The Subcutaneous Fat Layer
The subcutaneous fat layer cushions the dermis from underlying tissues such as muscle and bones.
As we have seen, this layer consists of cells containing fatty deposits, called adipose cells. The blood vessels and nerves it contains are larger than those in the dermis. It may also house the hair follicles when they are in the growing phase.
One of the functions of this fatty layer may be to act an insulation to conserve body heat. The human body stores fat as an energy reserve, in the same way that some animals store fat for winter when food supplies are likely to be short. Unfortunately the numbers of people with excess fat are increasing, thanks to their genetic predisposition together with habitually eating the now abundant sources of food. An excess of stored fat is seldom due to hormone problems, although as we get older fat deposition naturally increases as our metabolisms slow down. Getting normally heavier is therefore not necessarily due to us eating more food - just to eating.
Fat is stored outside the muscles. Although calorie reduction as part of an overall plan helps to make us slimmer, specific remedies to improve muscle tone in the tummy by exercise do not necessarily help to reduce the fat in that area. Distribution of fat in the body differs between men and women: in women it is stored mainly in the buttocks and thighs, and in men in the abdominal wall (the notorious 'beer belly').
The subcutaneous fat is organized into fat lobules, which are separated by collagen fibres. When these lobules become grossly distended and engorged by fat they adopt characteristic patterns (cellulite), in women particularly on the bottom and thighs where the skin is tethered down to the underlying muscles. These patterns tend to develop from the teens onwards.
The skin of very young children is often plumped out with a generous layer of subcutaneous fat.