Skin has pigmentation, provided by melanocytes, which absorbs some of the potentially dangerous radiation in sunlight. It also contains DNA repair enzymes which reverse UV damage, and people who lack the genes for these enzymes suffer high rates of skin cancer. One form predominantly produced by UV light, malignant melanoma, is particularly invasive, causing it to spread quickly, and can often be deadly. Human skin pigmentation varies among populations in a striking manner. This has sometimes led to the classification of people on the basis of skin color. See the article on human skin color.
Mammalian skin often contains hairs, which in sufficient density is called fur. The hair mainly serves to augment 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 to passage of chemicals. A frog sitting in an anesthetic solution will quickly go to sleep.
The dermis lies below the epidermis and contains a number of structures including blood vessels, nerves, hair follicles, smooth muscle, glands and lymphatic tissue. It consists of loose connective tissue otherwise called areolar connective tissue - collagen, elastin and reticular fibres are present. Erector muscles, attached between the hair papilla and epidermis, can contract, resulting in the hair fibre pulled upright and consequentially goose bumps.
The main cell types of skin are fibroblasts, adipocytes (fat storage) and macrophages. Sebaceous glands are exocrine glands which produce sebum, a mixture of lipids and waxy substances: lubrication, water-proofing, softening and antibactericidal actions are among the many functions of sebum. Sweat glands open up via a duct onto the skin by a pore.
The dermis can be split into the papillary and reticular layers. The papillary layer is outermost and extends into the dermis to supply it with vessels. It is composed of loosely arranged fibres. Papillary ridges make up the lines of the hands. The reticular layer is more dense and is continuous with the hypodermis. It contains the bulk of the structures (such as sweat glands). The reticular layer is composed of irregularly arranged fibres and resists stretching.
Skin can be dividided into thick and thin types. Thick skin is present on the soles of the feet and the palms of the hands. It has a larger stratum corneum with a higher keratin content. Thick skin does not grow hair; its purpose is to help grip. Thin skin is present on the bulk of the body and has a smaller stratum corneum and fewer papillae ridges. It has hair and is softer and more elastic. The characteristics of the skin, including sensory nerve density and the type of hair, vary with location on the body.