Skin Cells Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

Your skin is the biggest organ of your body and it contains trillions of cells, which go by the names keratinocytes, melanocytes, Merkel cells, and Langerhans cells. Learn some interesting facts and important functions about these skin cells.

Skin Cells

What part of your body is waterproof, changes color, and can repair itself? Your skin!

Your skin is made up of trillions of cells that continually reproduce, replacing damaged or worn-out cells with new ones. Your skin cells contain special proteins, pigments, and components that repel water, determine your skin color, help you touch, and protect you from harmful invaders.

Keratinocytes

Most of the cells in your skin are called keratinocytes (pronounced care-ah-tin-o-cites). That's a big word, but it's easy to remember if you break it down. The first part of the word, keratin, refers to a special protein by the same name. The last part of the word, cyte, is the Greek word for cell. So a keratinocyte is a cell that contains keratin. Keratin is a substance that helps make your skin waterproof.

Keratinocytes die as they move toward the surface of your skin.
cells

New keratinocytes are constantly being born at the base of your skin. As new cells form, more mature cells are pushed up toward the skin's surface, moving farther away from the blood supply that keeps them alive. By the time a skin cell reaches the surface, it's dead. So the skin you see on your body is actually a thin layer of dead skin cells! This explains why your dad can shave without bleeding. The dead cells have no blood flowing to them, so when your dad shaves, he might scrape off some dead skin cells, but we won't bleed.

Melanocytes

Did you ever wonder why your skin gets darker after spending time in the sun? It's because of another type of skin cell called a melanocyte (pronounced mel-an-o-cite). Here again, we can remember the term by breaking down the word. The first part of this word, melan, refers to a pigment in the cell called melanin. This pigment is what gives your skin its color.

Skin cells under a microscope.
cells

The more melanin produced in your skin's melanocytes, the darker your skin color. Your skin color is determined by the genes passed down to you from your mom and dad, but the sun can also give you some added color. Exposure to the sun causes your melanocytes to make more melanin, resulting in a sun tan!

Do you have freckles or moles? Can you guess what causes those dark spots on your skin? If you guessed melanocytes, you're correct! Freckles and moles are darker than the rest of your skin because melanin got concentrated in one spot.

Merkel Cells and Langerhans Cells

Your skin also contains Merkel cells and Langerhans cells. While these cells don't do cool things like make you waterproof or change your color, they do carry out important functions.

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