So, what actually is the skin barrier?
Ok, a quick recap on your high school biology lesson. The skin barrier is made up of the epidermis, which is the outermost layer of cells on the skin. It sits above the dermis, which comprises the blood vessels, nerves, sweat glands, and, importantly, the elastin and collagen which are the two structural proteins that give the skin firmness and flexibility. Then beneath that is the subcutaneous layer, which is primarily made up of fat to give skin a little padding.
The skin barrier has a unique structure to help protect the skin from any foreign substance (whether that be chemical, bacteria, outside aggressors) and prevent moisture loss to keep the skin hydrated. The easiest way to visualize it is by imagining the skin barrier as an actual brick wall. The bricks in the wall are your cells, while the mortar is the lipid matrix, through which both good and bad things can easily pass. The lipids within that matrix, such as ceramides and essential fatty acids, need to be in a certain ratio for the skin barrier to function properly. When the skin barrier is functioning optimally, this construction works beautifully to keep hydration in and allergens, bacteria and pollutants out. In it’s best state, the skin barrier will shed off its top layer, where our skin naturally exfoliates itself, keep our skin’s moisture intact and protect allergens from getting inside and causing irritation.
So, what is a damaged skin barrier and how is it caused?
A damaged skin barrier is characterised by easily irritated, dehydrated and flaky skin, yet can still be very oily. Inflammation is also a sign of a damaged skin barrier due to the cracks in the skin barrier allowing irritants and allergens to sneak through. When the skin barrier is damaged, the tight arrangement between the skin cells is compromised and the lipid matrix (the mortar in our brick wall analogy) isn’t as sturdy as it should be.
Here are some of the most common causes of a damaged skin barrier:
Over-exfoliating - When you over-exfoliate your skin, you’re not only taking away the unwanted dead skin cells on the top layer of your skin, but also the functional, healthy skin cells that form the skin barrier to protect you in the first place. Always be mindful while using your exfoliating products and look out for any differences in your skin.
Over-cleansing - Overexposure to water and using a harsh cleanser could easily cause a damaged skin barrier. It can strip away the natural lipid barrier on our skin. Instead of protecting your skin from dirt and impurities, it could damage the skin's first protective layer, which provides most of the protection.
Pollution, bad or dry air quality - Dry air in the winter or created by indoor air control (like your AC unit or heating system) can sap moisture from the skin barrier. On top of that, anything that spurs the release of free radicals, such as sunlight and pollution, can also impact the integrity of the skin barrier. Free radicals are the unstable molecules that wreak havoc on skin, damaging cells, lipids, collagen, and even DNA in the process and ultimately accelerating the ageing process.
Stress and lack of sleep - Have you ever experienced a bad skin day when you lack rest and sleep? Research shows that lack of sleep or rest can damage your skin barrier and lead to increased transepidermal water loss. So take this as an order to get more rest, sleep and protect your skin barrier!
Some internal factors that are out of our control include:
Genetics - Some people have a genetically impaired skin barrier component. They lack the production of any components linked to one another needed for healthy skin barrier function. We commonly see this in people with atopic dermatitis or eczema. However, we can totally practice safe and healthy skin care habits to prevent them from getting even worse.
Ageing - As we age, our skin barrier gets weaker and its ability to produce oil wanes over time. This makes it harder to replenish the lipids that are so essential to the integrity of the skin barrier. This is why it’s not uncommon for people to experience drier and more sensitive skin as they age.
So friismith, teach me, how can I repair my skin barrier and continually protect it?
1. Understand your skin and scope out your skincare habits - Your skin habits / behaviour comes into play here. If you have oily skin, double cleansing in the morning and again at night might be fine. But if you have dry skin, you may be better off sticking to cleansing only at night and splashing your face with water in the morning. Use a gentle, calming cleanser (such as our i am [power] active cleanser), and use the right products with the right ingredients to mimic the natural lipids (oils) found in your skin to help heal your barrier!
- Use an effective skin care routine - yep that’s where we step right up and shout from the rooftops! friismith built their foundations on the importance and understanding of an uncomplicated, authentic and easy peasy skincare routine. Keep your routine as simple as 1, 2, 3 with our ultimate skin health kit here.
- Always moisturise - your skin barrier can never max out on moisture! It really is the most essential step in any skincare routine. Try our best selling i am [radiant] active moisturiser that has been designed to hold moisture in the skin for up to 72 hours with a luminous glow from the pink calcite crystal. It really is special stuff.
- Humectants & Emollients - Humectants are substances that bind to water and retain hydration in the skin. Examples include glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and other natural sugars such as sorbitol and erythritol. Humectants work best as a team — specifically, alongside emollients. Emollients coat the skin and act as a seal further preventing water loss. Humectants draw moisture into skin, while emollients ensure the moisture stays there. Examples include rosehip seed oil and olive oil which both contain essential fatty acids to help replenish the skin barrier and the layers beneath it. Our i am [radiant] active booster is enriched with pure Rosehip, Macadamia and Evening Primrose oil, and infused with vitamins C and E making it ideal for healing, repairing, nourishing and strengthening your skin barrier and overall health.
- Antioxidants - help minimize lines and wrinkles, brighten skin, and, of course, defend the integrity of your skin barrier from environmental aggressors like UV exposure and pollution. The great news is that you can find antioxidants, such as vitamins C, E, and B3, in a huge number of friismith skincare products including our i am [vitality] active day serum and our i am [enough] overnight mask
- Diet - Essential fatty acids (EFAs) make up most of our skin barrier - therefore we need to ensure that our diet is high in EFAs (walnuts, salmon, flaxseed and avocado). Our i am [radiant] active moisturiser has Hemp seed extract which is high in linoleic acid (EFA) - the skin loves it! Also, our i am [radiant] active booster is super rich in EFA’s making it the perfect little tonic that your skin will adore.
As always, feel free to contact us with any questions or feedback - our ears are always open and we love to hear from you! Do you want to know more about the ingredients in our products? Do you want to know any more skincare tips for example? Let us know so that we can cover these in our future blog topics!
Please feel free to tell your friends about us so that together, we can empower women to love the skin they have been given and allow their radiance and beauty to shine through, using simple and astonishingly effective skin care solutions.