Whenever you struggle with spots, you attribute it to the acne-causing bacteria (or maybe because you are constantly touching your face). When you feel your skin is drying up, you blame the aircon and maybe set up an air humidifier or use your mist more often. You probably will deal with more skin concerns going forward and ultimately, it all has to do with how well your skin barrier holds up.

Your skin consists of three primary layers: the epidermis, dermis, and hypodermis. The skin barrier is part of the top layer, the epidermis. Its role is to help protect your skin from bacteria, pollutants, UV, and other environmental irritants. The layer under the epidermis is the dermis. It’s made of fibrous and elastic tissue and provides elasticity to the skin. One of its other functions is to produce oil that keeps the skin soft and smooth. The bottom layer is the subcutaneous tissue also called hypodermis. As fat storage, it helps provide insulation for the body and controls its temperature. The hypodermis attaches the upper skin layers (dermis and epidermis) to underlying tissues such as your muscles, bones, and cartilage.

Skin Barrier

The skin barrier is also referred to as stratum corneum, permeability barrier, moisture barrier, acid mantle, or lipid barrier. As part of the epidermis, the skin barrier is made of multiple layers of flattened skin cells (coenocytes) and fats (lipids) that glue them together. You can liken it to a brick wall. The bricks are the dried out, non-living skin cells, and the mortar is composed of the lipids (free fatty acids, cholesterol, and ceramides).

Photo by Andreas Schantl

This “brick and mortar wall” not only protects you from environmental chemicals and biological irritants. It also forms a barrier and prevents water and other beneficial substances from leaving the skin, so it stays firm, hydrated, and less prone to wrinkles.

Why Does the Skin Barrier Get Damaged?

Many factors can disrupt the skin barrier. This means that the brick is not tightly aligned making the skin vulnerable to damage from pollution, winter air, sunlight. The skin will also lose its ability to retain its natural moisture levels, making it dry and tight. You may find it counter-intuitive, but dehydrated skin will try to compensate for the lack of hydration and overproduce sebum. The consequences are easily rough texture, irritated, itchy, tight yet oily, and flaky skin.

If your skin barrier function is damaged, the skin will have a hard time retaining its natural moisture levels, which can make your skin dry and tight. While it may seem counter-intuitive, dehydrated skin can also over-produce sebum to compensate for the lack of hydration. And that’s not all; skin can become sensitized, easily irritated, and more prone to breakouts. When this suddenly happens, most probably your skin barrier is damaged.

If you encounter the above-mentioned symptoms, it is time to resolve the root causes which might have been due to our own skincare mistakes that we can prevent in the future.

  • Exessive washing: You may be washing too often and with too hot water. You are using cleansers that are too harsh for you. These are stripping your skin off its natural oils.
  • Over-exfoliation: Overscrubbing with physical exfoliators as well as overusing chemical peels damages the skin barrier and leaves the skin raw.
  • Pollution: Smog, chemicals in the work environment, fumes from carpets, and dry air can impact the moisture barrier.
  • Smoking: Ages your skin. Moreover, it dehydrates the skin, slows down collagen production and cell metabolism.
  • Stress: Be it emotional or physical, stress disrupts your sleep which can damage your acid mantle.

There are also factors that are out of our control. One is age. With the years, the skin barrier function will naturally weaken. The other is genetics. Skin conditions like rosacea, psoriasis, and eczema, that is, truly sensitive skin is inherited.

While you can’t stop time or change your genes you can support the permeability barrier.

How To Support A Strong Skin Barrier Function?

As you have seen, a healthy skin barrier is the basic of what all our skin goals dreams are. It helps the skin deal with external and internal stress, making our complexion clear, radiant, and supple.

Skincare Changes

  • Double-cleanse your face before bed, and in the morning use luke-warm water to wash your face
  • Exfoliate just once or twice a week using a gentle product. Avoid scrubs, brushes, and other cleansing tools.
  • Always use a broad-spectrum sunscreen.
  • Use a low pH cleanser. The skin’s pH level is around 5.5, which is slightly acidic and ideal to the support barrier function.
  • Hydrate your skin throughout the day with a mist.

Lifestyle Changes

If you can, completely stop smoking and alcohol consumption. Always stay hydrated and drink enough water. If you drink a cup of coffee, follow up with a glass of water to replenish hydration. Add foods that will nourish your skin from within such as cucumbers, salmon, flax seeds, walnut.

Look out for ingredients that maintain and repair your skin barrier and incorporate them into your skincare routine.

Skin Barrier Restoring Ingredients

Ingredients that will help you restore and maintain a healthy barrier can be grouped into three categories: skin soothing, water-retaining, barrier restoration.

Skin-soothing

Once the barrier is disrupted, you may experience more irritation and redness. You want to calm down and soothe your skin with

  • aloe vera
  • calendula
  • centella asiatica
  • chamomille
  • cucumber
  • green tea

Water-retaining

As your skin’s water retention ability is impaired, you want to support it with ingredients that attract and retain water.

  • glycerin
  • hyaluronic acid
  • panthenol
  • snail mucin

Barrier restoration

Lipids are vital to restoring the barrier since they are the cement or mortar of the brick wall. Retinoids (vitamin a) improve water barrier properties.

ceramides
free fatty acids, like stearic acid, palmitic acid, and linoleic acid
niacinamide
vitamin a and e

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