What is the skin barrier and what is its function?

What is the skin barrier and what is its function? 1

Plump, glowing, youthful, clear, healthy and the list goes on of words we want to use to describe our skin. How many of these words can actually be used to describe the current state of your skin? We’re guessing no more than two, maybe three. The reason why you might not be able to tick all these boxes is because our skin is imperfect, and that is how it is supposed to be  – but also, because too many of us don’t pay enough attention to protecting our barrier.

Tumi Lehutso from Fundamentals Skincare breaks down the skin barrier for us:

What is our skin barrier?

Here is the tea – your skin is made up of layers, each of which performs important functions in protecting your body. The outermost layer, called the stratum corneum consists of tough skin cells called corneocytes that are bound together by mortar-like lipids. This is your skin barrier.

Functions of the skin barrier

Think of your skin barrier as your skin’s built in warrior. Its function is to defend and protect the body from excessive trans epidermal water loss (TEWL), as well as to prevent the penetration of compounds into the body via the epidermis. It regulates water loss from the inside out, retains moisture, and keeps you hydrated. Second, it helps protect your skin from harsh elements like UV rays, pollutants, microbes, and chemicals or those you put on your skin. If your skin barrier is damaged, it could lead to skin problems like dry, tired, inflamed, itchy, or flaky skin.

What damages your skin barrier?

Protecting your skin can sometimes seem like a scene out of Thor and this is because the environment, our stress levels and products all can contribute to damaging our skin’s barrier. The main culprits are:

  • an environment that’s either too humid or too dry
  • allergens, irritants, and pollutants
  • too much sun exposure
  • alkaline detergents and soaps
  • exposure to harsh chemicals
  • over-exfoliation or over-washing
  • steroids
  • genetic factors that may make you more prone to certain skin conditions like atopic dermatitis and psoriasis

When your skin barrier isn’t functioning properly, you may be more prone to developing the following skin symptoms and conditions: dry, scaly skin, itchiness, rough or discoloured patches, acne, sensitive or inflamed areas, bacterial, viral, or fungal skin infections.

How can we protect our skin’s barrier?

The absolute first step for anyone with a compromised skin barrier is to simplify your skincare routine. Use fewer products and more of the actives you need. Reduce exfoliation to once or twice a week and when exfoliating do so gently using light chemical exfoliators.

Another very important thing to consider is your pH. Your skin’s delicate acid mantle hovers around a pH of 5.7. But the pH of some skin products can range from 3.7, all the way up to 8.2. Professionals and research recommend  cleansing with a product that’s close to your skin’s natural pH.

Incorporate some plant oils into your routine: jojoba oil, coconut oil, almond oil, argan oil, borage oil, rosehip oil, soybean oil. Alongside this, look for formulations that includes Ceramides. Ceramides are waxy lipids found in especially high concentrations in the stratum corneum. They are crucial for the healthy functioning of your skin barrier.

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