Other animal coverings, such as the arthropod exoskeleton, have different developmental origin, structure and chemical composition. The adjective cutaneous means "of the skin" (from Latin cutis, skin). In mammals, the skin is an organ of the integumentary system made up of multiple layers of ectodermal tissue, and guards the underlying muscles, bones, ligaments and internal organs. Skin of a different nature exists in amphibians, reptiles, and birds. All mammals have some hair on their skin, even marine mammals like whales, dolphins, and porpoises which appear to be hairless. The skin interfaces with the environment and is the first line of defense from external factors. For example, the skin plays a key role in protecting the body against pathogens and excessive water loss. Its other functions are insulation, temperature regulation, sensation, and the production of vitamin D folates. Severely damaged skin may heal by forming scar tissue. This is sometimes discoloured and depigmented. The thickness of skin also varies from location to location on an organism. In humans for example, the skin located under the eyes and around the eyelids is the thinnest skin in the body at 0.5 mm thick, and is one of the first areas to show signs of aging such as "crows feet" and wrinkles. The skin on the palms and the soles of the feet is 4 mm thick and is the thickest skin on the body. The speed and quality of wound healing in skin is promoted by the reception of estrogen.
Fur is dense hair. Primarily, fur augments the insulation the skin provides but can also serve as a secondary sexual characteristic or as camouflage. On some animals, the skin is very hard and thick, and can be processed to create leather. Reptiles and fish have hard protective scales on their skin for protection, and birds have hard feathers, all made of tough β-keratins. Amphibian skin is not a strong barrier, especially regarding the passage of chemicals via skin and is often subject to osmosis and diffusive forces. For example, a frog sitting in an anesthetic solution would be sedated quickly, as the chemical diffuses through its skin. Amphibian skin plays key roles in everyday survival and their ability to exploit a wide range of habitats and ecological conditions.
Mammalian skin is composed of two primary layers:
The epidermis is composed of the outermost layers of the skin. It forms a protective barrier over the body's surface, responsible for keeping water in the body and preventing pathogens from entering, and is a stratified squamous epithelium, composed of proliferating basal and differentiated suprabasal keratinocytes.
Keratinocytes are the major cells, constituting 95% of the epidermis, while Merkel cells, melanocytes and Langerhans cells are also present. The epidermis can be further subdivided into the following strata or layers (beginning with the outermost layer):
Keratinocytes in the stratum basale proliferate through mitosis and the daughter cells move up the strata changing shape and composition as they undergo multiple stages of cell differentiation to eventually become anucleated. During that process, keratinocytes will become highly organized, forming cellular junctions (desmosomes) between each other and secreting keratin proteins and lipids which contribute to the formation of an extracellular matrix and provide mechanical strength to the skin. Keratinocytes from the stratum corneum are eventually shed from the surface (desquamation).