The importance of a Skin Barrier & How to protect it.
What is the skin barrier?
The skin barrier is the outermost layer of your skin’s surface, and it consists of cells and lipids (fats). Also known as the permeability barrier, moisture barrier, or lipid barrier, the skin barrier is responsible for making sure essential water and electrolytes don’t evaporate from skin. It also serves as a protective shield against harmful microorganisms by producing antimicrobial peptides and proteins. On top of that, the skin barrier helps sustain skin’s immunity, and it regulates inflammation. When the skin barrier is healthy, your complexion appears smooth, clear, even-toned, and balanced. On the flip side, if your skin barrier is damaged, then that’s when you’ll experience redness, irritation, breakouts, rashes, burning sensations, broken capillaries, dryness, tightness, and other symptoms you’d attribute to having sensitive skin.
Damaged skin barrier causes
Truly sensitive skin (e.g. conditions like rosacea, psoriasis, and eczema) is inherited. But most people experience uncomfortable symptoms because they’ve damaged their skin barrier. The top triggers are:
- Age. As you get older, your skin barrier function naturally weakens.
- Environmental Stress.Climate/weather changes, indoor overheating or overcooling, or toxins in the air or water.
- This dehydrates the skin and slows down collagen production and cell metabolism.
- Smog, chemicals in work environments, fumes from carpets and furniture, etc.
- Over-exfoliation.Exfoliating skin, when performed in moderation, can be a great way to keep skin fresh, smooth and clear, but overdoing it can disrupt the delicate skin barrier. Don’t do it more than 3x a week for normal skin.
- Excessive Washing.Too much cleansing can strip the natural moisture from the skin barrier, especially if you use harsh bar soaps or wash with too-hot water.
- Using sensitizing ingredients.Artificial fragrances, colorants, SD alcohol, and preservatives are known to trigger skin sensitivity.
- Consuming dehydrating beverages.Alcohol and caffeine can dehydrate skin tissues and even dilate capillaries, which causes redness.
- Sun damage.Without protecting skin from UV rays, skin can become sensitized.
- A generally poor diet can manifest on skin, but low-fat diets and spicy foods have been linked to weakening the skin barrier.
How to restore your skin barrier
- Wash your face only twice a day at most with lukewarm water. Do not ever shower or cleanse using hot water.
- Exfoliate just once or twice a week using a gentle product before increasing frequency.
- Always protect your skin with a broad-spectrum sunscreen.
Minimize or completely eliminate smoking and alcohol consumption. If you need coffee in the mornings, drink a glass of water afterwards to replenish hydration. Incorporate foods known to help increase moisture in skin, such as celery, cucumbers, salmon, flax seeds, walnuts and green juice. Also incorporate essential fatty acids which you can find in avocados, salmon and flax seeds.
The ‘Brick Wall’ Analogy
The barrier function refers to the Stratum Corneum layer of skin (outermost layer)
The bricks are the corneocytes (dried out, non-living skin cells that are ready to shed).The mortar (cement holding the bricks together) is the intercellular matrix, which is composed of lipids, to help maintain firmness, hydration and softness. (Stacked lipid bilayers that surround the corneocytes).
The Importance of the Lipid Barrier
The lipid barrier minimizes water loss and is essential for strong, healthy, hydrated skin. It performs 3 important functions:
- Traps water molecules and prevents the passage of water out of the Stratum Corneum.
- prevents natural moisturizing factors from leaching out
- prevents environmental chemicals and biological irritants from entering skin
A Damaged Barrier Function
Before & After