What Is the Skin Barrier?
The skin barrier is called the epidermis, which is the outermost layer of cells on the skin. It sits above the dermis, which houses the blood vessels, sweat glands, nerves, and, importantly, collagen and elastin, the two structural proteins that give skin firmness and bounce. Beneath that is the subcutaneous layer, which is primarily made up of fat to give skin a little cushion.
Being the layer that’s in contact with the outside world, hence the “barrier” in skin barrier, it oversees some key functions. “The role of the epidermis is to protect the skin from any sort of foreign substance, whether it be bacteria or chemicals,” says Dr. Ingky. The epidermis also works to prevent water loss and keep the skin hydrated.
The easiest way to visualize it is by imagining the skin barrier as an actual wall. The bricks in the wall are your cells, while the mortar, is the lipid matrix, through which things, such as bacteria and allergens, can easily pass. The lipids within that matrix, such as ceramides and essential fatty acids, need to be in a certain ratio for the skin barrier to function properly. When the skin barrier is intact, this construction works beautifully to keep hydration in and bacteria, pollutants, and allergens out. That’s the epitome of healthy skin.
What Are the Signs of a Damaged Skin Barrier?
When your skin barrier is compromised, it can manifest in a number of ways. Sometimes, your existing skin concerns or conditions, like breakouts or sensitivity, can become even worse or flare up. These tend to be the most common signs of a damaged skin barrier:
Dry or Dull Skin
When your skin barrier is damaged in any way, there’s an uptick in trans-epidermal water loss. The moisture in your skin escapes and evaporates. That leaves your skin with signs of dryness, like a rough texture, tightness, or flakiness. The same goes with dullness, as dull skin and dry skin are linked.
Skin Redness. As we mentioned, inflammation contributes to a damaged skin barrier. But to make matters worse, a damaged skin barrier also sets off more inflammation. That’s because those cracks in the skin barrier allow irritants and allergens to sneak through, which in turn spur an inflammatory reaction. If you notice skin redness or itchiness, both signs of inflammation, your skin barrier is involved in some capacity.
Dr. Ingky says that an imbalance of lipids in the skin barrier, causing dysfunction, could lead to sensitive skin. So, if you’re born with sensitive skin, keeping it healthy is especially important. While sensitive skin as a skin type is largely genetic, those external factors we mentioned earlier could make your skin sensitive, no matter what your base skin type is. Dr. Ingky added, “if skincare products, especially products that you have used before, cause stinging or burning, then your skin barrier may be damaged.”
Blemishes and acne flare-ups can be a sign of a damaged skin barrier, as the bacteria that causes acne is more easily able to penetrate the skin. On top of that, traditional acne-fighting ingredients, such as benzoyl peroxide, tend to dry out skin, which in turn, further impair the skin barrier, creating an unfortunate cycle of breakouts. The most common misconception is, wash you face frequently can “scrubs” all the acnes away. But the only thing you’re actually removing is your natural, not to mention very important, oils.
There are plenty of products that can help restore your natural protective barrier. Since your skin won’t be able to protect itself, look for products that are formulated with skin-restoring ingredients. Try to stay away from the ones with sulfates, parabens or alcohols as these ingredients only make things worse for a damaged skin barrier. Here are some products that are infused with skin-friendly ingredients that you can incorporate into your skin care routine to help fix your damaged skin barrier.
The Best Ingredients for Your Skin Barrier
Like little moisture magnets, these molecules are key for offsetting any trans-epidermal water loss that occurs when your skin barrier is damaged. Humectants are substances that bind to water and retain hydration in the skin. Examples include glycerin, propanediol, hyaluronic acid, and other natural sugars such as sorbitol and erythritol.
Humectants work best as a team, specifically, alongside emollients. Emollients can act as occlusive agents, meaning that they coat the skin and act as a seal further preventing water loss. This means humectants draw moisture into skin, while emollients ensure the moisture stays there. Petrolatum, lanolin, mineral oil and dimethicone are common emollients. And in the case of barrier damage, oils can then help make the skin softer and smoother by integrating with the lipid matrix of the epidermis and filling in any gaps in the lipid matrix of the epidermis.
Ceramides is one of the most important lipids in your skin barrier. If your skin barrier is damaged in any way, there’s a good chance you’re missing them. You can find ceramides paired with vitamin C, which offers a one-two punch of replenishing the lipid matrix and defending it from free radicals.
In working to neutralize free radicals and repairing any damage incurred, antioxidants help minimize lines and wrinkles, brighten skin, and, of course, defend the integrity of your skin barrier from environmental aggressors like UV exposure and pollution. The great news is that you can find antioxidants, such as vitamins C, E, and B3, in a huge number of skincare formulas these days, as well as in many plant-derived ingredients.
Would you like to learn more? Because healthy skin matters! SkynFyx is run by a group of skin doctors and skincare experts who want everybody to achieve flawless skin at the cheapest possible cost. Skynfyx also can customize a skincare range just for your skin condition.