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Why Our Skin Barrier is Important

The skin barrier plays an important role in skin health but many people don’t know if their skin barrier is in good shape. We're going to look into all there is to know about the skin barrier.

An easy way to think about the health of your skin barrier is to imagine a brick wall. The outermost layer of your skin, your skin barrier, acts like the brick and mortar. A soundly built brick wall will be stacked and packed with mortar, so the structure won't budge. You can think of the bricks as your skin cells, and the mortar is as the oily lipid layer that is made up of ceramides, lipids, and fatty acids. Despite rough elements like wind, rain, hail and even pollution, nothing can penetrate the wall. But what if the bricks start to crack or if there isn't enough mortar between the bricks? Eventually, it will start to decay, debris will enter, and the structure will crumble.

The skin barrier’s brick wall structure is happiest and healthiest when it’s at a slightly acidic pH (4.5–5.5). When the skin barrier is maintained at this optimal pH, it can effectively provide protection against UV rays, pollution, oxidative damage and toxins.

Our skin’s cells are constantly turning over and renewing from the deeper layers of our dermis and epidermis to provide new cells to the skin’s surface, while shedding off the dead skin. This is another reason to keep a balanced, slightly acidic top layer of skin.

The skin barrier does more than protect against external factors, it also has an essential job at forming a protective barrier internally as well. From the inside the skin barrier prevents excess loss of water and electrolytes to keep good skin health and hydration.

Signs that your skin barrier may be compromised include:

  • red, inflamed skin;

  • dry, itchy skin;

  • irritation and sensitivity;

  • dull complexion;

  • increased breakouts.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of a compromised skin barrier, don’t worry! The good news is, it’s possible to strengthen your skin barrier and get your skin glowing again with just a few changes.

What factors disrupt the skin barrier?

We now know the signs of a weakened skin barrier, here are the factors that can affect the skin barrier, and ways to prevent it:

Environment/pollutants: External factors such as extremely dry or humid weather and airborne pollutants can be harsh on the skin. One way to help combat this damage is with antioxidant-rich skincare products to fight against free radical damage.

Excess sun exposure: Nothing good ever comes from excessive sun exposure! When spending time in the sun, wear a wide brimmed hat, cover up with long layers, and always apply and reapply your favourite non-nano, reef-safe SPF.

Cleansing: This is a tricky one. Cleansing is an essential part of every skincare routine, but harsh cleansers can damage the skin barrier. As mentioned above, our skin thrives at a pH of 4.5–5.5; therefore, it’s important to make sure your cleanser isn’t too alkaline and disturbing your skin barrier.

Harsh chemicals/exfoliants: The list of ingredients that can contribute to a compromised skin barrier is long. There are AHAs, BHAs, retinol and many more. Although these can provide great exfoliating benefits, take caution! Don’t use them too often, especially if you’re experiencing any redness, sensitivity or irritation. My best advice if you’re experiencing these symptoms is to take a mini vacation from exfoliants and focus on barrier repair products until you feel your skin is back to a strong and healthy state.

How to repair the skin barrier:

Emollients: Emollients help to soften the skin and provide a smoother, more elastic feel. Plant oils such as jojoba oil, squalane oil and evening primrose oil (to name a few) are some examples of emollients.

Occlusives: Occlusives provide a barrier on the skin that prevents moisture loss. The most common occlusive natural ingredients like shea butter, beeswax and plant oils like hemp and jojoba have powerful occlusive properties that help to lock in moisture.

Humectants: Humectants pull water and moisture to the skin to boost hydration. Two common humectant ingredients that provide great skin barrier hydration are hyaluronic acid and glycerin.

Moisturizers are an essential part of each person’s skincare routine, and play an important role in the protection of the skin barrier. A great moisturizer:

  • Helps to repair the skin barrier

  • Increases water content in the skin

  • Reduces trans-epidermal water loss

  • Restores the lipid barrier

A moisturizer that checks all the boxes, has a nice texture and aroma while also being affordable is hard to find! Good news is, we have some great options to share with you.

A disrupted skin barrier can be repaired but it’s best to take preventative measures to protect your skin health. Be careful not to over exfoliate and always apply a sunscreen as the final step in your morning skincare routine. Using the right mix of products for your skin type will help keep your skin barrier strong and your complexion glowing!

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