It used to be popular in skincare to use harsh alcohols and scrubs to treat different skincare concerns and treatments. These products would strip your skin barrier, leaving your skin barrier damaged, unhealthy and perpetuate skin concerns you were trying to heal. We’re looking at you St. Ives face scrub.
Thankfully with more research, the rise in clean beauty and K-beauty, we’re finally learning how to properly care for our skin by repairing the skin barrier. Today we’re giving you a comprehensive guide on everything you need to know about skin barrier function, causes of damage, repair and more!
What is the skin barrier and how does it work?
Your skin is made up of three layers. The epidermis, dermis, and hypodermis. Even within the outermost layer, the epidermis, there are five more layers. We’ll keep this simple and talk about the stratum corneum which is the top layer that is typically referred to as the skin barrier!
Your skin barrier composed of scaffolding and the skin cells between. Your scaffolding is made up of keratin (also found in your nails and hair). The skin cells between the keratin are composed of lipids and hyaluronic acid. Lipids are just your skin’s natural fatty acids made up of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), cholesterol, and ceramides.
The primary role of your skin barrier is to serve as protection and your body’s first line of physical defense! Let’s talk about the five specific responsibilities of your skin barrier.
Every day you face harmful environmental factors like germs, pathogens, pollution, and UV rays to name a few. Your skin barrier works hard to protect you from these potentially dangerous encounters!
The Cleveland Clinic shares that “the epidermis continually makes new skin cells. These new cells replace the approximately 40,000 old skin cells that your body sheds every day. You have new skin every 30 days.”
Your skin barrier is equipped with Langerhans cells that act as your skin barriers soldiers. They’re part of your immune system and assess foreign substances for threats. They then communicate with your immune system to trigger the appropriate response!
You’ve probably heard of melanin. It gives your skin, eyes and hair it’s color. It’s also responsible for whether you tan easily and the color of your tan. Naturally, melanin is found in your skin barrier!
Your skin barrier acts as a natural water barrier. It helps maintain hydration by absorbing water and preventing transepidermal water loss (TEWL).
What causes damaged skin barrier?
You may think that since the skin barrier has such an important job and acts as your naturally shield that it’s resistant to damage. We’re learned that’s just not true and that there are several factors that can damage your skin barrier.
Like we mentioned above, your skin is meant to protect you from harsh environmental factors like UV rays, pollution, and irritants but it’s not impenetrable. Over exposure to them can result in a damaged skin barrier and lead to common skin conditions and disorders.
Use of aggressive physical scrubs, exfoliants, and facial brushes can strip your top layers of skin leaving your skin vulnerable and open to germs as well as excessive water loss. Chemical exfoliants like AHA’s and BHA’s are the best way to promote healthy cell turnover that won’t damage your skin barrier.
Genetics & Age
Unfortunately, our skin can naturally have a predisposition to a more weakened skin barrier. We also all naturally lose hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and moisture with age. Some cite a 10% loss of hyaluronic acid per decade after you turn 30.
What are some of the most effective steps to restore skin barrier?
If you’re experiencing dry, flaky skin, acne, rosacea, hyperpigmentation, excessively oily skin, eczema or other skin conditions, you might have a damaged skin barrier. Below we’ve outlined the top 7 ways to repair your skin barrier.
Chronic stress can wreak havoc on your skin barrier. It can lead to an inappropriate immune system response which can lead to inflammation, acne, eczema, and other skin care conditions that damage your skin barrier. It’s important to find healthy ways to minimize your stress. Your skin and mental health will thank you for it!
Quit Smoking And Vaping
Nicotine and the other harsh chemicals in cigarettes and e-cigarettes break down your skin barrier and cause you to age prematurely. The American Osteopathic College of Dermatology shares that “it is common for the skin of a 40-year-old heavy smoker to resemble that of a 70-year-old nonsmoker.”
Harsh cleansers with rough exfoliating beads or alcohols strip your skin barrier and dry your skin out. Daily use can lead to a damaged skin barrier and perpetuate skin conditions like dry skin, flakey skin, red, irritated skin, acne and more.
Moisturize, Moisturize, Moisturize
Since one of your skin barrier’s most important jobs is to attract and retain moisture, the more you can help hydrate your skin, the more your skin moisture barrier will thank you! There are several ingredients that will help you achieve optimal moisture. Keep scrolling to learn more!
What are the best skin barrier repair ingredients?
As promised, we’re going to cover the top four ingredients for repairing your skin moisture barrier. Look for moisturizers, cleansers, and serums with these key ingredients to help restore your skin barrier and achieve healthy, dewy, youthful skin!
This ancient ayurvedic medicinal plant is also commonly called gotu kola, cica and tiger grass in skincare. It’s an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, collagen- and GAGs-stimulator. Click here for more on this hero ingredient!
Hyaluronic Acid (HA)
HA has been having a major moment for a while now and we’re here to say that the hype is real! Hyaluronic acid is a skin-identical humectant. That means it’s naturally occurring in your skin barrier, and as a humectant it attracts water to your skin. HA’s superpower is that it can hold 1,000 times its weight in water! Talk about a serious skin quencher.
These is another skin-identical humectant that well-known drugstore brands have built their entire product line around. Your skin has 12 different types of ceramides. You’ll want to keep an eye out for ceramides 1, 3 and 6-11. Click here for a deep dive on ceramides.
In our opinion, glycerin is way underrated. It’s another skin-identical humectant like HA and ceramides. It’s been used in skincare for over 50 years, is safe for all skin types, and has been found effective even in doses as low as 3%.
A 2005 study, shows that glycerin levels in the skin are directly correlated to water and hydration levels. AKA more glycerin=more hydration! Your skin’s moisture barrier will thank you!
How long does it take to heal damaged skin barrier?
You should expect it to take at least a month for your skin barrier to heal. Your skin naturally sheds dead skin cells and replaces it with new ones. The lifecycle of your skin barrier is around 30 days. So it can take a full month for your damaged skin to cycle through and be replaced with new, healthy skin cells.
Please note that the length of your skin cycle slows down with age and can be affected by lifestyle. Also, if you’re using skincare prescribed by your dermatologist to heal your skin barrier, that can take up to 6-8 weeks to penetrate and heal all three layers of your skin, and ultimately your barrier.