What Is Your Skin Barrier Function?
The skin barrier is another term for the outermost layer of our skin, also known as the stratum corneum or the lipid barrier. This is the front line of your skin, defending against damaging pollution, UV light, infection and irritants, and locking in hydration. It’s also the only layer of skin that we see, so aesthetically it’s important to keep it in great condition.
Cementing the skin cells together in the skin barrier are ceramides or lipids which work to strengthen skin. Ceramides can quickly deteriorate due to a variety of factors, including age, over-exfoliation and more. This can lead to flaky patches, itchiness, inflammation and if left untreated can lead to sensitive skin, acne and premature ageing. If your skin suddenly appears sensitive or you get breakouts in new areas, it could be your skin barrier crying out for help.
How Is Your Skin Barrier Compromised?
While environmental and intrinsic factors do upset the skin barrier. Surprisingly, it’s also the things we do to try and help improve our skin that can tip the balance. Over-cleansing is the first culprit, and while it’s important to clean skin over-using a product that strips away moisture can start breaking down those ceramides.
It’s the same with acids. While they give fantastic results in moderation, it’s easy to get addicted to the glow and using strong concoctions, which can lead to red, raw and flaking skin. Over-using treatments such as retinol or micro-needling can also damage the barrier, as can hot water and lifestyle issues such as stress, a lack of sleep or burning the candle at both ends. Finding the balance between your skin type, sensitivity and regimen is key.
How Can You Repair Your Skin Barrier?
If your skin feels out-of-sorts, we recommend sending your skin barrier to rehab. First things first, ditch manual exfoliation. While brushes and physical scrubs leave skin feeling clean and smooth, they can be too aggressive it’s already vulnerable.
Over-cleansing is the next thing to pare back. Look at your cleansing products and swap any drying facial washes for creamier products that keep moisture in. We recommend Algenist Gentle Rejuvenating Cleanser, £18, which is formulated for sensitive skin, working to soothe and hydrate. For dryer skin types, use a rich balm formula like Emma Hardie Amazing Face Moringa Cleansing Balm, £47 and gently massage into skin before carefully removing with warm, not hot, water.
How Can You Keep Your Skin Barrier Balanced?
The skin barrier works hand in hand with the naturally occurring bacteria present on our skin and it’s important not to strip it away with harsh cleansers and treatments. Instead focus on balancing skin with probiotics which actually help to support the skin barrier and build its strength.
Start inside-out with a good quality probiotic supplement. An unbalanced gut will often disrupt the harmony of bacteria throughout the body, including the skin, which can lead to chronic conditions like eczema and psoriasis. To bolster good skin bacteria, treat with a dose of Aurelia Probiotic Skincare The Probiotic Concentrate, £38, which activates the skin’s natural ability to repair itself and boosts resilience thanks to a unique blend of powerful anti-inflammatory probiotics. If your skin is feeling particularly dry and sensitive, we recommend Dermalogica Barrier Repair, £45. It's packed full of soothing oils, oats and botanical experts.
What Is The Best Way To Strengthen Your Skin Barrier?
To keep the skin barrier healthy, it’s essential to support and comfort the skin with nourishing skincare both morning and evening. Look for products that will hydrate and support with ingredients such as niacinamide, which works to boost healthy ceramide production. We like Paula's Choice 10% Niacinamide Booster, £46, which has a lightweight texture yet works to lock in moisture and strengthen skin.
Another good option is Kate Somerville DeliKate Recovery Cream, £69, which has been specifically to help strength and nourish your skin’s barrier. It's one of those products that you never knew you needed, but notice the difference when you stop using it.
While those with drier skin might need a moisturiser on top, if you have combination-to-oily skin you may find these enough on their own and be able to skip straight to SPF.
Antioxidants such as vitamins B5, C and E help support the skin barrier by working to prevent environmental damage. Vitamin E also doubles as a skin healing hydrator so try Malin + Goetz Vitamin E Face Moisturiser, £44 – and the smaller size can be kept in your handbag for dry skin emergencies throughout the day. Finally, UVA and UVB rays breakdown those all-important ceramides which are working to keep the skin barrier intact, so it’s essential to wear a sunscreen, we like the silky, light cream – Eve Lom Daily Protection SPF 50, £75.
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