Organization of the dermal matrix impacts the biomechanical properties of skin

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Article first published online: 12 Jun 2017
DOI: 10.1111/bjd.15353

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Human skin has the crucial roles of maintaining homeostasis and protecting against the external environment. Skin offers protection against mechanical trauma due to the reversible deformation of its structure; these biomechanical properties are amenable to dynamic testing using noninvasive devices.


To characterize the biomechanical properties of young, black African/African‐Caribbean and white Northern European skin from different anatomical sites, and to relate underlying skin architecture to biomechanical function.


Using cutometry and ballistometry, the biomechanical properties of buttock and dorsal forearm skin were determined in black African/African‐Caribbean (n = 18) and white Northern European (n = 20) individuals aged 18–30 years. Skin biopsies were obtained from a subset of the volunteers (black African/African‐Caribbean, n = 5; white Northern European, n = 6) and processed for histological and immunohistochemical detection of the major elastic fibre components and fibrillar collagens.


We have determined that healthy skin from young African and white Northern European individuals has similar biomechanical properties (F3): the skin is resilient (capable of returning to its original position following deformation, R1), exhibits minimal fatigue (R4) and is highly elastic (R2, R5 and R7). At the histological level, skin with these biomechanical properties is imbued with strong interdigitation of the rete ridges at the dermoepidermal junction ( DEJ ) and candelabra‐like arrays of elastic fibres throughout the papillary dermis. Dramatic disruption to this highly organized arrangement of elastic fibres, effacement of the rete ridges and alterations to the alignment of the fibrillar collagens is apparent in the white Northern European forearm and coincides with a marked decline in biomechanical function.


Maintenance of skin architecture – both epidermal morphology and elastic fibre arrangement – is essential for optimal skin biomechanical properties. Disruption to underlying skin architecture, as observed in the young white Northern European forearm, compromises biomechanical function.

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