Our skin barrier is our skin’s first-line defense that protects our skin from environmental stressors and stimuli. So you can imagine if our skin is a palace, our skin barrier is the guard on the main entrance. They are the first person to encounter any danger from the outside to protect everything on the inside. However, our skin barrier has their limit on how it can handle those stressors and with the recent increase in pollution, poor lifestyle, stress, and improper skincare routine, we may be compromising their integrity and damaging them. Once our skin barrier is damaged, it will cause a lot of trouble on the deeper layer of our skin and that is usually when we will realize that there is something wrong.
Let’s talk and dive in deeper on what a skin barrier really is and what you can do to protect them!
A. What are skin barriers and what is it composed of and how does it function?
Our skin is divided into three main layers: the epidermis (outermost layer), dermis (middle layer), and hypodermis (bottom layer). The skin barrier is the most superficial layer of the epidermis and it has a lot to offer for our skin, such as:
- • Permeability barrier (maintain water content and balance)
- • Antimicrobial barrier (prevent and act as a first-line defense against bacteria and unwanted external stressors)
- • Antioxidant barrier (antioxidant repair enzyme that protects against bad free radical effects)
- • Photoprotective barrier (protect against UV radiation)
The skin barrier is often pictured as a brick and mortar structure. The brick being our skin cells and the mortar is the lipid layer that helps keep the skin cells intact. These components work like the first-line guard for our skin to keep it functioning normally.
• Brick: keratinocytes (skin cells), natural moisturizing factors
• Mortar: Ceramide, free fatty acids, cholesterol
B. What damages skin barrier
When the integrity of this structure is altered, it causes continuous loss of moisture/water from our skin and the invasion of irritants, this is a condition we often called a damaged skin barrier. There are a lot of factors that may affect the integrity of this skin barrier structure from genetics, skincare habits (most of the time), environmental pollution, extreme weather, stress, or even consumption or application of specific medication.
Some people may be more predisposed genetically to a more damaged skin barrier when their body doesn’t produce enough of these skin barrier elements. However, nowadays there are more and more people facing this issue from external factors such as our skincare habits.
- • Over-washing
- • Over-exfoliating
- • Accumulation of possibly irritating products (or actives) in one routine
- • Exposure to irritants
C. How do you know if you have a damaged skin barrier?
When your skin barrier is compromised you may experience one or more of these symptoms:
- • Dry or flaky skin
- • Tightness
- • Itchiness
- • Reaction to commonly used product
- • Extremely / Overly- shine with uncomfortable tightness
- • Redness/ rashes
- • Exaggerated condition of acne and texture
D. How to strengthen your skin barrier
When the damaged has been done:
Step 1: Control or eliminate any possible trigger (if there is any. Example: overwashing, over-exfoliating)
Step 2: Back to a basic skincare routine. Focus on gentle cleansing, a lot of hydration, and protection from the sun. Stop exfoliating, scrubs, and any possibly irritating products for a short while.
Step 3: Be patient and let your skin self-repair mechanism
Step 4: Support skin healing process with ingredients that help your skin heal, retain more water, or substituting that skin barrier component
Step 1: Keep your skin moisturized. This step is essential to keep your skin barrier at bay. The water component will help enzymes on your skin to work optimally. You can also look for moisturizers / hydrators with ingredients that support our skin barrier.
Step 2: Do your skincare in moderation. Like an old saying, “too much of a good thing is a bad thing” same goes with your skincare. Do not overdo cleansing or exfoliating because when you overdo it, it won’t end well.
Step 3: Protect your skin from the sun. Sunscreen protects our skin from the UV radiation that can damage our skin cells and barriers.
Step 4: Pick a gentle and pH-balanced cleanser or toner. When you have the option to pick a pH-balanced product over one that can transiently damage your skin every single day, you better pick the former. When you use a pH-balanced product, it will minimize the chance of you damaging your own skin barrier.
E. Any ingredients that we can use to repair the skin barrier?
Some of these skincare ingredients can help your skin heal by retaining more water, substituting that skin barrier component, or soothing.
1) Retain water:
2) Replace skin barrier component:
Ceramides, fatty acids (linoleic acid), phospholipids, triglycerides, squalane
It is always best to use something that you know your skin feels comfortable with. Stick with this basic until your skin fully recovered before you experiment with your other skincare product. If you want to check out more skin-barrier-loving products, check out the Picky app to find out more!
Niacinamide, Colloidal oatmeal, Allantoin, Green tea extracts, etc.