Scientists Say: Epidermis

This is the outermost layer of your skin


This microscope image shows the epidermis and the deeper dermis. Flattened cells make up the outer layer of the epidermis, with the basal layer found beneath it.

Fama Clamosa and Mikael Häggström/Kilbad/Wikimedia Commons

Epidermis (noun, “Eh-pi-DER-miss”)

This is the outermost layer of your skin. Epidermis is a combination of two Greek words: “epi,” meaning “over,” and “derma,” meaning “skin.” The epidermis is made of two main groups of cells. The outer group is composed of layers of flattened cells. The inner group is called a “basal” layer and has cells arranged at a right angle to the flattened layer. Between the two layers, there’s a pigment layer that gives our skin its color. Beneath the epidermis is the dermis — a thicker layer that helps cushion our bodies from everyday bumps and jabs.

The epidermis may seem thin, but it protects the body from germs we might encounter. It also helps to make sure our watery bodies don’t dry out. This shield between you and the world is constantly regrowing. Old skin cells are shed and new ones are added — making sure our body’s first line of defense is up to date.

In a sentence

When a person gets a tattoo, the needle goes through the epidermis to inject ink into the dermis below.

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Bethany Brookshire was a longtime staff writer at Science News Explores and is the author of the book Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology and likes to write about neuroscience, biology, climate and more. She thinks Porgs are an invasive species.

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