When we think of skincare, most of us think of acne treatments, anti-aging serums, and face masks. What we sometimes overlook is the fact that pretty much every single aspect of skincare leads us back to our skin’s protective barrier. Our skin, by the way, is our largest organ. Therefore, we must protect it at all costs. The barrier of our skin is what keeps hydration in and toxins out.
Most skincare “problems,” as we like to see them, can be traced back to an issue with the functionality of your skin barrier. Our skin is made up of layers, with the outermost layer serving as a shield between you and nearly all environmental stressors. This layer is called the stratum corneum because it is made of tough skin cells called corneocytes that are bound together by strongly bonded lipids.
So, protecting and caring for the barrier and outermost layer of your skin is of the utmost importance. This article will outline what your skin’s barrier actually looks like, how it gets damaged, and give you a step-by-step on how to take care of it.
What Is a Skin Barrier?
So, we know that our skin’s barrier is the outermost layer that is made up of ultra-tough cells bound by lipids. Inside of these cells is where you’ll find the keratin and natural moisturizers that work to protect and defend against pollutants and other damaging agents. The lipid layer that exists in the outer layer of your skin contains cholesterol, fatty acids, and ceramides. You’ll find out later that replenishing these materials is one step you can take to take care of this vital outer layer of skin.
Your skin’s barrier actually keeps out environmental toxins and pathogens. Without it, these things could potentially penetrate your skin and be detrimental to your health. The water inside of your body would escape without your skin’s barrier, leaving you completely dehydrated and unable to maintain the nearly 70% of the body that is made up of water.
The Acid Mantle
One important aspect of your skin’s barrier is the acid mantle. Because the skin’s barrier has a slightly acidic pH of roughly 5.7, it creates a buffer against the growth of harmful bacteria and viruses on the surface of the skin. Further, this acid mantle is essential in the body’s healing process, so it is essential that it is protected and maintained, especially if you have wounds.
How Do You Know If Your Skin Barrier Is Damaged?
After learning about all of the potential threats to your skin’s barrier, you may wonder if you are experiencing skin barrier damage yourself. There are many telltale signs that your skin’s barrier is damaged.
For example, acne-prone skin means that your barrier is likely impaired. Any irritation or blemish means that your body's first line of defense (the barrier) is likely not functioning at one hundred percent. Healthier skin, on the other hand, is even-toned and smooth, with little redness or irritation. The weakness of this shield is actually the underlying cause behind the very common “sensitive skin” types.
Your skin’s barrier is the part of the facial skin that is visible, so from a cosmetic perspective, it is pretty important. However, there are so many environmental and natural factors that lead to the weakening of the skin’s natural barrier, such as age, that makes taking care of it non-negotiable.
How Does the Skin’s Barrier Get Damaged?
If your skin is dry, itchy, rough, discolored, acne-prone, or irritated, the barrier of your skin could probably use some extra TLC. There are many factors that cause damage to the skin’s barrier, some from the outside and some that come from within the body. Here is a list of some things that may be affecting your skin’s barrier.
- If your environment is either too humid or too dry.
- Exposure to too many environmental allergens, irritants, and pollutants.
- Too much tanning. Overexposure to the sun’s harmful UV rays can be directly responsible for breaking down your skin’s barrier.
- The pH of products in your routine. Most common soaps and cleansers are too alkaline and can be damaging.
- Harsh chemicals in your skincare routine.
- Over-exfoliation and overwashing. Both of these will strip skin of healthy oils and cause an overproduction of oil as well as inflammation and dryness. This is definitely not a combo we’re aiming for.
- Stress. It slows down the skin’s natural healing process. Your skin’s barrier says no thanks to barrier-breaking stress.
- Genetic factors.
How to Protect Your Skin Barrier
Now that we know how our skin’s barrier becomes damaged and weakened, here are some ways to prevent and remedy damage and maintain a healthy skin barrier. Consider adding some of these things into your daily routine!
Take a Hard Look at Your Skincare Routine
Many products that we use daily actually weaken the skin’s barrier. If you typically use an wide variety of cleansers, acne products, and exfoliants, make sure to consider how this assortment of chemicals and products is affecting your skin’s outermost layer. Try to simplify your steps. A cleanser with a pH that is close to your skin’s natural one is recommended.
In addition, be sure to be extra mindful with your exfoliation regimen. Exfoliation is meant to gently target and remove dead skin cells from the surface that is no longer serving any purpose. However, over-exfoliation and overwashing will unnecessarily strip your skin of its natural nutrients too often.
Aim for exfoliants that are gentle such as mild scrubs. Even a chemical exfoliant can be effective and much gentler than most scrubs. When it comes to your skin’s greatest defense, keep it simple.
Try Using Ceramides
Ceramides are the MVP of skincare. They are waxy lipids that are crucial to a functioning barrier. There are many moisturizers that are rich in ceramides and actually physically strengthen the structural integrity of the barrier.
Don’t Forget About Other Key Ingredients
Hyaluronic acid, petrolatum, and glycerine are also extremely helpful for reducing the amount of water lost from the surface of your skin and leaving a thin film on the surface of the skin to hold in moisture. Petrolatum can even block up to 99 percent of water lost to the environment through the skin’s barrier.
The other two, glycerine and hyaluronic acid, work by drawing in water from the environment and from inside the body and binding it to your skin’s barrier. These three have skincare superpowers. Make sure to apply these after your shower when your skin is moist for maximum absorption.
Drink more water than you think you need in order to keep your shield plump and healthy. Ceramides, glycerine, and other lipophilic that we’ve mentioned above can heal the places in your skin’s barrier where toxins are getting in or water is getting out.
Stay Out of the Sun
Direct sun exposure is one of the primary causes of barrier damage. Your skin’s barrier is extremely vulnerable to UV rays, especially during the hot summer months. Wear sunscreen daily!
Exfoliate With Microdermabrasion
Exfoliating the skin is essential to your skin barrier health. KENZZI’s at-home microdermabrasion device helps to exfoliate dead skin that can damage the skin barrier. It can help to smooth your skin and keep it healthy. Microdermabrasion is great for all skin types, even sensitive skin.
Seriously, stop! Avoid picking, especially with already vulnerable dry skin, blemishes, and pimples, as it will only damage your skin’s surface further. It also leads to scarring, which can be hard to deal with.
In short, your skin’s barrier is simultaneously the strongest and most vulnerable part of your complexion. Taking care of it and keeping it healthy is crucial to a glowing complexion. The more irritated and damaged your barrier becomes, the less effectively it maintains its moisture barrier. So, don’t overdo it with the products, and make sure to drink lots of water, use lots of sun protection, and use lots of replenishing moisturizing agents.