The Structure of the Skin

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  • 0:01 Skin
  • 0:45 Epidermis
  • 2:19 Dermis
  • 5:22 Subcutaneous Tissue
  • 6:01 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
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.

You probably don't think much about the structures found within the layers of your skin. Yet these structures make you waterproof, keep you germ-free and prevent your body from getting too hot or too cold. Learn what structures help skin do its jobs.


Today, we are going to discuss your amazing, incredible, and fascinating skin. What? You don't think your skin is amazing or incredible, nonetheless fascinating? Well, that's where you're wrong.

Think about this: This natural coat that we all wear is waterproof, expandable and easily cleaned, and it repairs itself when it's cut or burned. In this lesson, we will talk about the layers of your skin, namely the epidermis, dermis and subcutaneous tissue, and learn how structures within these layers make your skin so amazing. By the end of the lesson, I think you'll have a new appreciation for your skin.


The epidermis is the outermost layer of your skin, so when you look in the mirror, you're looking at your epidermis. This term is easy to remember if you recall that the prefix 'epi-' means 'above.'

Your epidermis is avascular, which means it doesn't have a blood supply. Not having a blood supply may sound like a bad thing, but there is at least one good thing that comes from this. This avascular trait explains why you can shave without bleeding.

The epidermis is a tough, protective layer. This quality is thanks to cells within the epidermis that produce a fibrous protein called keratin. As new epidermal cells are created deep inside the epidermis, they push older cells up toward the surface of your skin. These older cells flatten out, and grow increasingly full of keratin. Keratin is what makes your skin water resistant and tough. This strong outer coat protects the deeper layers of your skin from harmful environmental factors, like germs and chemicals, and helps lock in the things you need, like water.

Your epidermis also contains special cells called melanocytes. These cells make melanin, which is the pigment that contributes to your skin color. Melanocytes also respond to sunlight. When you sit out on the beach on a sunny summer day, your melanocytes produce more melanin, and your skin color gets darker.


The dermis is the layer of skin below the epidermis. Do you own a leather belt or handbag? Well, leather is actually the dermis, or 'hide,' of the animal that has been treated and prepared.

The dermis is attached to the epidermis, but instead of a nice straight dividing line, the division between the two layers appears to be bumpy. This bumpy appearance is due to the fact that the dermis pushes up into the epidermis at different areas. These indented areas contain capillaries, or tiny blood vessels that provide some nutrients to the epidermis as well as specialized receptors. Some of these receptors are free nerve endings that allow you to feel pain. Others, like the Meissner's corpuscles, allow you to perceive touch.

When I was little, I heard a story about the Snow Miser whose touch turned everything to snow. This story about the Miser's touch helps me remember that the Meissner's corpuscles help me to perceive touch.

As we look at the deeper areas of the dermis, we find larger blood vessels and sweat glands that both help with the regulation of your body temperature. We also find sebaceous glands, which are oil glands found in all parts of your skin except the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet. Oil from these glands help keep your skin soft.

Additional structures in the dermal layer are the Pacinian corpuscles, which are specialized receptors that allow you to feel pressure and vibration. If you think of the P's in Pacinian and pressure, it will help you recall this structure's job.

One of the most prominent structures in the dermis is the hair follicle, which is the pit that encloses the root of your body hairs. Did you ever get the chills and notice that you had goose bumps that raised the hairs on your arms? That hair standing erect was caused by a contraction of the arrector pili muscles, which are tiny muscles that attach to each hair root. When you're cold and scared, these muscles contract, giving you goose bumps.

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