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Barrier Function: Your Skin’s Security Guard

skin barrier function

Have you ever spilt lemon juice on a cut? Then you’ll agree with us when we say; it hurts like hell.

When acidic juice hits that nerve end, you don’t need us to tell you that you sure know about it.

Interestingly, this should give you some idea of how your barrier functions.

When your skin is chapped and flaky, it’s deficient in lovely protective lipids, allowing irritants like lemon juice to penetrate easily.

Barrier Function

Understanding the skin barrier function

Your skin barrier function refers to the outer layer of your skin, which you can liken to a brick wall.

The CELLS are the BRICKS, and holding these bricks in place is the MORTAR, an INTERCELLULAR MATRIX made up of complex materials (lipids), including ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids.

It’s very impermeable; when your lovely barrier is intact, your skin looks healthy and radiant, irritants have difficulty penetrating, and your skin doesn’t lose water and become easily dehydrated.

But if your barrier is impaired, your skin can look out of whack, dull and sallow, causing dry skin.

Symptoms of an impaired barrier

  • breakouts
  • acne inflammation
  • flaking, rough skin
  • accentuated expression lines and wrinkles
  • stinging because irritants penetrate easily, causing inflammation in the nerve endings
  • tightness is a sensation that occurs when the barrier is damaged
  • redness is due to inflammation; the barrier is unable to protect against irritants that penetrate
  • itchiness is classic barrier damage. When nerve endings are affected, this causes itching, and when the skin is scratched, this causes further inflammation

What does damage our barrier?

  • sun damage
  • cold and heat
  • over-exfoliation and peels
  • over-cleansing or using harsh ingredients, which strip protective lipids from the barrier
  • an ageing skin, slowing cell renewal cycle, extrinsic damage from the sun, and inflammation upset the barrier function. Mature skin starts to produce less oil (sebum)

Is it possible to improve your barrier?

You sure can. Improving your barrier function will help diffuse redness, burning, tingling, itching, and dehydration, returning your skin to a youthful, healthy glow.

There are particular ingredients you should look for:

The three main classes of lipids: ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids, are the ingredients – the trifecta of your natural skin barrier, if you will.

Here at the naked chemist, we always say 1:2:1 – one cholesterol, two ceramides, and one fatty acid – which is the ratio of these lipids required for a healthy barrier.

One of the best ways to understand how these ingredients function is to imagine that your stratum corneum is made of bricks and mortar.

The skin cells are the bricks, and the lipids are the mortar. Similar to how a stack of bricks wouldn’t be as effective at protecting without the mortar sealing everything in place, neither are your skin cells without these ingredients.

We, as skincare specialists, can’t express enough how important these are for the structure of your stratum corneum to remain intact; it serves as a barrier which protects the rest of your skin and keeps the acid mantle healthy and locks that all-important hydration in.

Ceramides are naturally found in your skin, but by the time you reach your 30s, you’ve lost around 45% of your skin’s ceramides, and by the time you’re 50, you’ve lost about 65%.

In other words, introducing ceramides into your routine as you age is almost necessary for maintaining healthy skin and warding off premature ageing.

So it is essential to rebuild and restore your protective barrier if you want healthy skin; it will reduce inflammation, help your skin to retain moisture, improve visible signs of ageing, and block environmental pollutants.

Products that contain lipids, such as Fortify Barrier Repair Cream, will help to supplement these protective components of the barrier.

An excellent emollient balm-like Ceramide repair balm will also rebuild and protect your barrier, helping to alleviate all of the above symptoms.

Layering with a lipid-rich serum-like Bio Lipid Complex will give you a complete skin repairing treatment that will restore your damaged lipid layer through the cellular repair process.

Benefits of barrier repairing ingredients

These ingredients play an incredibly crucial role in the barrier function of your skin:

Restores your skin’s barrier: A loss of ceramides, whether due to ageing, or the overuse of harsh products, can strip your skin, allowing bacteria to enter through tiny cracks and cause irritation. Replenishing these skin-identical ingredients will help to keep your barrier healthy and functioning correctly.

Locks in moisture: A healthy barrier retains water and prevents it from escaping from the skin’s tissues. Keep it plump, moist and hydrated.

Your skin is more tolerant of active ingredients: When your barrier is intact, your skin becomes more resilient, therefore, more protected.

Reduces signs of ageing: Skin ageing is not only due to the loss or breakdown of collagen and elastin; your skin barrier is also significant in protecting your skin daily from environmental rays and pollutants that can lead to ageing. A healthy barrier equals youthful-looking skin that wards off premature ageing.

Calms inflammatory skin conditions: When your skin’s barrier is not functioning correctly, cracks in the mortar dehydrate your skin due to transient epidermal water loss (TEWL). Your skin is also more susceptible to irritants penetrating through the stratum corneum, the outer layer, which can lead to sensitivity, inflammation and redness. By keeping it balanced and healthy, you can control inflammation, helping to resolve sensitive skin issues.

Softens your skin: A compromised skin barrier can cause dryness, flakiness, fine lines, and dehydration. Restoring these lost lipids will help to increase the oil in your skin, which is excellent for dry skin, helping to improve its overall look and feel.

Is there anything I should not use on my skin?

You need to avoid several ingredients, such as foaming cleansers, formulated with detergents to remove excess sebum because skin with a compromised barrier tends to be dry or sensitive; it is depleted and will generally have less sebum. Detergents can strip lipids in the protective barrier.

Instead, opt for gentle oil cleansers to prevent outstripping the barrier; Miracle Cleanse is an excellent example of oil to a water-based formula that protects as it cleanses.

Avoid ingredients that enhance penetration; this includes acid-based exfoliants and mechanical scrubs that contain beads that aren’t spherical, which can cause tiny micro-tears in the skin.

Harsh ingredients like astringents strip your protective barrier, increasing inflammation and sensitivity.

Sun exposure also reduces lipids, especially in inflamed skins, so be sure to wear a good sunscreen, but use a low SPF one because the higher the SPF –  the higher the chemicals used.

Several treatments within the skincare industry can negatively affect your barrier.

Microdermabrasion is one of them, in some cases laser, especially the controversial treatment micro-needling, which can undermine the protective role of your skin’s barrier.

To conclude. The naked truth

So, healthy skin is only a myth without a proper functioning protective barrier.

Your skin’s barrier is located in the outermost layer of skin – the stratum corneum.

This is often described as a brick wall of tough skin cells bound together by mortar-like lipids.

We appreciate that there is a lot to learn regarding your protective barrier; it can be overwhelming.

For this reason, we have put together another article if you would like to drill down further on the protective role of your excellent barrier function.

6 thoughts on “Barrier Function: Your Skin’s Security Guard

  1. AI says:

    As a esthetician this is very informative..we want to create a relaxing environment but we also want to be educated and relay this to our clients with the treatments and after care..Soooooo appreciate your message…

  2. Anonymous says:

    All this time I thought I had a sensitive skin and used lots of products to counteract this which led to more flare ups but now I see i had an impaired barrier wow

  3. Anonymous says:

    I’m a dermatologist and often refer clients to your site and this wonderful article is one of the reasons why! keep up the excellent work please

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