Dry, scaly, and inflamed skin. These are all symptoms your skin’s barrier is not intact.
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.
Rarely do we give our skin’s barrier much attention, but if we really considered all of 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 that your skin is the largest organ on your body?
It’s the interface between you and your external environment, and plays a major role in protecting and supporting everything it encloses.
Healthy skin is supple, firm, and youthful.
But if your skin becomes out of balance, it starts to appear flaky, wrinkled, and uneven. Because it is reflecting light abnormally, wrinkles can 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; helping you understand exactly what is involved if you want happy, healthy, and 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 barrier 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 called corneocytes; layers upon layers of dead cells surrounded by an oily, water-repellent coating that provides a formidable barrier to the outflow of water, and an impermeable membrane to the environment.
This oily surrounding is made up of 50% Ceramides, 25% Cholesterol, and 10% Fatty Acids. All of these lipids are super important for normal barrier repair function.
How Is The Barrier Formed?
Ok, now for the technical bit – please stay with me.
A matrix is formed during the keratinisation 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 keratinisation 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 corneocytes are part of a brick wall, and the lipids are 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, and you can read all about it 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 onto a chapped part of your hand?
Then you don’t need me to tell you – it hurts like hell!
When your skin is chapped, it has lost the valuable lipids that sit between the skin cells. This increases the penetration of irritants, allergens, and pathogens – meaning that nasty acidic irritants like lemon juice can penetrate easily.
An alteration in the stratum corneum lipids has been identified in several skin disorders associated with a damaged permeability barrier, including atopic dermatitis and inflammation.
So, it makes sense that “skin-identical ingredients” will help to improve certain skin conditions by repairing and protecting your outer layer of skin.
Symptoms Of An Impaired Barrier
Flaking: A typical sign of dehydrated skin.
Tightness: That one-size-too-small sensation that is often associated with dry skin.
Redness: Skin inflammation occurs because the barrier is unable to protect against irritants.
Itchiness: Classic “winter itch” is a sure sign of damage to the barrier function. An impaired barrier can have an effect on nerve endings, which leads to itching. When the skin is scratched to relieve the itch, the barrier function is injured further, causing inflammation and redness.
What Upsets The Barrier Function?
- Environmental conditions such as cold, heat, dry air, and wind can severely damage the barrier lipids.
- Cumulative sun damage can affect cellular renewal cycles, which is how lipids are naturally formed.
- Unprotected skin during the winter months can become dehydrated due to the destruction of barrier oils.
- Harsh soaps or products, or being overzealous with high-foaming detergents can strip the skin’s 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 can have a detrimental effect on the barrier function.
Barrier Repair Ingredients
So, can you repair your barrier once it has become undermined?
Yes, absolutely, by using 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 components in damaged skin
- A serum with humectant ingredients such as hyaluronic acid and glycerine attract water into the corneocytes
- Occlusive ingredients such as beeswax provide a physical barrier; sealing moisture into the tissues whilst preventing water loss
- Sebum-identical ingredients such as jojoba and squalane that are found in human sebaceous secretions act as lubricants on the skin’s surface, giving it a smooth appearance
- Triglycerides such as castor seed oil, which is 40-50% rich in triglycerides such as 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.
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 skin’s natural barrier, and why I believe it is key to your skin’s health.
When your protective layer is intact, your 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, which form between the cell walls and assist 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.
The two complexes I specifically created to address these concerns are Fortify, a barrier repair complex, and Bio Lipid Oil, which maintains the skin’s barrier in its natural and intact condition.
The following barrier repair ingredients contain a composition that resembles the membrane structure of the natural skin barrier:
- Phosphatidylcholine (a phospholipid) from Lecithin
- Triglycerides from Coconut oil
- Squalane from Olives
- Fatty Acids and Phytosterols from Evening Primrose, Borage, and Shea
Layer with H2O Complex for parched skin, and guarantee your skin a return to that youthful, vibrant glow. It’s the perfect solution for those suffering from dryness, premature ageing, and sensitivity.