Keratin is the protein that gives hair strength and rigidity, but it is also found all throughout the human body. It is actually the key structural material for both the outer layer of your skin and your fingernails and toenails. In fact, approximately 90 percent of the cells in your outer layer of skin are filled with keratin.
Your epidermis, the outer layer of skin, is virtually waterproof and helps protect your body from infection, as well as regulating your body temperature. The reason that your skin is so strong is that the majority of your epidermis’ cells are keratinocytes. These are cells that are filled with keratin, which acts as a pathogen fighting protein that hardens as it builds up. The cells die and come off, which we know as dead skin, but they are constantly being replaced. The hardening of these cells is known as cornification, and constant abrasion causes a thickening of this cornified skin. These are the calluses that help us resist pain and extreme temperatures upon contact. Without this helpful layer of keratin infused cells, our immune systems would need to fight much harder to keep us healthy.
Keratin also gives us healthy, strong fingernails and toenails. However, the human nail is much more than just the nail plate to which we often refer. The matrix of the nail is the tissue which the plate protects. This tissue contains nerves and veins that transport signals to the brain, blood and other fluids. It is also responsible for producing the translucent keratinocytes that make up the nail plate. As new cells are formed, they push against the older cells, compacting and creating a strong but flexible plate. The nail bed is the skin surrounding the matrix, and like all skin, contains keratin infused cells, as well. A healthy nail helps us protect our fingers and toes from injuries, as well as giving us more precise motor function and increased sensitivity in the fingertips.
Without keratin, our hair would have not strength, our skin would be much more prone to infection and disease and we would not have the security and sensitivity in our hands and feet that we do. This crucial protein protects our entire body, so don’t forget to ask your salon stylist about any tips that will help you keep your hair, skin and nails healthy.