Our body’s largest organ also happens to be the one that is most front and centre, so it is important that we put our best foot forward. With our skin being exposed to everything, from what we put on it, to external pollutants in the environment, free radicals and more, it’s no wonder that it throws a tantrum from time to time. Luckily, it’s not all doom and gloom; there are steps we can take to help keep our skin barrier in tip top shape, and understanding the role our skin barrier plays and how we can best protect it is a great first step…
What is the ‘skin barrier’?
Our skin is comprised of many layers that each carry out a certain function to protect our bodies, our skin barrier being one of them. The skin barrier, also known as the moisture barrier, refers to the top layer of our skin, which is located at the outermost part of our epidermis and is called the stratum corneum. It helps to think of the stratum corneum as a brick wall; it is built of tough skin cells known as corneocytes that are paved together with mortar-like lipids. These ‘bricks’ contain keratin and natural moisturisers. The ‘mortar’ binds these bricks together using cholesterol, fatty acids and ceramides.
Why is our skin barrier so important?
Our skin barrier is arguably one of the most important aspects to address when thinking about our skincare routine. Simply put, it helps keep the bad stuff like toxins and free radicals out, and the good stuff, like moisture, in. Whilst at face value, we might only initially think about our skin barrier from a beauty perspective, our skin barrier is literally keeping us alive. This is because without our skin barrier, we would be susceptible to toxins and pathogens that exist within our environment that can then cause adverse events to occur in our bodies.
What can damage our skin barrier?
Unfortunately, whilst thinking of our skin barrier as a brick wall is a good analogy, the reality is that it is a lot more fragile! There are many nasties that can send our skin barriers into alarm, but knowing what these factors are is the first step to taking control of our skin. We’ve got you covered, so you can cover the bases of what might be causing any skin damage you’re encountering…
A major factor in causing damage to our skin barrier is the weather. Have you ever noticed that throughout the year, your skin changes with the seasons? This can be attributed to the changing weather patterns causing disruption to your skin barrier. Cold weather can cause cracks on the outer layers of our skin, as well as inflammation and general skin dehydration. On the other hand, the humidity that hot weather brings can lead to oil build-up, disruption to the skins moisture barrier, causing a decrease in elasticity.
Excessive Sun Exposure
A lot of us view the sun as our skin’s mortal enemy, and when it comes to our skin barrier this isn’t entirely wrong. Too much sun on our skin can weaken our barrier, causing sunburn, sensitivity, peeling and ageing.
Over-exfoliating or over-cleansing
Sometimes when our skin has a freak-out, our first instinct is to whip out a long list of products from our skincare cabinet and go to town. However, sometimes this can be the villain behind the damage our skin barrier is experiencing. The overuse of exfoliating and or cleansing products can lead to a break down in the skin barrier by removing layers of the skins protection.
There are a multitude of yucky external factors that can irritate our skin barrier. Pollution is a big one; it “breaks down collagen and oxidizes the lipid layer in the skin, which impairs skin-barrier function” says physician Dr. Barbara Sturm.
How can we repair and protect our skin barrier?
So this is the million dollar question… knowing that our skin barrier is always under attack can feel daunting, but the good news is that we can repair and protect it, to help our skin look and feel its best. Whilst we can’t control the weather, we have complied our top tips to help you repair your skin barrier…
When we’re dealing with a damaged skin barrier, we’re dealing with a damaged epidermis. This requires moisture! It is a good idea to reach for moisturising products that contain moisture-binding humectants, such as hyaluronic acid, which is a powerful anti-ageing ingredient which helps repair your skin barrier by locking in moisture and improving elasticity. Hydration doesn’t stop at what we put on our skin though! Keeping your body hydrated by drinking enough water can also help to keep your skin fresh and hydrated.
Protection and prevention is key. Using an SPF daily (and remembering to reapply!) can help to protect your skins barrier from UVA and UVB rays (which can hinder skin barrier restoration), and other external pollutants and environmental aggressors.
Back to Basics
The excitement of an extensive skincare routine can cause us to fall victim to overdoing things on the beauty regime front. The use of too many new products, active ingredients or the overuse of retinoids can deplete our skin barrier and cause redness and reactions. When it comes to repairing your skincare barrier, facialist Katharine Mackenzie Peterson recommends going back to basics… “strip your skincare routine back and keep it simple”. A simple cleanser, ceramide-rich moisturiser and SPF is a great place to start if you’re experiencing skin barrier damage or irritation.
Your skin barrier is your body’s first line of defence, so keeping it in good nick is one of the best ways you can protect your skin and body from whatever life may throw at it. By ensuring your skin barrier is protected, you are both improving your bodily health and also your beauty! That’s a win-win in our books!