KERATIN

Keratins are a family of fibrous structural proteins; which are extremely strong and are a major component in skin, hair, nails and teeth. The amino acids which combine to form keratin have several unique properties, and depending on the levels of the various amino acids, keratin can be inflexible and hard, like nails, or soft, as is the case with skin.

Keratins are the main constituent of structures that grow from the skin:

  • the a-keratins in the hair (including wool), horns, nails, claws and hooves of mammals
  • the harder b-keratins found in nails and in the scales and claws of reptiles, their shells (chelonians, such as tortoise, turtle, terrapin), and in the feathers, beaks, claws of birds and quills of porcupines. (These keratins are formed primarily in beta sheets. However, beta sheets are also found in a-keratins.)
Most of the keratin that people interact with is actually dead; hair, skin, and nails are all formed from dead cells which the body sheds as new cells push up from underneath. If the dead cells are kept in good condition, they will serve as an insulating layer to protect the delicate new keratin below them.

Keratin is difficult to dissolve, because it contains cysteine disulfide, which means that it is able to form disulfide bridges. These disulfide bridges create a helix shape that is extremely strong, as sulfur atoms bond to each other from across the helix, creating a fibrous matrix which is not readily soluble. Depending on how much cysteine disulfide keratin contains, the bond can be extremely strong to make hard cells like those found in hooves, or it can be softer to make flexible keratin like hair and skin. Because of the high levels of sulfur in keratin, when it is burned it emits a distinct sulfurous odor which some people find distasteful.

Keratin is formed by keratinocytes, living cells which make up a large part of skin, hair, nails, and other keratin containing parts of the body. The cells slowly push their way upwards, eventually dying and forming a protective layer of cells. Thousands of these cells are shed every day, and the process can be accelerated by various medical conditions, such as psoriasis. Damage to the external layer of keratin can cause skin, hair, and nails to look unhealthy or flaky.

Hair and nails on humans especially tend to become dry and brittle, because the dead keratin is being pushed to great lengths. By eating foods like gelatin and keeping hair and nails moist, they can be grown out while still remaining healthy. In general, the thicker the layer of keratin, the healthier the hair or nail is, because the dead cells outside protect the living cells at the core. Keeping the external layer of keratin moisturized will also keep it healthy and prevent cracking and splitting, whether the keratin is forming the hooves of a horse of the skin of a human.

Back to the top of the page



                            Send this page to a Friend:
                                                     



Site Map
Essential Oils