Protecting Your Skin’s Natural Barrier
When it comes to achieving a flawless complexion, there are so many different steps that you can take. However, one that dermatologists are now really stressing the importance of is working to strengthen your skin’s natural barrier.
Wondering what this is, and how you can do this?
Here is everything you need to know…
What is Your Skin’s Natural Barrier?
The skin is made up of three main layers:
- Epidermis – the outer layer
- Dermis – the middle layer
- Hypodermis – the deepest layer
Each of these main layers consists of different smaller layers.
When it comes to the epidermis, the outermost part of this is comprised of a specialized layer known as the stratum corneum, and this is what is referred to as your skin’s natural protective barrier.
Wondering what exactly this barrier is made up of?
It basically consists of dead skin cells, as well as a lipid layer that holds these dead skin cells together. This lipid layer is water-repellent, which is why it is able to form such an effective barrier between the skin and the outside world.
When it comes to the dead skin cells in your barrier, this is completely normal, and is all a part of your skin’s natural cycle. Your skin constantly creates new skin cells in its deepest layers, and as these grow, they work their way to the top of your skin. As they reach the top, they die off and are shed by the body, being replaced by the newer skin cells that are waiting right behind them.
What Does This Barrier Do?
Since this barrier is the outermost part of your skin, its main role is to protect your skin from all of the damage that can be caused by the environment around it.
This is everything from UV rays to pollution to toxic chemicals to dirt, all of which your natural barrier prevents from actually entering into your skin.
Your skin’s barrier is also vital when it comes to maintaining the right balance of hydration in your skin, as it contains lipids that keep the skin moisturized.
Unfortunately, there are so many factors out there that can weaken your skin’s protective barrier…
Factors That Weaken Your Skin’s Barrier
To begin with, the onslaught of all of the environmental damage mentioned above can really take its toll on your skin, and cause damage to your barrier. Even habits such as using hot water on your skin, or over-exfoliating, can end up damaging this barrier.
In addition to all of this, the skin’s barrier also naturally weakens with age, and can also be affected by your coloring.
Wondering if your skin’s barrier has been weakened or damaged?
Here are a few of the symptoms that would point to that:
- A dull, sallow and tired-looking complexion
- Prone to congestion
- Skin feels tight and dry
- Skin often has an oily appearance, but still feels dry
- Eczema, psoriasis and/or rosacea
However, whether or not your barrier has been significantly damaged, everybody could do with strengthening and protecting their skin’s protective barrier, as this is key when it comes to a healthy complexion.
Use Natural Oils
Research has shown that oils, especially those that contain a high concentration of linoleic acid, are easily absorbed by the skin, into its top layers, and can really help to improve barrier function.
So, which oils are high in linoleic acid?
Here are a few:
- Chia seed oil – one of the best natural sources of omega-3 fatty acids, with studies showing that, when used topically, chia seed oil can really boost overall barrier function
- Hemp seed oil – a natural humectant, meaning it helps the skin’s barrier to retain moisture
- Pumpkin seed oil – high in fatty acids as well as vitamin E, therefore promoting healthy barrier function
- Grape seed oil – has a high antioxidant content, and is also naturally anti-inflammatory and can help to prevent barrier damage
- Sunflower seed oil – packed with antioxidants that help to heal and plump up the skin
Wondering how to use these oils?
They can simply be applied directly to your skin, preferably after you have cleansed and already applied a moisturizer.
Why not before?
Because the oil prevents other ingredients and products from properly penetrating the skin’s surface, which is exactly what makes it so effective when it comes to protecting the skin from the outside world.
Cut Back on Exfoliation
Over-exfoliating is one of the most common ways in which the skin’s barrier ends up damaged, because you are literally scrubbing, or dissolving, this away.
How often do you exfoliate?
If your answer is more than two or three times a week, then this is something that you might need to change.
Even if you do only exfoliate a couple of times a week, the method of exfoliation that you use may still be too harsh for your skin, and you may need to opt for something gentler instead.
Wondering what your other options are when it comes to gentle exfoliation?
You could give fruit enzyme exfoliants a try, as these are extremely mild, which is why those with sensitive skin often opt for this.
Exfoliating lotions that contain AHAs or BHAs could also help. Unlike masks and other products that contain these potent ingredients, the lotions will release them slowly over time, meaning that they do not end up being too much for your skin to handle.
Other methods to consider include dry brushing and electronic skin care brushes.
Use the Right Ingredients
There are so many harsh ingredients out there that can break down your skin’s natural barrier, so looking through a product’s ingredient list before purchasing it is so important.
But which ingredients actually help to protect and strengthen your skin’s barrier?
Here are a few of the most powerful ones:
- Niacinamide – boosts the production of ceramides, which helps to strengthen the lipids in your skin’s barrier
- Linoleic acid – which is easily found in natural oils, as explained above in further detail
- Vitamin B5 – promotes skin healing and helps to build up the skin’s natural barrier
- Hyaluronic acid – a humectant that helps to maintain moisture levels, keeping the barrier healthy
What about ingredients you should avoid?
Stay away from detergents, such as sodium lauryl sulfate, as these strip the skin of its natural oils, which therefore leaves the barrier dry and susceptible to damage. They also tend to have an alkalising effect, which can really unbalance the skin’s natural pH level, which then affects the way in which the skin works.
Active acids, such as salicylic acid, should also be avoided if you are trying to strengthen your skin’s barrier. While these acids may be great for exfoliating, as well as for tackling acne, they work by removing the top layers of your skin, which, as you know, is where you skin barrier lives.
You may not realize it, but stress actually has a huge impact on your skin’s natural barrier.
When your skin detects trauma or infection, its nerve endings release chemicals known as neuropeptides, and these help to protect the skin, as well as the body, from infection.
However, when you are feeling stressed, your skin will sometimes still release these chemicals, even though they are not actually needed.
This can then lead to inflammation underneath the skin’s barrier, which ends up causing damage to it. Stress has also been shown to slow down the skin healing process, including barrier recovery, and constant stress can leave your skin’s barrier in a permanently weakened state.
Of course, minimizing stress is usually far easier said than done…
Fortunately, there are so many stress reduction techniques out there that you can try, from keeping a journal to finding a hobby to meditation and breathing exercises. Each time you feel the stress coming on, give one of these methods a try so that you can reduce your stress as soon as possible.
Keep Your Skin Moisturized
Many people believe that the primary role of a moisturizer is to add moisture into the skin, but this is not technically true…
Instead, a moisturizer is designed to form a thin, protective film over the surface of the skin, and, in a way, mimics the skin’s natural barrier.
By keeping your skin moisturized, you will be giving your barrier the extra support it needs in order to thrive.
Of course, moisturizers are not all created equally…
To support your barrier as much as possible, you need to be using a moisturizer that contains a high concentration of emollients.
Wondering what these are?
They are specific ingredients that are often referred to as protectors, because they sit on top of the skin and shield it from the environment, just like your skin’s natural barrier does. Since emollient molecules are quite large in size, they do not actually penetrate and enter the skin, and instead simply form their own barrier layer.
Here are a few emollients that can help:
- Sunflower oil
Of course, just like with any product, there are certain emollients that you should try to avoid.
Lanolin is one of these, as are mineral oils, because while both may work well in the short term, they are not great for your skin over time.
To get the most out of your moisturizer…
Make sure that you are applying it on damp skin.
Well, as mentioned above, moisturizers form a protective layer over the skin’s surface. If your skin already has water on it when you apply your moisturizer, this water then gets trapped below the protective layer, meaning that the only place for it to go is into your skin, rather than evaporating into the air.
Turn Down the Heat
Hot temperatures quickly strip the skin of its natural oils, and can really cause so much damage to your skin’s protective barrier.
Turning down the heat begins in the shower, as this is where many people subject their skin to overly high temperatures.
Wondering how hot the water should be?
Slightly warmer than room temperature is ideal, and you should never stay in the shower, or bath, for longer than ten minutes. Try to avoid scrubbing at your skin too, instead opting for a gentler motion when it comes to cleansing, as scrubbing will only end up removing the top layer of your skin.
In addition to paying attention to water temperature, you also need to consider heating sources within your home. Whether you use central heating or a fire, keeping your skin near to these heat sources will only end up damaging your barrier.
Because the extra heat will dry your skin out, taking away the protective power of its natural oils, and leaving your barrier susceptible to more damage.
Try Oral Supplements
Have a think about the food that you eat on a daily basis…
Is your diet quite healthy?
You likely already know whether or not you can improve your diet, and this can have a direct impact on your skin’s natural barrier.
However, even if you already eat well, there are still oral supplements that you can take to boost your skin’s barrier.
Wondering what they are?
Give one of these a try:
- Ceramides – proven to be absorbed by the skin from within, rehydrating the skin’s barrier
- Essential fatty acids – an anti-inflammatory that prevents water loss
- Antioxidants – such as vitamin C and vitamin E, both of which help to strengthen the skin
Your skin’s natural protective barrier has a huge impact on the overall health of your skin, which is why it is so important to keep this barrier healthy and strong. With so many different factors that can weaken your barrier, you need to be proactive when it comes to nourishing it, as prevention is always better than cure when it comes to issues with the skin.