Do you know the difference between a dry skin type and dehydrated skin? In this topic, we’re going to address dehydrated skin - a condition that affects all skin types. So do I have dry...
The skin barrier. Today we're going to take a deep dive into this often ignored and often misunderstood part of our skin's function. Often described as the acid mantle, or our moisture barrier - there's a lot to this part of our anatomy and its function and health is critical to the overall wellbeing our skin.
To give some context, when we talk about our skin we're actually talking about several distinct layers - the most relevant for this discussion being the dermis and the epidermis.
The dermis makes up around 90% of the skin's thickness and contains collagen, elastin, connective tissues, oil & sweat glands and your hair follicles. It serves as the key structural part of your skin.
The epidermis is the top layer of our skin that we can see & touch. The skin barrier typically refers to the uppermost layer of the Epidermis (The Stratum Corneum).
How the skin barrier works
The skin barrier has a clear function - it acts as a protective barrier against bacteria, viruses, UV rays and other contaminants. It also helps to retain moisture and keep your skin hydrated. This barrier is made up of 3 key components; physical - a combination of keratin & lipids that form the building blocks of the barrier; chemical - the acidity or PH of the skin's surface that creates a hostile environment for external pathogens & bacteria; microbial - billions of symbiotic microbes that help regulate and maintain the healthy function of the skin barrier.
7 Key Functions of a Healthy Skin Barrier
- Protection: The acid mantle shields your skin from environmental assaults such as harsh weather and pollution.
- Infection Prevention: It reduces the risk of infection and occasional breakouts.
- Sebum Regulation: Helps to minimise dehydration which regulates the production sebum.
- Hydration: It helps to soften and hydrate your skin, preventing dryness.
- Immune Support: Working with your skin's immune system, it produces antigens that keep harmful bacteria at bay.
- Barrier Strength: It promotes a smooth and strong barrier by keeping skin cells tight and flat.
- Water Retention: It prevents water loss, ensuring your skin stays moisturized.
Skin barrier damage
The symptoms of a compromised skin barrier are often mistaken for similar skin conditions - i.e acne, rosacea, sensitivity & dryness. That's why it's important to understand that many of your skin concerns may be arising from a damaged skin barrier. Especially as many common treatments for these skin issues can cause further damage to the skin barrier - compounding instead of solving the problem.
Several signs of skin barrier damage can include:
- Acne & Breakouts: If you're losing moisture due to a compromised skin barrier (trans-epidermal water loss) the skin will compensate by producing higher levels of its natural oils - sebum. An excess of sebum can cause pores to become clogged. Plus, without a healthy Micro-biome the skin's inflammatory response is impaired and the build up of harmful bacteria is less well regulated. This results in more frequent and more inflamed acne & breakouts.
- Rough, dry or flaky skin: Again - trans-epidermal water loss leads to the skin becoming dehydrated. Additionally, dead skin cells constantly shed from the skin (a process known as desquamation) and are replaced by new cells that move up through the epidermis. When the skin barrier is not functioning this process slows down - leading to less cellular turnover and the skin becoming rougher and drier.
- Other signs can include increased sensitivity, redness, irritation & hyperpigmentation.
Causes of skin barrier disruption
As the skin ages it produces less collagen, elastin & keratin. The skin thins, becomes more fragile and less resistant to damage. Also, with less keratin in the epidermis the skin's natural source of humectants decreases - meaning the skin is less able to retain moisture. Research has also indicated that the health and quality of our natural micro-biome decreases with age.
Skincare mistake #1 - Over-cleansing
One significant culprit is the use of traditional cleansers, particularly those with SLS, surfactants or high pH. Anti-bacterial products can also be harmful to the skin's natural micro-biome. Over-cleansing can also refer to simply cleansing too frequently. This will disrupt the delicate balance of the skin's pH, impact the lipid levels in the epidermis and adversely impact the Micro-biome.
Skincare mistake #2 - Over-exfoliation & over-use of actives
Over-use of exfoliating masks & powders can disrupt the physical composition of your skin barrier. Excess use of chemicals such as AHA's, BHA's or retinol can cause irritation and further disruption of the skin barrier. And too many actives can also interact in less than beneficial way.
How to repair your skin barrier
Give your skin a break and simplify your skincare. First and foremost, reduce the amount of products you're using day to day. More is not more when it comes to your skin. Stop using any skincare products for a few days then introduce a small selection of products that are gentle and support healthy skin barrier function.
Swap to oil cleansing. Oil cleansing effectively breaks down excess oil without completely stripping away the natural oils on your skin. By using the right oils, you can naturally cleanse your pores of dirt and bacteria while replenishing your skin with beneficial botanical oils that heal, protect, and nourish your skin.
Choose products that are rich in lipids & emollients. These form the building blocks (along with Keratin) of your skin barrier and a healthy, well conditioned epidermis will function and retain moisture more effectively. This means high quality oils - matched to your skin type.
Replenish moisture. You need to add more than water. Your skin requires humectants to bind this moisture into the skin. You can top-up the moisture levels in your skin with plant-based natural humectants like Glycerin and aloe.
Use sunscreen. If your skin barrier is impaired it's not functioning at its full capacity meaning it's sensitive to external factors such as UV rays. Incorporate sunscreen into your routine to protect from this.
Our recommended Goodieco routine
The good news is that each Goodieco skincare routine we offer has been especially formulated to repair, restore and promote and healthy, fully functioning skin barrier. Find your Goodieco skincare routine here