Left banner image adapted from amyloidosis gross node, by Ed Uthman MD, Creative Commons license

Shed your skin

Skin layers, original image at Wikimedia
The human skin is a fascinating organ - covering the entire body and continuous with the mucous membranes that go into the body via orifices, the skin protects our bodies. It keeps water in and microbes out. It's part of a larger system called the integumentary system that includes sweat glands, hair follicles, nail beds, pain receptors, and the sense of touch. But it's also the only organ that we lose bits of every day.

Gross fact: skin makes up about 16 percent of your body weight, and contains 1.6 trillion cells

The air you breath, the dust you sweep from your floor - it has pieces of you in it. Skin cells, we lose tens of thousands of them an hour. Flaking off in a scratching flurry of white dry skin, or just simply sloughing off completely unnoticed, the skin is in a constant state of renewal that pushes the cells out to the surface, where they die and detach. A skin cell lives about 35 days, making the journey from dermis to epidermis. 

Why? The outer layer of "dead" skin cells, along with the keratin protein produced by skin cells, is what helps create a watertight barrier to prevent microbe growth. (Fancy word for this: stratum corneum). Bacteria live on our skin, but they fall off with the skin cells they live on, preventing an infection from taking hold by limiting bacterial colonization.

Gross fact: every year you shed close to 8 pounds of skin cells

What's even grosser? These dead skin cells are food for dust mites. They are microscopic bugs that live in your home. Yes, even yours.
House dust mite, by Gilles San Martin, Wikimedia

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