Do you ever find yourself wondering why the skincare community keeps saying “take care of your skin barrier” ? Or what a ‘skin barrier’ even means? What does it even do?
It’s simple – a healthy outer skin barrier provides a solid foundation for healthy skin! Think of it as your body’s natural guard against bacteria, pollution and more! However, there’s only so many hits it can take without some TLC (tender love and care). In a world of exfoliants, harsh cleansers, stress, pollution and tough lifestyles, it can be easy to damage it.
A damaged barrier can lead to a number of other problems, deeper in the skin. Thus, the trick lies in understanding how your skincare routine or choices, affect your natural barrier.
Let’s dive in to really understand what your skin barrier is, and how to take care of it!
So, What Is It?
Your skin is essentially divided into three layers – the epidermis (outer layer), dermis (middle layer) and hypodermis (innermost layer). The skin barrier is the outermost layer of your epidermis, making it crucial for good skin health. It is made of layers of cells termed corneocytes (with keratin fibres and natural moisturisers). These layers are held together by fatty acids or lipids, cholesterol and ceramide.
A common explanation is to picture it as a wall made of of brick and mortar. The cells form the bricks, while the lipids form the mortar, or glue, that holds the layers together.
Furthermore, a very thin film covers the surface of the lipid barrier; a combination of sebum (skin’s natural oils) and sweat secretions (amino acids and lactic acid) that create the acid mantle. It serves as our skin’s first line of defence against external bacteria and irritants.
The skin barrier itself serves multiple functions:
- Helps retain moisture and maintain a water content balance
- Prevents bacteria, environmental pollutants, irritants and other external stressors from penetrating the skin
What is a Damaged Skin Barrier?
When healthy and intact, your skin tends to remain clear, supple and plump. The barrier acts as a natural shield, and is able to retain the necessary moisture and has a healthy glow. When these layers are structurally affected, the lipid barrier is unable to efficiently perform its functions. As a result, there is a loss in moisture content and it is easier for external stressors to penetrate the skin and cause irritation. This is what is often called a damaged skin barrier. Common skin problems too can be a result of an impaired barrier, although many of us may not realise it.
How To Identify a Damaged Skin Barrier?
Skin barrier damage is not limited to a skin type. Whether you have dry, dehydrated, oily, acne-prone skin etc., – your barrier can be in need of repair.
There may be a variety of factors that disrupt it, ranging from genetic predisposition, to the environment you live in and your regular lifestyle. Some people are genetically predisposed to experience skin conditions or cannot properly produce the required barrier components. Moreover, lifestyle factors such as stress, pollution, the weather etc. can also impair your barrier. Even your age is a factor in determining skin barrier health, as it begins to weaken with time.
Additionally, your skincare habits also influence the strength of your skin barrier. Using too many active ingredients in one go, or over-cleansing and over-exfoliating can disrupt the barrier and leave it damaged. Long-term UV exposure without proper protection can also result in damage.
Causes of an Impaired Skin Barrier:
- Using too many actives in one routine or irritation from a product
- Harsh UV exposure
- Stress and lifestyle patterns
- Genetic predisposition and age
- External irritants like harsh weather, pollution, friction and bacteria from wearing a mask etc.
Signs You Have a Damaged Skin Barrier:
- Very dehydrated, dry or flaky skin
- Redness, rashes or inflammation
- Prone to more acne breakouts
- Excessive skin irritation and texture
- Feeling uncomfortable tightness and excessive oily shine
How to Repair Your Skin Barrier?
Find the root cause & simplify your routine:
Take a step back and try and figure out the cause behind the disruption in your skin. Identifying the cause can help you determine what steps to take to repair it. In the meantime- simplify your routine. Return to the basics with a gentle low pH cleanser, a moisturiser and SPF. Stop any exfoliation steps or active ingredients for a while.
Hydrate! Hydrate, Hydrate:
A damaged barrier requires extra hydration to make up for the loss of water content. Using humectants can help draw necessary moisture to your skin. Some examples include, hyaluronic acid, glycerin, snail mucin, aloe vera, seaweed etc. They help replenish the Natural Moisturizing Factors in your cells and strengthen your barrier.
Soothe redness and inflammation:
A broken skin barrier can also result in dry, flaky and sensitised skin. That’s why it’s important to turn to products that soothe and calm skin. Look for anti-acne solutions and products that reduce dryness. Ingredients such as centella asiatica, guaiazulene, colloidal oatmeal, calendula, propolis, aloe, green tea, mugwort (artemisia) etc can help soothe irritation. Use these everyday for as long as required.
Antioxidants to the rescue:
Antioxidants look after your skin in the long run. Not only do they help rebuild your skin’s barrier, but also reduce the effect of incoming stressors. Protecting your skin against free radical damage, can help maintain a strong defense. They are also especially helpful if you have sensitive skin. Vitamin A, C, and E serve as powerful antioxidants, along with coloured fruit, vegetable and plant extracts. These include cucumber, okra, pomegranate, green tea, pumpkin, carrots etc. Certain oils such as sunflower oil, jojoba oil, sea buckthorn oil etc. are also chock-full of antioxidants and hydrating linoleic acids that help repair skin.
Moisturisers rich in ceramides can help rebuild the barrier from within. While those that are more occlusive can help form a protective seal-like layer to reduce water loss. Niacinamide, present in moisturisers, can also help boost ceramide production which improves barrier function.
As Baz Lurhman famously said, “if I could offer you just one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it!” One of the most important steps for protecting your skin is wearing sunscreen everyday. It can help prevent signs of premature-aging, and when using antioxidant ingredients – it fights free radical damage.
Ever noticed how you tend to breakout when you’re stressed? Both physical and mental stressors can impact your skin. Therefore it’s important to also approach skin barrier repair from all perspectives. Research proves that stress can slow down your skin’s natural healing process. So prolonged mental stress and poor management can weaken your barrier permanently.
How do you like to repair your skin barrier?
Let us know in the comments below!