Barrier repair – it’s an ambiguous phrase.
But it’s super important because it stands between you and the outside world.
Whilst it may not seem like it on the surface, your skin is constantly hard at work.
It’s a living thing constantly communicating with other cells to stay healthy.
One of the most challenging roles your skin has to play is at the uppermost layer, the skin barrier; you can liken it to a security guard for your skin.
It is there to stop potential irritants from passing through and protect everything that lies within.
Should your shield weaken, skin conditions can occur.
Rarely do we give our skin’s barrier much attention.
But we folks at the NC think it’s super important.
If you considered all the skin conditions associated with an impaired barrier, then maybe you would.
Interestingly, around 60% of the clients we see in our clinic suffer from an impaired barrier.
But why is this happening? We created this article to set the record straight.
To help you understand precisely what is involved if you want happy, healthy, balanced skin.
Barrier Repair Problems
- 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 is important in protecting and supporting everything it encloses.
Healthy skin is supple, firm, and youthful skin, but if it becomes out of balance, it starts to appear flaky, prematurely aged and uneven.
Why? Because it reflects light abnormally.
Wrinkles and lines can appear more apparent, all leading to age-related conditions.
What Does the Term Natural Barrier Mean?
Your barrier function is found in the stratum corneum, a specialised layer that forms the epidermis’s outermost part of your skin.
This layer functions as both a physical and chemical barrier; its role is twofold:
- To prevent penetration from invading allergens and bacteria.
- To avoid water evaporation, referred to as trans-epidermal water loss.
It is made of multiple stacks of flattened cells called corneocytes; there are layers upon layers of dead skin cells that are surrounded by an oily, water-repellent coating.
They provide a formidable barrier to water outflow and an impermeable membrane to the environment.
This oily surrounding comprises 50% Ceramides, 25% Cholesterol, and 10% Fatty Acids, essential lipids crucial for the normal barrier repair function, a subject we discuss in greater detail here.
Your barrier is a vital front line that protects you from environmental assaults, including bacterial infection, UV, and more.
Sensitive or not, building up your skin’s outer barrier gives your skin the increased resilience that we fragile folk so desperately require.
How is My Skin’s Barrier Function Formed?
We must get a little skin sciency to understand this, so please bear with us.
As new cells form, old cells move up through the layers of your skin; as they do this, they are cut off from their nourishment supply and begin creating a complex protein called keratin.
This process is called keratinisation, and literally millions of dead cells turnover daily. Keratinisation is essential; it is a tough, waterproof protein that gives your skin resilience and strength.
A matrix is formed during this process; keratinisation structures within the cells, called lamellar bodies produce complex fatty materials (lipids) that sit between your skin’s cells.
The mixture and organisation of these lipids in the space between the corneocytes keep your barrier intact, which equals healthy skin.
Phew, see what we mean. This is a technical subject with some extensive terminology, but essential if you want to understand barrier repair.
If you need further clarification, this video explains your skin’s keratinisation process.
So Why Does Our Barrier Become Weak?
Aside from the environmental stressors mentioned above, it could be your age or colour.
Our skin barrier weakens with age, and vital ingredients like ceramides and cholesterol and humectants like hyaluronic and urea deplete.
And if you have Celtic skin, yes, English roses were talking about you; your barrier may be thinner, making you more prone to rashes, redness, and irritation.
Therefore building up your skin’s barrier function will improve its appearance and help increase its resilience, which we fragile folks so desperately need.
When your barrier function is intact, it contains the right amount of lipids and natural moisturising factor (NMF), which helps your skin retain water, making it dewy, plump and radiant.
When this is impaired, your skin can suffer from any one of the following conditions:
Dry: Your skin will lack oil and may be rough and scaly.
Flaking: A typical sign of dehydrated skin is a lack of water.
Tightness: That one-size-too-small sensation that is often associated with dry skin.
Redness: Skin inflammation occurs when your barrier breaks down, which potentially causes inflammation which manifests as skin sensitivity – where your barrier can’t protect against irritants.
Itchiness: The classic “winter skin” when your skin is flaky and irritated is a sure sign of damage to your barrier function.
When the barrier function is impaired, this can affect your nerve endings, leading to irritation and itching.
When you scratch your skin to relieve the itch, your barrier function is injured further, causing inflammation and redness.
Sound familiar? It can be a never-ending cycle; once you’ve reacted to a product, your skin’s uppermost layer is compromised, giving way to the potential for even more problems.
Worse still, the steroid creams typically prescribed for severe inflammation, eczema and allergic reactions cause your skin to be thin, which, whilst it does reduce inflammation, leaves you vulnerable to further irritants.
What can Upset my Barrier Function?
Let’s take a closer look at some of the things that can undermine your barrier function:
Overcomplicated routines are just asking for trouble – we recommend keeping it simple. Take a long, hard look at your beauty practices and par your routine right back.
Throw out stripping harsh astringents like alcohol and surfactants, as these can leave your barrier dry, exposed, and susceptible to irritation.
They also have an alkalising effect on the skin and throw off your pH balance, disrupting your skin’s natural processes, leaching away at your Natural Moisturising Factor and dehydrating your skin.
Like glycolic and salicylic acids, active acids should also be avoided as these remove the top layers of your skin.
Exfoliants you intend to use should be extremely gentle, with no scrubbing bubbles – which can cause tiny micro-tears in your skin, causing a whole host of problems in a skin that is already undermined.
- invasive treatments, especially micro-needling, can completely disrupt the barrier, sometimes doing irreversible damage
- 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 stratum corneum cells and deplete barrier oils
- genetic conditions and skin disorders, such as psoriasis, can have a detrimental effect on the barrier function
How do I Rebuild my Barrier?
Opt for well-thought-out formulas with skin-identical and barrier-repairing ingredients, like those discussed below:
- products that contain lipid components can help to supplement the missing elements in damaged skin
- a serum with humectant ingredients such as hyaluronic acid and urea attract water into the corneocytes
- occlusive ingredients such as cocoa butter provide a physical barrier; sealing moisture into the tissues whilst preventing water loss
- protective emollient ingredients will allow your skin to repair the damaged lipid layer through the cell renewal process
- 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 incredibly moisturising
- linoleic acid is one of the most significant lipids for maintaining barrier function. Recent studies suggest that it is essential for the formation of the lamellar phase of the stratum corneum lipids
Are There Specific Barrier Repairing Ingredients
There sure are; these include:
- fatty acids
These ingredients contain a composition similar to the membrane structure of your natural barrier function.
Therefore, we replenish them topically with essential skin-identical ingredients, which you can read all about here.