As the largest organ of the body, the skin plays a crucial role in protecting us from the outside world. But did you know the skin has its own barrier which helps maintain its health and prevent damage caused by environmental factors and other external stressors? This is known as the skin barrier, and it is essential for maintaining healthy, radiant skin.
The skin barrier, also known as the stratum corneum, is the outermost layer of the skin. It's made up of tightly packed dead skin cells, lipids, and proteins, and serves as a protective shield against environmental stressors. Think of it as a fortress that keeps bad stuff out while keeping the good stuff in.
The skin has three main layers: the epidermis, the dermis, and the subcutaneous fat layer. The outermost layer of the skin is the epidermis, while the dermis is the middle layer and contains collagen, elastin, and the skin's blood and nerve supply. The subcutaneous fat layer acts as a protective barrier between the skin and the muscle.
The epidermis, which is the outermost layer of the skin, contains three types of cells that each have their own special functions for keeping your skin healthy.
- Keratinocytes, which are like building blocks or ‘bricks’ that form the skin. They stick together with natural oils, ceramides, and cholesterols to create a strong barrier that keeps things out.
- Melanocytes, produce melanin that helps protect the skin from harmful UV radiation and gives skin it its colour.
- Langerhans cells, help the skin fight off the bad stuff like bacteria, fungi, and viruses by boosting the immune system.
Signs your skin barrier is damaged.
When the skin barrier is weakened, it can no longer effectively protect the skin from external aggressors, leading to damage and skin sensitivity.
Some of the signs to look for include:
- Dryness and irritation
- Dehydration, dullness
- Itchy skin
- Rough skin
So, what can disrupt the skin barrier?
A range of factors can contribute, including;
- Lack of sleep
- UV radiation
- Harsh skincare
- Overuse of exfoliating acids & physical exfoliants
How to maintain a healthy and resilient skin barrier.
The good news is that there are steps you can take to keep your skin barrier healthy, including:
Wash your face with a gentle cleanser. Harsh soaps and detergents can strip away the natural oils that protect your skin, so it's important to use a gentle cleanser that won't irritate your skin.
Moisturize regularly. Adding hydration isn't enough, you need to seal that hydration into the skin with a moisturiser to prevent evaporation. A damaged barrier will be losing more water than normal so applying and reapplying a moisturiser throughout the day is essential. Look for a moisturizer that's non-comedogenic (won't clog pores) and fragrance-free.
Wear sunscreen every day. Sunscreen protects your skin from the sun's harmful UV rays, which can damage your skin barrier.
Avoid over-exfoliating. Exfoliating removes dead skin cells, but it can also damage your skin barrier if you do it too often. Exfoliate once or twice a week, and be sure to use a gentle exfoliator.
Look for multi-tasking products. Multi-layered routines can overwhelm the skin and make it hard to single out what might be causing your skin issues. Look for hybrid products that will do more for your skin in the one product, like the ultimate antioxidant multi-tasker for skin nourishment and protection, AM Serum.
Eat a healthy diet. A healthy diet can help to keep your skin healthy from the inside out. Make sure to eat plenty of vegetables, healthy fats, fruits and healthy proteins.
Get enough sleep. Sleep is essential for overall health, including skin health. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
Manage stress. Stress can damage your skin barrier, so it's important to find ways to manage stress. Exercise, yoga, focused breathing and meditation are all great ways to manage stress.
It’s important to see your skincare routines as a way to honour and respect your skin rather than striving for “filter” skin or the many trends that bombard us daily. Pores are normal, texture is normal, you can’t remove these, nor should you want to. What you can achieve however is balanced, less reactive skin and this begins with a healthy skin barrier.