Many people in the beauty and skincare world are fascinated with the significance and need to manage and preserve a strong and healthy skin barrier. It’s almost impossible to scroll down your social media feed without skin influencers mentioning the skin barrier.
Well, the widespread appreciation given to the skin barrier from skincare experts, influencers, and devotees is well deserved because your skin barrier can be the difference between saggy, dull, dehydrated, itchy skin, and plump, glowing, hydrated, and healthy skin.
If you’re not well-versed with what skin barrier means, how it works, what can damage it, and how you can repair the damaged skin barrier, we’ve got it covered. So keep on reading to find out all about your skin barrier!
What is the Skin Barrier?
The skin’s top layer comprises the skin barrier. This outermost layer of the skin is known as the stratum corneum or epidermis.¹ This layer is made of skin cells known as corneocytes, which are bound together by lipids. The lipids work to hold these cells in place, creating your skin’s barrier.
The cells of the skin barrier contain keratin and natural moisturizing agents. The lipid layer comprises fatty acids, ceramides, and cholesterol, along with layers of dead skin cells.
The Role of the Acid Mantle in Skin Barrier
On the surface of the stratum corneum or epidermis, there is a thin and mildly acidic layer or film of sweat, amino acids, and sebum called the acid mantle. The acid mantle's slightly acidic nature helps shield the skin from viruses, fungi, bacteria, and other pollutants that can damage the skin by causing infections and other skin issues. The acid mantle is particularly important when the skin is damaged or bruised because its acidity is needed to heal the skin properly. Conversely, an imbalanced acid mantle can lead to various skin conditions or make them worse. Therefore, the acid mantle and stratum corneum form the skin barrier and form a protective layer to seal in moisture and ensure the integrity of epidermal cells.
What Purpose Does the Skin Barrier Serve?
The skin is made up of several layers, with each layer having its unique functions and structure. Proper functioning of these layers is crucial for protecting the body against all sorts of external elements. So if we say that the seemingly thin skin barrier or stratum corneum is essential for your survival, it won’t be wrong. The skin barrier literally acts as a brick wall against all the harmful toxic elements and pathogens in the environment, which may wreak havoc in your body if they penetrate your bloodstream through the skin.
Moreover, if you have a compromised skin barrier, your skin will not retain its required water and moisture. Rapid moisture evaporation and the inability of the skin to preserve water in the cells can leave your skin extremely dry, dehydrated, dull, and uneven. Hence, the skin barrier is quintessential for keeping all the organs and systems of your body healthy and protected for their optimal functioning.
How to Identify a Damaged Skin Barrier?
When your skin barrier is damaged, the cells in the epidermis are disorganized, moisture seal is compromised, and your skin is more vulnerable to external toxic elements. A damaged skin barrier can manifest as any of these symptoms:
- Dryness and tightness
- Peeling and scaling
- Redness, itching, and inflammation
- Uneven skin tone and rough skin texture
- Microbial infections
- Sensitive and reactive skin
- Acne breakouts
- Exacerbated inflammatory conditions
- Loss of elasticity in the skin
- Thinning of the epidermis
What Can Damage Your Skin Barrier?
Our skin barrier has to deal with countless internal and external threats, which can profoundly affect the health, integrity, and appearance of our skin. In addition, a compromised skin barrier allows the pollutants to enter the skin and do more harm to the skin.
Here are some common factors that can affect your skin barrier:
- Over-exfoliating and over-cleansing
- Humid and dry or bad quality air
- Pollutants, allergens, and irritants
- Too much or unprotected sun exposure
- Lack of sleep and stress
- Too hot or too cold weather
- Harsh chemicals in skincare products
- Medications (like steroids)
- Alkaline detergents and cleansers
- Aging of the skin
- Genetic factors (which can lead to inflammatory skin conditions)
How to Protect and Restore Your Skin Barrier?
A healthy and fully-functional skin barrier is essential for keeping the skin firm, radiant, and plump. In addition, you can adopt various preventive measures and strategies to make sure your skin barrier stays in its best shape.
Below are a few simple things to help you enjoy supple and glowing skin by protecting and restoring the skin barrier:
Keep Your Skincare Routine Simple - If your skincare regimen involves using plenty of skincare products, you may be harming your skin barrier. You need to know what your skin actually needs and then choose essential and effective skincare products instead of just filling your skincare closet with everything you come across online or in beauty stores.
If your skin isn’t responding well to abrasive physical exfoliators, switch them with milder chemical-derived exfoliators or soft cloth. Physical scrubs and brushes are more likely to damage your skin barrier. Similarly, if you notice your skin becoming very dry, itchy, and tight after using a foam cleanser, go for a gel or cream-based cleanser instead. Additionally, you can consult with your skincare specialist for professional advice and help with finding the right products for your skin.
Avoided Extended Sun Exposure - Harsh ultraviolet rays are among the top factors known to affect and damage the skin barrier. By disrupting your skin barrier, UV rays speed up the process of aging, leading to hyperpigmentation and wrinkles. It can also cause skin inflammation and even skin cancer. Hence, it’s important to avoid too much sun exposure and protect your skin from the sun rays. Never forget to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.² Avoid going out in the sun during peak times (10 am to 4 pm) when the UV rays are the harshest. Moreover, cover yourself with clothes for added sun protection.
Moisturize Your Skin - We know that dryness and dehydration can significantly weaken the skin barrier, leading to many skin issues. Applying topical products with moisturizing and hydrating compounds can help you avoid the problems that arise due to the lack of moisture. In addition, a good-quality moisturizer can hold water in your skin and make up for the loss of water, restoring the skin’s optimal lipid content.
Find a moisturizer that pulls water into your skin and apply it when your skin is still damp to enhance its absorption. According to your skin type and problems, you can choose from a gel, lotion, and cream moisturizer.
Choose the Right Skincare Ingredients - One of the most efficient and easiest ways of ensuring your skin barrier is strong and healthy is using barrier-boosting skincare ingredients. Certain ingredients are known to reinforce and protect the skin barrier, shield against environmental aggressors, and prevent moisture loss. Here are a few ingredients to look for in your skincare products:
Hyaluronic Acid - This is one of the best ingredients that work as a shield against water loss through the skin barrier. Hyaluronic acid is also an effective antioxidant that protects the skin from free radical damage and other pollutants in the environment. In addition, it’s a natural humectant that preserves water in the skin cells by drawing moisture from the surroundings. “[Hyaluronic acid] is great at holding water and giving skin resilience and firmness,” says Doris Day, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist.³ Since hyaluronic acid inhibits water from escaping the cells, preventing further moisture loss, it makes an excellent option for dry and sensitive skin types.
Ceramides - These are the waxy fats, also known as the building blocks of skin cells, which make up a large proportion of the stratum corneum. For this reason, they are commonly recommended by dermatologists and other skincare professionals for a compromised skin barrier. The role of ceramides is critical in keeping the skin barrier intact and healthy. These fatty molecules are in high concentration in the skin barrier and help to retain moisture in the cells. Also, ceramides and phytoceramides can help to repair and reinstate the damaged skin barrier.
Glycerin - This is another widely used humectant compound in skincare formulas for its ability to pull in and retain moisture in the skin. Glycerin can prevent damage to the barrier by keeping the skin deeply hydrated and moisturized. Glycerin also helps to protect the skin from oxidative stress by ensuring the integrity of the skin barrier.
Here at Sundree, we believe skincare doesn’t need to be complicated and that less is more. That’s why we created gentle and effective products that nourish the skin and help repair the skin barrier. For example, Sundree’s RYSE+SHYNE hydrating facial serum is a lightweight serum that can be used for all skin types. It includes beauty-boosting ingredients, hyaluronic acid and glycerin to help repair the skin barrier, and vitamin c and niacinamide to help brighten and improve skin texture.
Your skin barrier plays an indispensable role in how your skin looks and feels. When your skin barrier is compromised, your skin can’t perform its functions effectively and may lead to serious skin issues. Some of the common markers of a damaged skin barrier are inflammation, redness, dryness, itching, loss of firmness, discoloration, flaking, and roughness.
The good news is that while it’s pretty easy to damage your skin barrier, there are various measures you can take to prevent and treat the damage. Making some changes to your skincare routine and using skincare ingredients to protect and restore the skin can help you maintain a healthy and robust skin barrier in the long run.
- Brannon, Heather, MD. (2021). ‘Understanding the Epidermis’, Accessed November 17, 2021. Available at: https://www.verywellhealth.com/anatomy-of-epidermis-1068881
- Brusie, Chaunie. (2020). ‘Sunscreen: Does SPF Matter and Which One Should I Choose?’, Accessed November 17, 2021. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/what-spf-should-i-use
- Hoshikawa, Karina & Fasanella, Kaleigh. (2021). ‘The 23 Best Hyaluronic Acid Serums, According to Dermatologists’, Allure. Accessed November 18, 2021. Available at: https://www.allure.com/gallery/best-hyaluronic-acid-serum