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Why is your skin barrier important?

Updated: Nov 15, 2021

Ever suffered from dry, itchy, rough skin that just won't ease no matter how much moisture you apply to your skin? Sensitive or inflamed/angry skin that’s painful? What about a sudden bout of acne, what feels like, out of nowhere? -

Me too!! What could be happening, your skin barrier might be damaged and depending on the level of damage will depend on the symptoms you feel.

Stay tuned to find out why your skin barrier is, what it's so important, how to look after it and more importantly, ways to help fix it when it is damaged.

What is your skin barrier?

Without going into full-on science mode, your skin barrier (also known as “moisture barrier” or “acid mantel”) is the outermost layer of your skin (epidermis). Scientifically known as stratum corneum (or in layman’s terms - skin barrier) it's your bodies first line of defence and protects against the constant onslaught of environmental threats while simultaneously protecting your body's critical water balance. When healthy your skin will feel, soft, smooth, supple, and plump.

Often described as brick and mortar due to its appearance under a microscope, your stratum corneum is made up of three main layers. These bricks are tightly bound, or glued together, by mortar-like fats such as ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids.

  • The epidermis (stratum corneum), or outer thin layer

  • The dermis, or thick middle layer

  • The subcutaneous fatty layer

Why is your skin barrier so important and how do you keep it healthy?

Keeping your skin barrier healthy is the key to glowing skin. If this becomes damaged, it loses the ability to hold on to the vital substances that keep skin cells intact (it’s the mortar-like fats) such as ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids.

Put simply, your skin barrier’s primary function is to keep the good stuff in—and the bad stuff out.

Bad stuff:

  • Pollution

  • Ultraviolet rays

  • Irritation, inflammation, and infection

  • Dehydration

  • Toxins

Good stuff:

  • Water - holds onto natural moisture

With these few simple tips, you can help to protect your skin barrier, which will, in turn, work hard to protect you and you’ll never need to scramble into repair mode.

  1. Try not to overdo it with your actives. Actives such as AHA and BHA, retinols, peptides, peels are great for skin health, especially as we age, but too much can sometimes be a bad thing. Monitor how your skin reacts to actives, then increase or pare back on your actives when needed.

  2. Never use physical exfoliants/abrasive scrubs – your skin is not designed to withstand these harsh methods and will cause micro-tears in the skin leaving it open to infections. Instead, use chemical exfoliants (AHA or BHA), leave-on exfoliants, fruit acid toners.

  3. Use lukewarm water to wash your face/body – it’s known that hot or cold water can often irritate the skin.

  4. Avoid products containing fragrances and alcohol. These ingredients have been proven to strip the skin of its essential replenishing and skin-barrier-repairing ingredients that it needs to stay healthy. If you're prone to sensitive skin, you may also benefit from avoiding essential oils.

  5. Always (and we mean always) protect your skin from the sun and its harmful UV rays. Sun exposure is one of the major causes of a damaged skin barrier. A broad-spectrum SPF (30 or above) will add that final barrier to protect your skin against all external environmental factors.

For those with beautiful darker skin tones, it’s important to note that your skin barrier is more prone to disruption through a process called trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL). This is due to a reduced level of ceramides in the stratum corneum (epidermis), leaving the skin feeling dry and rough. Look for skincare products containing natural moisturising factors (NMF), or those labelled as ‘barrier repair or ‘ceramides’ cream.

What are the signs of a damaged skin barrier?

A damaged skin barrier can present itself in several ways, including but not limited to:

  • Lack of skin elasticity

  • Wrinkles

  • Flare-ups or unexpected rosacea and eczema

  • Inflamed/angry skin

  • Itchy, rough textured skin

  • Dehydrated and/or dull skin

  • Hyperpigmentation

  • Skin infections

  • Delayed wound healing

  • Acne

What would damage your skin barrier?

You might be surprised to know there are, what it feels like, an extensive list of avoidable and unavoidable daily habits that can trigger a damaged skin barrier. It’s this reason why it's so important to look after your skin barrier – think prevention!

  • Allergens, irritants, and pollutants

  • Wind and cold weather

  • UV radiation/too much sun exposure

  • Frequent handwashing

  • A dry or humid environment

  • Using harsh soaps or detergent cleansers that strip the skin barrier of its natural oils

  • Overuse of exfoliating acids and chemical peels

  • Peptides

  • Hot baths or showers

  • Use of harsh physical exfoliants

  • Smoking

  • Lack of sleep

  • Stress

  • Nutrient-light diet

  • Poor skincare

  • Cuts or injuries

  • Certain medications, like steroids

  • Mental or physical stress

  • Family history of skin conditions

  • Ageing

Sarah and I have ticked a few of these over the years:

What if it’s damaged – how can I fix it?

If you find yourself in a situation where your skin barrier is damaged, don’t panic. With time and a few simple tips – we’ve got you covered.

Be kind to yourself:

Managing stress is key here. I hear you, that can be easier said than done sometimes. Stress is known to throw your hormones out of whack and trigger skin problems like acne flare-ups. Finding time for yourself isn’t selfish, it's essential! That could be a walk across rambling hills, belly laughing with friends you haven’t seen for a while, a warm bath with aromatherapy oils and bath salts, time in the gym, or even colouring books (this works a treat for a good friend of mine). It doesn’t matter, always remember to be kind to yourself and lower those stress levels.

Reduce your skincare routine to its essentials:

Nourish, even ‘flood’, the skin with repairing ingredients such as fatty acids, cholesterol, ceramides and hyaluronic acid. Remember, your skin is made up of these essentials, there is no such thing as too much of these little gems, especially if you are looking to repair your skin barrier. Reduce your routine down to a gentle cleanser, nourishing serum, and moisturiser, then SPF during the day.

Think Gentle:

Be gentle with your skin, from how you wash your face to what products you apply. It’s important to remove all traces of make-up (if you’re still able to wear some) and the daily dirt and grime. Don’t rub your face and use a gentle cleanser (we like oil, milk, and balm-based cleansers).

Avoid too much sun:

As mentioned above, the sun is the leading cause of damaged skin barriers. No matter your skin colour or tone, you must ALWAYS wear SPF – End of!

Use multifaceted products:

Here at Vibrant Skin, we believe completely in multifaceted products. Not only are they time saving but provide a wealth of benefits when you need to repair your skin barrier. You want to use a limited number of products you use on your skin, but have those products work on several problem areas at the same time. Look for moisturisers that contain both emollients and humectants, serums rich in ceramides, serums with natural ingredients that deeply nourish your skin, but help repair, and soothe inflammation like our Time Repair serum.

Treat any inflammation:

Skip exfoliating actives – potentially any and all actives for a while. Once your skin is irritated and inflamed, you may find trusted skincare products are irritating you, when they didn't before! Don’t worry if this happens, put them to one side until your barrier is back up and running again. Look for products containing Sweet Fennel (which contains a potent anti-inflammatory compound helping to soothe, calm, and heal your skin), aloe, and green tea.

Eat healthily:

We’ve all heard the saying “you are what you eat”. Well, research has shown that maintaining a healthy diet with whole foods, fish oils, antioxidants, and healthy fats can help with skin elasticity, health, and keep it looking younger. Good-for-your-skin foods include:

  • Carrots, apricots, and other yellow and orange fruits and vegetables

  • Green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale

  • Tomatoes

  • Berries

  • Beans, peas, and lentils

  • Salmon, mackerel, and other fatty fish

  • Nuts

The Takeaway

The skin barrier is a delicate ecosystem and honestly quite amazing. Being the largest organ we have it works hard to protect us from the constant onslaught of environmental threats and we think deserves some tender loving care. It can and often does take time (average 1-2 months) to repair any damage made. Be patient and listen to what your skin needs. There are always new and exciting advancements in skin-barrier-friendly skincare products – watch this space.

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