Why your skin’s barrier function is a big deal
Did you know our skin is our largest organ? It literally covers every inch of our bodies and is just as high functioning as our brain, lungs and heart. Pretty crazy to think, right? Especially considering it’s external – there to protect our bones, muscles and internal organs. So while the skin’s protecting all of that, what’s protecting the skin?
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Unfortunately there aren’t microscopic soldiers fighting against all the skin baddies – think irritants, UV rays, pollutants and more – but there is something called the skin barrier function that’s just as impressive…
The skin barrier is essentially the bodyguard that protects our skin from external elements and slows down water evaporation (which in turn prevents us from drying up like a sultana).
So while our barrier works tirelessly to keep the good stuff in and the bad stuff out, it can sometimes become compromised and as a result, lead to complications with our skin. This is referred to as an “impaired skin barrier”.
What causes an impaired skin barrier?
While the most common cause of an impaired skin barrier is over-exfoliation, the weakening of our skin barrier function can also be triggered by diet, medication, or overusing strong products and layering too many active ingredients.
But your retinol and AHAs aren’t the only ones to blame, as seasonal and environmental factors also play a role in weakening our skin barrier. The cooler seasons often mean more time spent in rooms warmed by drying heaters and lower humidity levels that can naturally lead to a loss in skin hydration. While in the hotter months, Dermal Technician, Eva Karpati reveals the sun is a major culprit, “UV rays injure DNA, corrupting synthesis and the structure of the [skin]”.
How can we tell if our skin barrier is impaired?
An impaired skin barrier will surface in different ways depending on the person and their skin type. Typical signs include anything that appears as though the skin is unhappy, i.e. breakouts, burning, redness, dehydration and flaking skin.
More serious conditions such as acne, dermatitis and eczema are also signs of an impaired barrier, as when the barrier is weak, the skin is vulnerable to irritation.
And, if it’s all peachy?
When the skin barrier is functioning at its optimum, your skin will look “even in complexion, with a little moisture and shine,” says Eva Karpati, Dermal Technician, Karpati Medispa. “There should be a suppleness to the touch and skin should feel hydrated.” Essentially, your skin will look and feel healthy – so although you can’t necessarily see the skin’s barrier function, you can trust it’s working optimally if your skin is in good condition.
How long does it take to heal an impaired skin barrier?
If your skin is reacting to over-exfoliating or harsh ingredients, once you’ve stopped using the aggravating factor, your skin should start to settle down after two weeks. If your impaired barrier is surfacing in the form of acne or another chronic inflammation, anything persisting four weeks should be checked out by a doctor or dermatologist.
And how do we keep our skin barrier healthy and avoid this altogether?
In order to help your skin’s barrier perform at its best, there are a few things you can do.
Despite the freezing cold weather winter brings, consultant dermatologist Dr Liz Dawes-Higgs says to keep your showers short and lower in temperature, as hot water can cause further dryness and irritation. It’s also a good idea to keep hydrated from the inside out by drinking water and eating a diet rich in hydrating fruits and vegetables.
In terms of which products to use, Liz says to avoid harsh soaps and look for ingredients that are soothing and hydrating on the skin.Ingredients like rosehip oil, niacinamide, oil cleansers, gentle moisturisers, and hyaluronic acid and glycerin are particularly known for their moisture attracting and retaining qualities.
bh recommends: Weleda Wild Rose Smoothing Night Cream, Dermalogica Age Smart Super Rich Repair, Sukin Naturals Certified Organic Rosehip Oil, QV Face Ultra Calming Moisturiser
Liz also says that “damaged skin can be improved by applying a moisturiser”, so as hard as it can be to remember your body as well as your face (hands up if you haven’t moisturised in the last 48 hours? #guilty), try using one after your shower.
A good trick is to apply it while the skin is still slightly damp, so it’s easily spread and absorbed.
And last, but certainly not least, wearing a sunscreen is essential to protect the skin barrier from UV damage. “I cannot stress enough the importance of using an SPF every day, regardless of season and activity,” says Eva.
bh recommends: Alpha-H Daily Essential Moisturiser 50+
Main image credit: Getty
Have you ever had an impaired skin barrier? Do you have any tips for avoiding or managing one?