There are thousands of skin products on store shelves promising to make your skin look younger, brighter and clearer. But healthy skin isn't about just your appearance. Caring for your skin by keeping it in top shape is crucial for your overall health and well-being.
Although you might not think of it this way, your skin is an organ, much like your heart and kidneys are. In fact, it's the largest organ in your body [source: MerckSource]. Your outermost skin layer -- the epidermis -- is your body's first line of defense against intruders, such as germs, and the elements. It shields the second layer of your skin, the dermis, which contains important structures like sweat glands and hair follicles.
The epidermis is thin, tough and waterproof. This protective shield works to help your body repel damaging bacteria and viruses. It contains several different types of cells, including a specialized kind called Langerhans' cells, which provide support for your immune system by fighting against these potentially harmful foreign substances.
The epidermis also protects you from the harmful rays of the sun. It contains another important type of cell called melanocytes, which produce the pigment melanin. When you get a tan, it's this pigment that turns your skin darker or causes freckles. Melanin's main function, however, is to block out the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays, which can lead to cancer or other skin problems [source: Merck Manuals].
Finally, although appearance might not be the most crucial function of your epidermis, this layer of cells does act as your "face" to the world. When the epidermis becomes dry or damaged, you can end up looking older than you actually are [source: Hoffman].
When you care for your epidermis, you help maintain all these functions and keep your body strong and protected. To learn more about your epidermis and find tips for keeping it healthy, check out some of the links on the next page.