) but also between different body parts.
- The soles of your feet might have skin up to 6 mm thick.
- Your eyelids probably have the thinnest skin, measuring just 0.5 mm thick.
- Skin responds to wear and tear. So if you run and walk a lot (say, if you play a lot of sports), you will develop thicker skin on your feet than someone who just sits around all day.
How Does Skin Change?
You may already know of several other animals that shed their skin. Snakes, lizards, and thousands of species of insects and spiders all 'slough' their old skin every so often and emerge with new skin that has grown beneath. It's a process known as 'moulting'. But did you know that you've already changed your own skin many, many times?
We humans shed our skin more gradually than animals that moult. Your skin cells dry out, flake and fall off at an approximate rate of 30,000 to 40,000 cells per minute. In effect, you are constantly shedding your skin. The result of this process is the complete renewal of all your skin once every month or so.
- You shed up to 40,000 skin cells every minute.
- You renew your skin (all of it!) once a month.
- If you gathered all of the skin that you'd shed in a typical year, you'd have enough to fill up a sizable cookie jar. How about that?
Now that we've had a look at some interesting facts about skin itself, let’s take a look at some of the common skin conditions which can afflict any of us during our lives.
noun / informal : a small, red, swollen spot on the skin
— Merriam Webster Dictionary
What Causes Zits?
You might have been told that zits are formed when a person eats and drinks too much fatty and sugary food. A lot of people still think this, but the latest science suggests there's no direct link between diet and skin conditions.
Scientists now believe that zits are caused by changes or imbalances in hormones. That's one reason why many teenagers suffer from zits and acne; during puberty, there are significant hormonal changes taking place. The good news is that, for most kids, the problem clears up on its own as the hormones settle down.
So a zit forms when hormones trigger the glands to overproduce sebum, a waxy, oily substance that protects the skin but also clogs pores. These pores can then become infected, and that's what a zit is.
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What Are Blackheads?
Blackheads are the little black spots that can appear on skin, especially around the nostrils and lips. Blackheads are not a sign of poor hygiene. They are caused by hormonal changes; that's why they are so common in puberty.
There's a protein called keratin which the body uses to make hair. Sometimes, too much keratin is produced, and it builds up in your glands. Your body tries to get rid of the excess keratin by pushing it out through your pores (the little 'holes' in your skin's surface).
As it does that, the sebum is pushed out too, and it becomes exposed to the air. In those conditions, the sebum hardens and turns black—and that's what a blackhead is.
What Are Whiteheads?
Whiteheads are caused in exactly the same way as blackheads or zits. The difference is that in the case of a whitehead, the sebum that's pushed up remains beneath the outer skin, making it visible but not exposed to the air. Remember, it is exposure to the air that causes the sebum to harden and turn black. If it's not exposed, it remains white in colour—simple as that!
The Sebaceous Gland: The Cause of All the Trouble
The sebaceous gland may be the cause of all the trouble when it is over-productive. But it can also be a problem if it doesn't produce enough. That can lead to dry, flaky skin and dandruff.
What Are Pimples?
The word 'pimple' can be used to describe almost any kind of spot or zit on the skin. However, it is most often used to refer to a spot which has become infected, typically causing a reddened lump to appear.
Pimples can sometimes be itchy and painful. For the most part, they will go away on their own as your body's natural immunity resolves the infection. In some severe cases, a doctor might prescribe a course of antibiotics.
How Do Scabs Form?
Scabs are a natural part of the body's healing process. When you cut or graze your skin's surface, your body acts quickly to stop the blood flow and heal the damaged skin.
During the healing process, special blood cells called 'platelets' rush to the site of the lesion and start thickening the blood. We call this 'clotting'. Once the blood is thickened and clotted, the body directs over 16 different chemical substances to the site of the wound. These interact to form different layers of protection.
The outer layer is the hard, crusty surface that we usually think of as a scab. Underneath that, white blood cells get to work to combat any bacteria that may have infected the area. All of this can begin to happen very fast, even as little as 10 seconds after you cut yourself.
What Causes Flaky Skin and Dandruff?
We've seen that most spots, zits, and pimples are caused by hormonal changes leading to the over- or underproduction of sebum. Flaky skin and dandruff usually have a different cause.
The usual cause of persistent flaky skin or dandruff is a fungal infection. There are many tiny microbial organisms that live on our skin. Most of the time, they are useful. Many of the species responsible for causing dandruff normally help to keep the balance of natural oils in the skin by eating up any excess.
Unfortunately, sometimes the balance goes wrong and the organisms get out of hand. This can make your skin very dry, causing it to flake off so much that it becomes visible as a dusting on your shoulders.
The only truly effective way to treat persistent dandruff and flaky skin is with a medicated shampoo or dermatological cream from your doctor or drugstore.
What Is a Beauty Spot?
A so-called 'beauty spot' is a small mole, usually on the cheek, chin or upper lip, which is considered enhancing to the attractiveness of the person sporting it.
A 'mole' in this context isn't a subterranean mammal with a passion for mound-building and eating worms; it is a small, coloured spot composed of a type of skin cell called a melanocyte. These cells are responsible for releasing the pigment which controls the colour of your skin. When many of these accumulate together, they often show up as a small, brown spot.
No one knows why they're considered beautiful, but they are. And that's a fact!
Thanks for reading, and I hope you've enjoyed finding out about skin and spots. If you'd like to leave a comment or ask a question, go right ahead—I'd love to hear from you!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2016 Amanda Littlejohn
I love to hear from my readers and I always reply!
Amanda Littlejohn (author) on December 08, 2017:
Thanks for your comments and your useful suggestion!
Ken Burgess from Florida on December 08, 2017:
I admit the picture (face) was so gruesome it caught my attention and got me to read away. I like the presentation, simple explanations of what each agitation is. I agree with Joyette, a follow up of easy applied remedies would be great.
Amanda Littlejohn (author) on April 01, 2016:
Thank you so much for your comment. Sorry it has taken me so long to reply, but I have only just received my notifications. Seems there was a glitch on some hubs.
I'm so glad you found the article about spots interesting and not too off-putting! :)
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on January 13, 2016:
This is an informative article, Amanda. It's also very interesting!
Amanda Littlejohn (author) on January 07, 2016:
Thank you so much for sharing it and for your kind words. I hope a lot of people get to enjoy it.
Bless you :)
Amanda Littlejohn (author) on January 07, 2016:
Thanks for reading and for your kind comments. I will consider a follow up. However, aside from dandruff which is best treated with a commercial antifungal shampoo, most of these things - because they are the result of natural hormonal changes - are best left alone and 99% of the time will go away on their own in time.
Thanks again and bless you :)
FlourishAnyway from USA on January 06, 2016:
This one's going to be popular! Sharing, pinning and G+ing for you.
Joyette Helen Fabien from Dominica on January 06, 2016:
This is quite interesting and informative! Would you be able to write a follow up hub on effective remedies for these problems?