You have one skin to last a lifetime, and although it’s resilient, the constant onslaught of external stressors can cause premature aging and damage over time. Fortunately, one vital structure exists on your skin to protect you from these invading pathogens. It’s called your skin barrier.
Your skin barrier is integral to the health of your skin, but when it’s compromised, it can cause a range of problems. This post will explore everything you need to know about your skin barrier and how to protect it.
Basic Skin Anatomy
Your skin has three layers: the epidermis, dermis, and hypodermis. Each layer is constructed entirely differently but works collectively to provide these essential functions:
- Heat regulation
Your skin also produces vitamin D, collagen, and elastin.
The epidermis, or stratum corneum, is the outermost protective layer of your skin and gives the most protection to the layers beneath. The epidermis contains three cell types:
- Squamous cells or corneocytes
- Basal cells or keratinocytes
Squamous cells make up the outermost layer of the epidermis, called the stratum corneum. These cells are essentially dead skin cells that continuously shed, a mechanism known as sloughing (“sloffing”) off, giving you brand new skin every 30 days.
Basal cells are the primary cells of your epidermis and begin at the base of the layer through cell division. They gradually make their way to the top layer, flattening out and turning into squamous cells.
Melanocytes are at the base of your epidermis and produce melanin, which gives you skin color.
The dermis is the second layer, making up 90% of your skin. It’s where hair, collagen, sweat, and oil come from and contains pain and touch receptors.
The dermis contains the most functions, including:
- Blood vessels
- Hair follicles
- Lymph vessels
- Sweat glands
- Sebaceous glands
The deepest layer of your skin is called the hypodermis, or subcutaneous layer, and comprises fat and collagen. The hypodermis acts as a shock absorber to your bones, cushioning them from falls and injuries. It also helps with heat regulation.
What Is the Skin Barrier, and How Does it Work?
Now that you know basic skin anatomy, let’s look at the skin barrier.
The skin barrier is another three-layered structure. As mentioned, it sits on the outer layer—the epidermis—and is your body’s first defense against invading pathogens, allergens, chemicals, and free radicals.
The three layers that make up the skin barrier are the following:
- Acid mantle
- Lipid barrier
Each of these has an essential role in keeping your skin healthy and thriving.
A microbiome is a community of microorganisms that live together in different areas in and around our bodies. You’ll find them in mammary glands, reproductive organs, your lungs, saliva, mucous membranes, eyes, gallbladder, gut, and skin. These bacterial communities work hard to bring balance to your body.
The microbiome on your skin is crucial because it stops external aggressors from entering the skin. The bacteria in your skin’s microbiome thrive when the environment has a perfect acidity, a pH of around 5.5. But when the pH is disturbed, it can cause all kinds of symptoms, which we’ll discuss later.
The Acid Mantle
Located under the microbiome is the acid mantle, also known as the moisture barrier. It’s the body’s second line of defense and is hydrolipidic, meaning it’s made of water, sweat, and sebum. This layer works as a barricade and keeps potential harm out.
The acid mantle also protects the skin from transepidermal water loss (TEWL), which is where moisture evaporates through the skin. As you can imagine, without a barrier reducing this from happening, our skin would quickly become dehydrated.
The Lipid Barrier
The bottom layer of the skin barrier is called the lipid barrier and provides the skin with added protection and moisture retention. The lipids on the skin’s surface are known as epidermal lipids and are made up of three fats: ceramides, fatty acids, and cholesterol. You’ve probably seen skincare products containing ceramides; this is to help fortify the skin’s lipid barrier.
How Does the Skin Barrier Get Damaged?
Our skin barrier is resilient and can usually bounce back quickly from typical damage. But when the skin barrier is continuously under attack, it can become weakened and vulnerable, opening it up to infection, inflammation, or worse.
Ways that our skin barrier gets damaged include:
- Using harsh cleansers or exfoliators
- Over-cleansing or exfoliating
- Using too many skincare products
- Exposure to the elements (wind, sun, snow, etc.)
- Allergic reactions
- Lack of sleep
- Unhealthy lifestyle
Most of these causes are entirely avoidable, so be mindful of these to keep your skin barrier healthy.
Signs That Your Skin Barrier is Damaged
How can you tell if your skin barrier is damaged? Many signs and symptoms can be mild and go unnoticed for days, months, and even years. But, left untreated or ignored, it can not only cause you discomfort, but it can cause premature aging.
If your skin barrier is damaged, your skin may look or feel:
- Tight (usually after cleansing)
- Dehydrated or dull
- Dry or scaly
- Red or inflamed
You may also notice skin takes longer to heal. And if you suffer from rosacea or eczema, barrier damage can exacerbate the symptoms.
How to Repair a Damaged Skin Barrier
It can be alarming if you’ve discovered that your skin barrier is damaged. But not to worry. There are several steps you can take to repair a damaged skin barrier.
Discontinue Your Skincare
The first step to repairing your damaged skin barrier is to stop using all of your skincare products. When the skin barrier is damaged, and you keep applying products to microscopic damage on the skin, it can exacerbate the symptoms and cause further issues. Discontinuing all products will give your skin a break and time to heal naturally. Use lukewarm water to rinse your skin, and avoid wearing makeup during this time.
Hydrate Inside and Out
The exception to discontinuing your skin care is moisturizing. Make sure you’re keeping your skin hydrated and use by using a moisturizer. This protects the skin from invading microbes and stops moisture from escaping. During the day, if you’re outside, ensure you still wear SPF, as UV rays are the leading cause of premature aging. And remember to hydrate from the inside by drinking plenty of water.
Reintroduce Some Skincare
When your skin improves, which could take days or weeks, you can start reintroducing your skincare. Start with one product at a time, using it for a few days so you can see if it harms your skin. You can remove that product from your routine when you find the culprit.
Avoid New Products
While your skin barrier is healing, it’s best not to introduce new products to your routine unless they are specifically for repairing the skin barrier. Doing so can cause further irritation and damage. And your skin won’t be in its best shape to absorb the skincare, so it’s best to wait until your skin has healed.
Get Professional Help
If you’ve discontinued your skincare and the symptoms haven’t subsided, it’s best to speak with a dermatologist. They’ll be able to determine if there are any underlying problems or if you need medication.
How to Protect Your Skin Barrier
To protect your skin barrier, you want to adopt healthy lifestyle habits, such as not smoking, getting a good night’s rest, and removing unnecessary stress.
It’s also a good idea to assess your current skincare routine and determine whether you are using the best products to fortify your skin barrier. Foaming cleansers, for example, are notorious for stripping the skin and damaging the skin barrier. Physical exfoliants with particles like sugar or salt are abrasive and can easily damage the skin barrier. So switch to a gentle chemical exfoliant that isn’t abrasive on the skin. And be careful not to over-treat your skin with different products.
The following routine will give your skin the best protection from when you step outside to when you go to sleep at night.
You should cleanse your skin without stripping away the essential fatty acids. To avoid this, use a cleanser without sulfates or surfactants, like the Easy Going Gentle Crème Cleanser. It contains yucca and green tea to cleanse and soothe the skin and provide antioxidant protection. And panthenol and glycerin hydrate and draw and trap moisture into the skin cells.
As mentioned, a chemical exfoliant is generally more gentle on your skin barrier than a physical one. Fake ID Glycolic Rejuvenating Serum is a gentle alternative to abrasive exfoliants. With glycolic and lactic acids, this serum delivers alpha-hydroxy acids to the skin to improve the skin’s texture and tone while minimizing signs of aging, while sea whip calms and soothes.
Treat your skin barrier with fortifying ingredients that repair the cells before damage can take hold. The Drama-Free Repair Serum not only heals surface damage but also reduces signs of premature aging, scarring, and conditions such as rosacea. With a unique formula of beta-glucans and phospholipids, this daily serum trains skin cells to repair themselves while revealing your radiant glow. Apply this after cleansing, morning and night.
Seal your skin with the Love Thy Face Miracle Moisturizer and a few drops of the Lipid Luxury Lipid Repair Oil. The moisturizer is a reparative and soothing blend of botanical and lipid-rich oils. While the oil gives a boost of vitamins A, D, and E. This duo packs a powerful punch, providing antioxidant protection, and reducing signs of aging, while fortifying the skin’s lipid barrier.
If you spend any time outdoors, then you must use an SPF. Making Shade SPF30 Broad Spectrum Sunscreen is an ultra-sheer, water-resistant formula with micronized zinc oxide to safely protect from harmful UV rays. It also contains green tea for calming and vitamins A and C for lipid barrier protection and sun damage repair.
Choose Skin Barrier-Specific Products
Your skin barrier is your biggest protector working around the clock to keep your skin balanced and hydrated. To maintain it’s integrity, use skin barrier-specific products, like serums and oils, always use an SPF, and avoid any abrasive skincare. This is your opportunity to create our own skincare routine that nurtures and respects your skin barrier, so it can continue to thrive.