How to Look After Your Skin Barrier
If you remember the last few blogs, we’ve been focused on every element that goes into healthy skin. By understanding the skin anatomy, taking care of our natural biome, and finding the best antioxidants to prevent and delay skin ageing, we can fight skin concerns in ways that not just care for the skin, but retroactively correct signs of ageing. This month we’re continuing our series by looking closely at the skin barrier and how we can strengthen it.
What is the skin barrier?
The skin barrier is the outermost layer of your skin’s surface, and it consists of cells and lipids (fats). If you’re familiar with this term, you’ll know the barrier function is an extremely important concept in skin care. Describing the strength and ability of our skin, the barrier is our protection against our external environment. A highly functioning and healthy skin barrier will ultimately allow our topical products and ingredients to effectively treat and maintain the skin.
We love the wall analogy developed by Dr. Peter M. Elias: if we look at the structure of the skin barrier as a wall, the cells (corneocytes) are the bricks of the wall and the lipid bilayer would be the mortar.
Corneocytes are dried out, non-living skin cells that are ready to shed. However, the mortar (the stacked lipid bilayers that surround the corneocytes) is responsible to act as an impermeable membrane that prevents the loss of water from the skin and prevents the entrance of harmful microorganisms or irritants. This is why we must protect our skin barrier. However, numerous environmental changes, plus products and ingredients we apply, our diet, etc. can all contribute to its optimal function.
The Main Functions of the Skin Barrier
The skin barrier has numerous essential protective functions:
- Prevents water and electrolytes from evaporating through the skin,
- Produces antimicrobial peptides and proteins which serves as a protective shield against harmful microorganisms,
- Helps to maintain the skin’s immunity,
- Regulates inflammation, and
- Regulates the absorption of topical ingredients.
When our skin barrier is healthy, we typically experience a smooth, clear, even-toned complexion with a naturally healthy glow. If one’s skin barrier is damaged, we tend to experience redness, irritation, breakouts, rashes, burning sensations, broken capillaries, dryness, and even tightness.
10 Ways to Naturally Care for the Skin Barrier
The best way to look after your skin barrier is to take a holistic approach. A generally healthy lifestyle will ensure a healthy skin barrier that functions optimally. We recommend taking these 10 steps to move toward a strong, effective barrier:
- Exercise regularly.
- Limit the amount of carbohydrate and fat intake in your diet and increase fruit and leafy greens consumed daily.
- Quit smoking.
- Practice sun avoidance.
- Use a topical regime that contains ingredients that protect, repair and maintain the skin barrier.
- Use a SPF 30 or higher that contains zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide several time daily.
- Avoid potential irritants & allergens, i.e. synthetic fragrances added to a topical product; formaldehyde based preservatives; high concentrations of alcohol.
- Avoid harsh cleansers.
- Avoid exfoliating with granular scrubs, brushes, harsh wash cloths, etc.
- Avoid environmental conditions that cause sensitivity (such as high heat, dry air, bitter cold, strong wind).
What type of ingredients should you use to strengthen your skin barrier?
- Hyaluronic acid
- Sunscreen used daily: SPF 30 or higher that contains zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide
- Topical Antioxidants: like Vitamin C and E
- Twice daily gentle cleanser
What are the best ingredients to treat, repair, protect, and maintain the skin barrier?
Vitamin C and E: antioxidants protect against free-radical damage and help to restore the skin barrier. Here are our top picks with these daily vitamins:
Hyaluronic acid: HA helps to improve skin barrier function and health. Here are our top picks for moisturizing the skin:
Panthenol (pro-vitamin B5): This topical vitamin acts as a humectant. Its ability to attract and hold moisture and help to repair the skin barrier is unparalleled. We love these two from Dermaceutic:
As a medical professional, I understand innately that we all have a compromised skin barrier to one degree or another. To allow our skin barrier to function at its best, our topical skincare regime must be tailored with ingredients that repair and heal our skin. Even if we’re using the best product available, a damaged skin barrier will always prevent these products from optimally benefitting the skin.
With insights into how you can naturally and topically care for your skin barrier, I hope you feel confident in your ability to take the best care of your skin.
Yours in skin,
Dr Alek Nikolic