Barrier repair it’s an ambiguous phrase.
But it’s super important, because it’s quite literally what stands between you and the outside world.
Yet rarely do we give our skins barrier much attention?
But if we consider all the skin conditions associated with an impaired barrier, then maybe we would.
- Dry skin
- Premature ageing
- Dehydrated, flaky skin
- Sensitivity and redness
- Inflamed papules and pustules
Did you know your skin is the largest organ on your body?
It’s the interface between yourself and your external environment, which plays a major role in protecting and supporting everything it encloses.
A healthy skin is supple, firm and youthful.
But if your skin becomes out of balance, skin starts to appear sensitive, flaky, wrinkled and uneven, because it is reflecting light abnormally, this can make wrinkles appear deeper and expression lines more apparent, all of which can lead to premature ageing.
Interestingly over 70% of the clients I see in my clinic, suffer from an impaired barrier.
Why is this happening? Well I created this article to set the record straight, to help you understand exactly what is involved if you want happy, healthy, balanced skin.
WHAT IS THE NATURAL BARRIER?
The outermost layer of the epidermis, the stratum corneum, functions as both a physical and chemical barrier.
This barriers role is twofold:
- To prevent penetration from invading allergens and bacteria
- To prevent evaporation of water referred to as trans epidermal water loss.
It is made up of multiple stacks of flattened cells referred to as corneocytes, these layers upon layers of dead cells have a surrounding oily water-repellent coating, which provides a formidable barrier to the outflow of water and an impermeable membrane to the environment.
This oily surrounding is made up of:
- Ceramides at 50%
- Cholesterol at 25%
- Fatty acids at 10%
All of these lipids are super important for normal barrier repair function..
HOW IS THE BARRIER FORMED
OK now for the technical bit, so please stay with me.
This matrix is formed during the keratinization process; structures within cells that are keratinising are called lamellar bodies, which produce the complex fatty materials (lipids) that sit between the cells.
This little video does a great job of explaining the keratinization process your skin goes through.
The specific mixture and organisation of these lipids in the space between corneocytes, allows the correct maintenance of the permeability barrier.
When the barrier and lipids are intact your skin is healthy and beautifully balanced.
CAUSES OF BARRIER DISRUPTION
Imagine the corneocyte cells are a BRICK WALL and the lipids the CEMENT, which sits between the bricks or cells.
These lipids create an oil rich environment, which plays an important role in creating a healthy barrier.
They prevent irritants from entering your skin whilst also locking water in, so your skin is beautifully hydrated and moisturised.
Hydration is really important for an intact barrier, which you can read all about in my article on clear skin.
When your skin breaks down the barrier becomes compromised; irritants, microbes and allergens can easily penetrate, creating conditions such as dermatitis or eczema.
Ever accidentally dripped lemon juice on a chapped part on your hand?
Then you don’t need me to tell you it hurts like hell.
When your skin is chapped it has lost he valuable lipids that sit between the skin cells, this increases the penetration of irritants, allergens and pathogens, meaning that nasty acidic irritants just like lemon can penetrate easily.
An alteration in the stratum corneum lipids has been identified in several skin disorders with damaged permeability barrier, including atopic dermatitis and inflammation.
So it makes sense that ‘skin identical ingredients’ will help to repair and protect your outer layer of skin, and improve certain skin conditions.
SYMPTOMS OF AN IMPAIRED BARRIER
Flaking: A typical sign of dehydrated skin.
Tightness: That one size to small sensation, that is often associated with a dry skin.
Redness: Skin Inflammation occurs, because the barrier is unable to protect against irritants.
Itchiness: Classic winter itch is a sure sign of barrier function damage. The damaged barrier can affect nerve endings which lead to itching, when the skin is scratched to relieve the itching, the barrier function is injured causing inflammation and redness.
WHAT UPSETS THE BARRIER FUNCTION?
- Environmental conditions such as cold, heat, dry air and wind, which can severely damage the lipids
- Cumulative sun damage can affect cell renewal cycle, which is how lipids are naturally formed.
- Unprotected skin in winter can become dehydrated, due to the destruction of barrier oils.
- Harsh soaps or products, or being overzealous with high-foaming detergents can strip the skins protective sebum, breaking down protective barrier lipids
- Over-exfoliation and harsh peels can strip the corneum cells and deplete barrier oils
- Genetic conditions and skin disorders such as psoriasis
BARRIER REPAIR INGREDIENTS
So can you repair your barrier once it has become undermined?
Yes absolutely, with important skin identical and barrier repair ingredients:
- Protective emollient ingredients protect your barrier from damage, allowing your skin to repair the damaged lipid layer through the cell renewal process
- Products that contain lipid components can help to supplement the missing lipids in damaged skin
- A moisturiser with humectant ingredients like hyaluronic acid and glycerin, attract water into the corneocytes
- Occlusive ingredients like beeswax provide a physical barrier, sealing moisture into the tissues whilst preventing water loss
- Sebum identical ingredients like jojoba and squalane found in human sebaceous secretions, act as lubricants on the skins surface giving it a smooth appearance
- Triglycerides such as castor seed oil which is 40%-60% rich in triglycerides, mainly ricinolein are extremely moisturising
Linoleic acid is one of the most significant lipids for the maintenance of barrier function.
Recent studies suggest that it is essential for the formation of the lamellar phase of the stratum corneum lipids, which is why I have created a complete article on it here.
So we have established that lipids determine the effectiveness of the protective layer of your skin.
If the barrier function becomes disordered the skin becomes out of balance and irritated.
This is why it is so important to maintain your skins natural barrier and why I believe it is key to your skins health.
When your skins protective layer is intact, skin is youthful and hydrated and skin conditions are avoided.
THE NAKED TRUTH
A good moisturiser will only provide temporary relief for your dry skin, rarely will it correct the underlying problem in the matrix.
In order to rebuild your skin, products must contain ‘skin identical ingredients’ that are missing.
They will help to replenish those all-important missing lipids, that form between the cell walls assisting with barrier repair.
I firmly believe layering your products is a good idea, simply because repairing the barrier function requires so many processes, including healing, protecting and restoring.
These barrier repair ingredients contain a composition that resembles the membrane structure of the natural skin barrier:
- Phospholiids: Phosphatidylcholine from lecithin
- Triglycerides from coconut oil
- Squalane from olives
- Fatty Acids and sterols from Shea
The perfect solution for those, suffering from dryness, premature ageing and sensitivity.