Skin is your largest organ as it makes up 16% of your body mass and it should be taken care of, just like how you look after your health. Your skin barrier is essentially the shield between the outside world and the deeper layers of your epidermis.
What’s amazing about the skin barrier, is that you’re visibly able to see when it is healthy, and when it needs help. A healthy skin barrier functions to lock in moisture and protect from external environmental stressors. A damaged skin barrier allows irritants and allergens to seep in, along with moisture, leaving skin looking dry, dull, and dehydrated. We cover everything you need to know about your skin barrier: what it is, how it can get damaged, how to spot symptoms, and what to do to protect and repair your skin barrier.
What is Your Skin Barrier?
Your skin barrier is made up of the outermost layer of your epidermis. The skin is made up of five layers but your skin barrier includes the top 2 layers: the epidermis and the stratum corneum. The stratum corneum is the hardest, most outer layer of skin that is where you apply your skin care. It is actively shedding dead skin cells and is made up of proteins and lipids.
A healthy, functioning skin barrier blocks environmental irritants out, while keeping all the good stuff in like natural oils, and moisture. A healthy skin barrier looks hydrated, firm, and plump. An unhealthy skin barrier does a poor job of acting as a barrier. It allows irritants to get in, which prevents its job of maintaining your skin’s health. You can see it in the form of dry, dull and irritated looking skin that can lead to inflammation and premature aging.
What is Causing Damage to Your Skin Barrier?
There are a number of reasons that the skin barrier can become damaged, either due to external factors or just wear and tear. If not properly looked after, things like over cleansing or harsh skincare products, with the addition of environmental irritants will do a number to your skin barrier. A weakened skin barrier will let moisture and hydration escape and more bacteria and irritants will get into your skin, leaving it looking weathered.
The most common culprits that cause damage to your skin barrier:
- Natural aging
- Air Pollution
- Constant sun exposure
- Blue light (from electronic devices)
- Poor diet and lifestyle choices
- Too much alcohol
- Harsh chemical skin care
- Over cleansing and over exfoliating
- Extreme temperatures
- Genetic skin conditions such as psoriasis or eczema
One of the main effects from a damaged skin barrier is transepidermal water loss (TEWL). TEWL is the process where water evaporates from the surface of the skin, leading to dry, dehydrated skin. This increases the signs of aging in the skin and can also lead to inflammation and poor skin texture.
Not only is the skin barrier now dealing with loss of moisture, it is left defenceless to environmental irritants like pollution, harsh UV rays, and blue light damage. These three factors compound to expedite aging and causes your skin to develop fine lines and wrinkle.
Symptoms of a Damaged Skin Barrier
Your skin will tell you when the skin barrier is compromised. Symptoms include:
- Fine lines and wrinkles
- Skin no longer feels plump
- Loss of volume and elasticity
How do you Protect and Repair Your Skin Barrier?
The good news here is that there are measures you can take to prevent, protect and repair the skin barrier.
1 – Never skip the SPF
You’re probably tired of hearing this one but we’re going to tell you again: apply sunscreen every single day. What’s that we hear? It’s overcast so you don’t need to wear sunscreen? There are many myths revolving sunscreen and we’re here to tell you for the billionth time that it’s a non-negotiable when it comes to healthy skin. Make sure to select a broad spectrum sunscreen with a level of SPF 30 (at least) to ensure effectiveness and apply every 2 hours on days where you’re actively in the sun or swimming outside.
2 – Moisturizer is your best friend
This one seems like it is the easiest step you can take to protect your skin barrier but some people still get it wrong. Ensure to use a moisturizer that is suitable your skin type and moisturize immediately after you’ve washed your face or after a shower for best results. This will help to lock all of the moisture in while your skin is still damp. You can also reach for hydrating serums with humectant properties such as glycerin and hyaluronic acid for an added moisture boost and then seal with a moisturizer.
3 – Heal with antioxidants
Protect your skin from environmental irritants by using products rich with antioxidants. Antioxidants fight free radicals in the environment and help to minimize the visible signs of aging brought on by oxidative damage. Vitamin C, vitamin E, and niacinamides are all great antioxidants for your skin and are generally safe for most skin types. Make sure to test slowly when incorporating new products into your routine and read product labels carefully. You don’t want to accidentally irritate your skin even more with unwanted ingredients like fragrances, alcohol or dyes.
4 – Reduce inflammation
Over-washing, over-exfoliating, chemical skincare and harsh acne treatments can all contribute to a damaged skin barrier and can trigger skin conditions like eczema or rosacea. Cleanse skin no more than twice a day, with a mild cleanser without astringents. Limit the harsh chemical treatments to once a week or pause all together if you’re experiencing intense inflammation. It’s also always best to consult a dermatologist if you are unsure of what exactly is triggering your symptoms.
5 – Reduce stress
Maintaining a balance lifestyle while decreasing stress levels will not only contribute to a healthy skin barrier, but it will make you happier overall – win win right? Drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, eating whole foods and engaging in activities that make you happy and reduce stress is all part of a healthy lifestyle which should be a priority in any health conscious individual.
Repairing an already-damaged skin barrier can seem daunting but it can be done. Your skin should be prioritized just like how you prioritize your health. It’s the shield between the outside world and your healthy, youthful skin and keeps the bad stuff out while keeping the good stuff locked in. There are a number of things that can damage the barrier: having a consistent routine of moisturizing, SPF, using skincare with antioxidants, reducing inflammation causing actions, while reducing stress can help you to get back that healthy, functioning skin barrier.