How does my skin affect my overall health?

Man's Chest Painted to Reveal Internal Organs
Your skin protects your insides and works to keep the rest of your body healthy.
TRBfoto/Photodisc/Getty Images

Your skin, which is your largest organ, not only protects your internal organs and systems, but it also can provide clues when something is wrong with another part of your body. In these ways, your skin is an important player in your overall health.

As an adult, you haul around about 8 pounds (3.6 kilograms) of skin, and this organ does much more than just keep all your insides inside [source: National Geographic]. Each of your skin's three layers plays a part in keeping you healthy.


Your outermost layer, the epidermis, helps your body produce proteins (such as keratin) and vitamins that are essential to your health. It holds the melanocytes, which produce melanin to protect your skin from the sun's harmful rays. The dermis, or middle layer, houses blood vessels, nerves to help you sense pain, sweat glands to cool your body, as well as collagen and elastin that control the skin's firmness and strength. The subcutaneous layer, comprised of fat and collagen cells, helps you to retain heat, and it also absorbs shock and protects your internal organs from injury [source: WebMD].

As for external chemicals and pollutants, not only can you breathe them in, your skin might also absorb them. Some laboratory research suggests that exposing skin cells to ozone from smog may cause the skin to convert the pollutants to even more toxic materials; however, more research in people is needed before the findings are conclusive [source: LiveScience]. Although some harmful pollutants might be able to get through your skin's barrier, healthy skin still protects you from many others.

In addition, your skin can set off alarm bells when something is wrong internally. Many serious conditions first manifest themselves as skin problems. In some cases, lupus, diabetes, hepatitis C, some cancers and kidney failure are indicated first by a rash, discoloration or bumps on the skin. It is important to pay attention to what your skin is telling you and contact a doctor if something abnormal causes concern [source: WebMD].

Keep reading for links on the next page to find out more about this amazing organ and what you can do to take care of it.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • LiveScience. "Smog Could Be Toxic for Your Skin." MSNBC. June 25, 2009. (Accessed Aug. 12, 2009)
  • National Geographic. "Skin." (Accessed Sept. 21, 2009)
  • WebMD. "Skin Conditions: Understanding Your Skin." July 29, 2009. (Accessed Sept. 21, 2009)
  • WebMD. "What Your Skin Says About Your Health Slideshow." April 30, 2009. (Accessed Sept. 21, 2009)