The skin barrier and the appearance of your skin
The clearest sign of healthy skin is an intact skin barrier. Skin barrier function is dependent upon the quality of the uppermost layer of the skin's surface, which is also called the Stratum Corneum (SC).
With a healthy SC, the skin barrier function is optimal. The combination of natural moisturizing factors and a healthy extracellular lipid matrix made of natural oils & waxes means that the skin does not look too dry or too oily.
Skin looks healthy, well-moisturized, flexible and is able to tolerate external stresses from the environment.
Why is optimal skin barrier function so important?
While the epidermis consists of just a few cells deep, this uppermost layer is very important for the health and appearance of your skin.
Healthy skin barrier function means that the uppermost layers are able to protect from environmental factors, such as cold or dry air, which can cause damage to deeper skin layers without compromising the moisture levels in the skin. The skin is therefore able to tolerate external stresses from the environment without any adverse effects.
If you struggle with sensitive skin, then you know that it’s not just the dryness or oiliness of your skin that can be an issue. The health of your skin barrier is also important for smooth and healthy looking skin.
What is sensitive skin?
Sensitive skin can be summarized as skin that has a compromised skin barrier. Some people are born with skin like this while others start to notice this skin condition later in life.Sensitive skin from birth
A protein called Filaggrin helps maintain a healthy skin barrier. Latest research shows that some people might have a mutation that creates a deficiency of Filaggrin. This could explain how some people have sensitive skin from birth and are more prone to skin disorders.
Sensitized or reactive skin
Even if you were born with healthy skin, years of chemical and mechanical damage combined with internal (hormones, stress, poor diet) and external stressors (sun exposure, extreme temperatures) can create a compromised skin barrier.
Once the skin barrier function is disrupted, skin problems appear and seem to worsen with time.
Consequences of a compromised skin barrier
Once you start to see any signs of persistent irritation on your skin, take it seriously. A damaged skin barrier makes your skin and your health susceptible to new problems.
You might make your skin susceptible to developing intolerances to products and ingredients that you used quite safely before.
Your skin will be more prone to additional damage and aging, which might be hard to reverse. A new study shows that people can actually develop food allergies through their skin.
How to stop and reverse the damage
If you want to help repair your skin barrier then you need to stop using products that damage your skin on a daily basis. Choose your products carefully.
Here are some ingredients that might irritate the skin barrier
Coal tar hair products (found in some shampoos and hair dyes)
Surfactants like SLS, that are found in many different products for cleaning and personal care purposes
Synthetic fragrances, preservatives and dyes that can irritate skin
Certain oils (like coconut oil or olive oil) can also damage your skin barrier if they are not suitable for your skin type.
For a more comprehensive list, read our list on the 10 popular skincare ingredients that might be causing skin irritation.
A compromised skin barrier needs TLC and responds the best to the cleanest and simplest of skin routines. Bring your skin care routine back to the basics. A gentle cleanser, a good moisturizer and a sunblock.
Bonus points if the moisturizer contains barrier building ingredients that don't further irritate the skin. A high quality face oil with the right blend of fatty acids can further help your skin barrier. It's important to remember that the skin needs both water soluble nutrients and important fatty acids from the right kinds of oils to be healthy.
Do you have skin barrier issues? Comment below.