Stephen J. Schueler, M.D.

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Sun Poisoning Anatomy

To better understand sunburn, it helps to understand the anatomy of the skin.

The skin contains three main layers:

  • Epidermis:
    • The superficial layer that makes up the surface of the skin
    • It is composed of skin cells and can be divided into 5 layers based on cell type.
    • The top layer of the epidermis, the stratum corneum, is made of dead, flat skin cells that shed about every 2 weeks.
    • The thickness of the epidermis varies, according to location: it is very thick over the soles of the feet, and very thin over the ears.
  • Dermis:
    • Lies beneath the epidermis
    • Also varies in thickness depending on the location of the skin. It is .3 mm on the eyelid and 3.0 mm on the back.
    • The dermis is composed of 2 layers that contain a connective tissue called collagen
    • The dermis contains blood vessels, nerves, sweat glands, and hair follicles.
    • The number of structures in the dermis varies, according to location.
    • The dermis under the arms contains more sweat glands and hair follicles than the dermis on the back.
  • Subcutaneous layer:
    • Mainly fat and connective tissue.
    • Contains blood vessels and nerves.

Last Updated: Jan 5, 2011 References
Authors: Stephen J. Schueler, MD; John H. Beckett, MD; D. Scott Gettings, MD
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PubMed Sun Poisoning References
  1. Han A, Maibach HI. Management of acute sunburn. Am J Clin Dermatol. 2004;5(1):39-47. [14979742]
  2. O'Riordan DL, Geller AC, Brooks DR, Zhang Z, Miller DR. Sunburn reduction through parental role modeling and sunscreen vigilance. J Pediatr. 2003 Jan;142(1):67-72. [1252025]
  3. Warthan MM, Sewell DS, Marlow RA, Warthan ML, Wagner RF Jr. The economic impact of acute sunburn. Arch Dermatol. 2003 Aug;139(8):1003-6. [12925386]
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