I see the skin barrier like an infantry defense meant to stop enemies from breaking through. Obviously, to have a solid first fighting line takes a lot of knowledge and training. The same goes for skincare. So up ahead, we take a closer look at the role of the skin’s protective barrier, how do you know when it’s damaged, and how to strengthen it for better and resilient skin.
What is skin barrier?
The skin barrier is the outermost layer of the epidermis. This top skin layer serves as the body’s first defense line against external aggressors and holds water inside. There’s a reason the outermost skin’s layer (aka stratum corneum) is called the brick wall and you need to protect it unless you want dehydrated, dull, and premature wrinkled skin. FYI, the skin barrier consists of many essential nutrients, such as ceramides, cholesterol, fatty acids, lipids, and protein layers.
What’s the skin barrier role?
The skin barrier has not one but a few key roles in maintaining skin integrity. It not only protects the skin from UVA/UVB radiation, and pollution, but also retains moisture into the skin, prevents transepidermal water loss (TEWL), and transitions nutrients to the skin.
How do I know my skin barrier is damaged?
As soon as you notice your skin getting inflamed, dry, itchy, flakey, or acne flare-ups, you’ll know your skin barrier has been weakened. Also, when you observe a sudden sensitivity to products you were used to, most likely, your skin defense system has been damaged. And when the skin barrier is sensitized, it can’t fulfill its protective role anymore, so dust, bacteria, and irritants get into the skin, leading to even more damage.
Something else: poor knowledge on how to mix skincare ingredients may be a leading cause of a weakened barrier.
How to repair a damaged skin barrier
Actually, there are a few ways to repair your degraded skin barrier. So to start, simplify your skincare routine, cutting off products you don’t necessarily need. Just go to the basics: cleanse and moisturize. And make sure you don’t use products with ingredients that may dry out your skin, such as SLSs, or alcohol.
Aging, not hydrating enough, or drinking too much caffeine or alcohol are other factors that disrupt your skin barrier’s normal function. You may also want to stop exfoliating your skin for a while — either we talk about products with AHAs, like glycolic acid or your weekly coffee scrub.
How to strengthen your skin barrier
Since a broken barrier means dehydrated skin, you should alternate the use of a humectant moisturizer with an occlusive one. While humectants extract water molecules from the environment and pull them into the skin, occlusives form a protective layer on the surface to seal water in.
Now you should call up for the cavalry: antioxidants. Antioxidants are the skin barrier’s allies since they have the same role: to stop external aggressors from getting into the skin and damaging it. Pick skincare products infused with vitamins C, E, ferulic acid, and glutathione.
Also, the pH of your skin has a high impact on how your skin barrier works. The average normal pH ranges from 4.5 to 5.5. When its level is compromised, it can trigger dryness, eczema, or dermatitis. Related to skin pH is the acid mantle. This is a thin film on the skin surface (above the barrier) made up of fatty acids secreted by the sebaceous glands, mixed with lactic acid and amino acids, responsible for keeping lipids in and blocking toxins, bacteria, and pollution from entering the skin. Our acid mantle’s ideal balance is slightly acidic, at a pH range between 4.5-5.5. If this score gets too alkaline, skin dries and becomes sensitive.
Your derm can measure the skin’s pH level, but you can also do it at home with a pH strip test. To maintain the proper pH level in your skin, you need to limit the use of antibacterial products, prolonged sun exposure, or washing your face too often.
Ingredients that boost skin barrier protection
Show your skin some TLC, and it’ll pay off. You’re doing it by adding these ingredients to your skincare routine.
What’s the ingredient that’s able to take water from the environment and pull it into your skin as it binds to water molecules? That’s right, hyaluronic acid. You can use this water-loving agent in serums since their itty-bitty molecules sink into the skin, shooting benefits right in. We recommend these hyaluronic acid serums to keep your skin plumped.
I’ve already mentioned the skin barrier consists of ceramide, so you should add it to your daily skincare routine. A moisturizer with ceramide enhances the skin’s ability to hold on to moisture and strengthen the skin barrier, while also preventing TEWL.
Face oils are considered heroes at boosting the protective barrier. They can create a protective layer on the skin, trapping moisture in. Consider olive, sunflower seed, coconut, jojoba, oat, and argan oils, as they’re rich in fatty acids (omega 3, 6, and 9), known to have intense barrier repair potential and improve the skins natural moisturizing factor.
Vitamin B5 is a tremendous ingredient that binds water into the skin since is a potent humectant. At the same time, panthenol hinders water evaporation. Moreover, it’s pretty powerful in supporting the skin lipid layer, and a stable lipid layer means a robust barrier.
These amino acid chains are great at helping the skin regenerate, as they’re part of the skin’s building blocks. Peptides give the skin elasticity and are required for a healthy skin barrier. You can combine a peptides-enriched serum with antioxidants and ceramides to boost its effects.
Welp, our skin is made up of amino acid chains, so it’s self-evident why you need them in your skin barrier strengthening battle. They are natural moisturizing factors that aid bind water to the skin and make it stay there. By keeping water in, skin is able to heal itself faster, whenever it needs.
And since the sun is a culprit of a compromised skin barrier, don’t forget about sunscreen! A clean formulated SPF without oxybenzone, octinoxate, fragrances, or parabens completes the puzzle of a complete barrier defense system. An SPF moisturizer acts as a shield that keeps environmental attacks at bay, and you need it every day, 365 days.
Products to use if your skin barrier is damaged
Now that you understand why your skin barrier is such a big deal, here are some products to help you maintain a healthy skin barrier.