The skin’s barrier function is effectively our body’s first line of external defence, protecting us from the external environment, infections and water loss. The barrier function is known as the stratum corneum and its outermost layer is the epidermis. It looks much like a wall built out of bricks (known as the corneocytes – composed of the dead, dry skin cells which are ready to be shed) and Mortar (the intercellular matrix – composed of lipids).
The barrier function is critical to skin health. It can be thinned out and compromised by environmental factors, diet and choices in our skincare. There’s certainly something to be said about having ‘thick skin!’
When the structure of this brick wall is compromised, gaps can start forming in the lipid barrier causing trans-epidermal moisture loss. This results in dryness, dullness, wrinkles and skin irritation as allergens and microbes penetrate the dermal layers via those gaps.
The skin barrier function can be impacted by:
Environmental factors such as wind, sun and humidity
Harsh skincare products containing high SD alcohol or SLS
Dietary factors including excessive caffeine, salt and alcohol
Insufficient water intake
Here are some practical tips on how to protect the skin barrier function:
Avoid products that dry out the skin such as SD alcohol, denatured alcohol and isopropyl alcohol
Use a natural and gentle face cleanser instead of products containing SLS or soaps as they have an alkalising effect on your skin. The pH of the skin should stay somewhere around the acidic mark of around 4.7, which is the ideal pH for good bacterial flora, whereas an alkaline pH of 8-9 disperses good bacteria from the skin
Avoid harsh exfoliants or scrubbing too often. Use only natural exfoliating formulations and keep it down to not more than once a week
Wash with tepid water instead of hot water that can be very drying on the skin
Layer your skincare routine. Incorporate a toner, serum and moisturiser. The multi layers help protect against moisture loss
Nourish your skin with natural skincare products that are rich in natural sources of essential fatty acids, vitamins ACE, antioxidants and humectants. Make each drop count towards nourishing and hydrating
Maintain a healthy diet. No external nourishment can compete with a varied and healthy diet from within. Adopt a life long focus on healthy gut health and healthy skin will follow
Drink enough water. Our skin, like all the other cells in our body, is made up of 70% water
Protect the skin from harsh elements like wind and UV rays. Use a natural zinc based sunscreen and physical protection whenever possible
Manage your stress. Stress creates an inflammatory response throughout the body, often leading to skin irritations. The stress hormone cortisol not only breaks down collagen but also slows the skin’s ability to regenerate, thereby compromising the barrier function
Protecting the skin barrier is vital for our health. The stronger and sturdier our skin barrier is, the better it can perform as a ‘defensive wall’ to the toxins we’re exposed to on a daily basis.