The Skin Barrier

The Skin Barrier

As skincare peers, you have surely come across the term “skin barrier” and social media posts on how to protect your skin barrier. But do you actually know what our skin barrier is and how maintaining and strengthening it improves its protective functions? In this journal article, we break down the science for you and explain what exactly the skin barrier is. 

What is the skin barrier and why is it important?

The skin barrier is often referred to as the skin’s natural moisture barrier and is defined as the outermost layer of the skin, also known as the stratum corneum. This barrier is composed of multiple layers of cells (including dead cells) and lipids (the skin's natural fats) that act as a shield, protecting us against external factors, such as environmental pollutants, UV radiation, allergens, and other irritants. This protective layer also helps to maintain the skin's moisture by preventing transepidermal water loss (TEWL). The skin barrier functions by transporting essential nutrients (namely ceramides, fatty acids and cholesterol) throughout the skin to lock in moisture and prevent TEWL. These vital nutrients are referred to as the skin’s natural moisturising factors (NMF). Maintaining and strengthening the skin barrier is essential for keeping our skin healthy and functioning properly. An intact and optimal functioning skin barrier helps to keep the skin moisturised, soft, and supple. As such, it is of utmost importance that we keep our skin barrier healthy and protected by adopting good skincare practices. 

What skin conditions can result from an impaired skin barrier?

When our skin barrier is compromised, it can lead to a variety of skin concerns, including dryness, sensitivity, and irritation. This is caused by the skin barrier’s inability to protect the skin and ward off any aggressors that damage the skin. An impaired skin barrier can also increase the risk of infection and the development of certain skin conditions, such as eczema, rosacea, and psoriasis. Additionally, it can lead to hyperpigmentation through inflammation (especially, in skin of colour!). When the skin is damaged, it releases certain chemicals that trigger an inflammatory response which, in turn, causes an overproduction of melanin leading to hyperpigmentation. 

Healthy versus compromised skin barrier

Figure 1. A healthy versus compromised skin barrier. The skin barrier is also known as the stratum corneum, which is the outermost layer of the epidermis. It is composed of skin cells (dead and living) and the lamellar structure which consists of the skin’s natural lipids (ceramides, cholesterol, essential fatty acids) and moisture (water). A healthy skin barrier is composed of tightly packed cells (corneocytes) and a normal lamellar layer which forms a brick-and-mortar-like structure. This prevents external irritants, harmful microbes, pollutants and free radicals from invading and damaging the skin. It ensures moisture retention, resulting in supple skin.  On the other hand, in a compromised skin barrier the sebum layer, corneocytes (skin cells) and lamellar layer are disrupted. This leads to moisture loss and aggravated skin damage due to the effects of external irritants, harmful microbes, pollutants and free radicals. Symptoms of an impaired skin barrier commonly include dryness, redness, and increased sensitivity.

How to properly care for your skin barrier

Taking care of your skin barrier is the first step to keeping your skin looking and feeling its best. To do this, start by developing a skincare routine that includes gentle, yet effective products that won't strip your skin of its natural oils. Using products that are designed to help restore your skin barrier is also important, as they can help keep your skin hydrated and protected. Opt for gentle, fragrance-free products that are formulated for sensitive skin. Regular and gentle exfoliation to remove dead skin cells can also aid in keeping our skin barrier strong. It is, however, important to note that over-exfoliation can lead to physical damage of the skin and thus exfoliation should be correctly incorporated in your skincare routine while keeping in mind your skin type. Finally, make sure to drink plenty of water and get enough sleep as these can help keep your skin barrier strong and healthy. Remember that staying hydrated and healthy eating greatly influences your skin health. 

Which ingredients can help or harm your skin barrier? 

It is essential to use products that replenishes the skin's natural oils and lipids. Ingredients like glycerin, ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids are known to help to replenish and repair the skin barrier. Ceramides are natural lipids that help keep your skin hydrated and protected from environmental pollutants. Glycerin helps to retain moisture in your skin and keeps it looking plump and hydrated. Fatty acids nourish and strengthen your skin barrier to prevent water loss and keep your skin healthy. On the other hand, some ingredients can actually damage your skin barrier. Products with harsh fragrances and alcohol can strip your skin of its natural oils and cause irritation. Thus, it is  important to be mindful of the ingredients in your skincare products and be sure to choose ones that are specifically tailored to your skin type. By doing so, you can keep your skin barrier healthy and protected.

DERMA et al. has created a Barrier Defence Serum enriched with collagen-stimulating, hydrating and anti-inflammatory ingredients to strengthen and maintain the skin barrier without causing adverse effects. Our products were carefully developed for all skin types and skin tones, cruelty-free, fragrance-free, and non-comedogenic. Our product range also consists of a rich moisturiser, the Ceralief Cloud Cream, that contains ceramides, cholesterol and nourishing oils. It effectively replenishes your skin’s NMF while providing an optimal healing environment for your skin. 

Our go-to skincare routine for treating a damaged skin barrier

  1. Exfoliate using our Emulsion Facial Cleanser, an oil-based cleanser that contains 2% salicylic acid for gentle exfoliation. It also contains anti-inflammatory ingredients to help soothe inflamed skin. Try applying the cleanser to your face and leaving it on for 10-15 minutes 1-2 days a week to allow new, healthy skin cells to surface.
  2. Moisturise with our Ceralief Cloud Cream, an ultra-nourishing, rich moisturiser that hydrates dry and dehydrated skin while soothing irritation. It is formulated with a multi-lamellar system of ceramides, cholesterol, and free fatty acids to mimic and enhance the skin's natural barrier function. 
  3. Once your skin barrier has healed, apply our Barrier Defence Serum every day before applying your moisturiser to maintain and strengthen your skin barrier and protect it against harmful irritants. 
  4. Always follow up with an SPF30+ sunscreen during the day to prevent UV damage.
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