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Guide to Understanding Your Skin Barrier

What is the Skin Barrier?

Our skin is our largest organ (and the most exposed) which means it needs to be cared for and well protected. Our skin barrier is the first line of defense against environmental stressors and irritants. It also protects against the loss of one of the most important things in the human body: water. The skin barrier owes its incredible defense to its selectively permeable nature – meaning a healthy skin barrier will keep the good things in and bad things out. For example, it will keep enough water in to allow it to function, while allowing enough water out to hydrate the outermost layer of the skin. This keeps our skin flexible and soft.

How the Skin Barrier Works

Your skin is made up of layers, each of which performs important functions in protecting your body and its individual cells.

The outermost layer, called the stratum corneum, is often described as a brick wall. It consists of tough skin cells called corneocytes that are bound together by mortar-like lipids. This is your skin barrier.

Inside the skin cells, or “bricks,” you’ll find keratin and natural moisturizers. The lipid layer contains:

• cholesterol
• fatty acids
• ceramides

Organized in the right ratio these form the lipid matrix, a protective layer that fills in the gaps between cells like mortar.

To support the brick-and-mortar structure of skin cells and lipids, there are also hygroscopic (water-loving) molecules inside the skin cells that act as magnets to hold on to water and prevent further water-loss. These are known as the natural moisturizing factor (NMF).

When these essential components become compromised, your skin barrier becomes damaged.

What can Damage your Skin Barrier

Daily, your skin defends against a barrage of threats, many of which come from outside your body, and a few come from within.

Some of the external and internal factors that can affect your skin barrier include:

• too humid or too dry environment
• allergens, irritants, and pollutants
• too much sun exposure
• alkaline detergents and soaps
• exposure to harsh chemicals
• over-exfoliation or over-washing
• steroids

psychological distress

• genetic factors that may make you more prone to certain skin conditions like atopic dermatitis and psoriasis

The role of the acid mantle

Your skin barrier is slightly acidic. This acidity (the acid mantle) helps create a kind of buffer against the growth of harmful bacteria, viruses, and fungi that could damage your skin and lead to infections and other skin conditions.

It’s especially important to protect the acid mantle around wounds since the skin’s acidity is necessary for many of the biological interactions that occur during the healing process.

Sometimes, a health condition like diabetes or incontinence can change your skin’s acidity, weakening this buffer. For people with these conditions, we recommend slightly more acidic skin care products.

How to Recognize a Damaged Skin Barrier

The first symptom of a damaged skin barrier may be easy to miss: it’s dehydration, a.k.a. an increased loss of water from our skin’s surface. This can kick start a cycle in which increased water-loss, then contributes to additional damage to the skin barrier.

This leads to more visible signs of distress such as the skin becoming increasingly dry, starting to flake or showing signs of irritation and redness, and an overall feeling of discomfort (such as tightness).

Experiencing barrier disruption for a prolonged period of time can also lead to other long-term skin concerns, such as areas of uneven skin tone.

When your skin barrier is not functioning properly, you may be more prone to:

• dry, scaly skin

• itchiness

• rough or discolored patches

• acne

• sensitive or inflamed areas

• bacterial, viral, or fungal skin infections

How to Support and Maintain Your Skin Barrier

If your skin barrier is damaged, or you’re looking to help strengthen your skin’s first line of defense, try some of these barrier supporting solutions.

If you’re experiencing skin related issues and are performing a complicated daily skin regimen involving a basketful of products, you may be inadvertently weakening your skin barrier. Consider talking with a skin care professional about which products are essential and most effective.

If you’re exfoliating, notice how your skin reacts to the method you use. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, those with sensitive skin and darker skin tones may want to use a soft cloth and a mild chemical exfoliant.

Some types of scrubs and brushes may temporarily damage your skin barrier.

Pay attention to pH

Your skin’s delicate acid mantle hovers around a pH of 4.7. But the pH of some skin products can range from 3.7 to 8.2.

Researchers recommend cleansing with a product that has a pH between 4.0 and 5.0.

Keeping your skin’s pH at a healthy level may help protect you from skin conditions like dermatitis, ichthyosis, acne, and Candida albicans infections. Although not all products list their pH, some do.

Try a plant oil to replenish your skin barrier

Research from 2018 suggests that certain plant oils may help repair the skin barrier and also prevent your skin barrier from losing moisture. Many of these oils have antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant effects, too.

Some of the most effective plant oils to consider using on your skin include:

• jojoba oil
• coconut oil
• almond oil
• argan oil
• borage oil
• rosehip oil
• sunflower oil
• primrose oil
• black currant oil

There are many ways you can use plant oils on your skin.

You can apply creams and lotions that contain one or more of these oils as an ingredient. Or you can pour a small amount of the oil into the palm of your hand and then massage it gently into your skin until it’s absorbed.

Look for formulations that include ceramides

Ceramides are waxy lipids found in especially high concentrations in the stratum corneum. They are crucial for making sure your skin barrier functions properly.

Research from 2019 shows that products containing pseudo-ceramides may help improve the dryness, itchiness, and scaling caused by a poorly functioning barrier. Ceramide-rich moisturizers may also strengthen the structural integrity of your skin barrier.

Ceramide moisturizers may be especially helpful if you have acne. In acne-prone skin, the barrier is often impaired, and acne treatments can leave skin dry and reddened. Products containing ceramides may also help protect darker skin. According to a 2014 review of studies, darker skin tones were shown to contain lower ceramide levels.

Try moisturizers containing hyaluronic acid, petrolatum, or glycerin

Dry skin is a common problem, and moisturizers are the often-recommended solution.

An occlusive moisturizer aids the skin barrier by reducing the amount of water loss from your skin. These products leave a thin film on your skin that helps prevent moisture loss.

One of the most frequently recommended occlusive moisturizers is petrolatum, which experts say can block as much as 99% of water loss from your skin.

Like occlusive moisturizers, humectants can also improve barrier function. Humectants work by drawing water — either from the environment or from inside your body — and binding it into the skin barrier. Researchers recommend products that contain hyaluronic acid, glycerin, honey, and urea.

Skin Barrier Enhancing Product Recommendations

To maintain the integrity of the skin barrier, a good routine should always start with a gentle cleanser. Environ Mild Cleansing Lotion is a non-drying, non-stripping cleanser formulated to respect the skin barrier while maintaining hydration. Osmosis Gentle Cleanse is another cleanser that is both effective and gentle on the skin’s barrier.

And since a healthy skin barrier does a great job of protecting your body on its own, it is no surprise that the best ingredients for skin barrier repair will be similar – or identical – to those found in your skin.

Osmosis Quench Nourishing Moisturizer is a hydrating moisturizer that contains a selection of skin-like ingredients – hyaluronic acid, organic shea butter, and jojoba seed oil to provide various lipids that smooth and plump the skin while also restoring and strengthening the epidermal barrier.

Environ Vita Complex Super Moisturizer+ is our most nourishing moisturizer, it includes a variety of dynamic moisturizers and emollients that assist in enhancing the skins barrier functions. Vitamins and antioxidants enhance effectiveness by repairing damage, improving cellular turnover, and adding to overall protection from the effects of free-radical damage. It contains Hyaluronic Acid which holds up to 1000 times its own weight in water, allowing it to replenish the skin’s own natural levels.

Osmosis Immerse Restorative Face Oil is another great option, it combines powerful antioxidants from raspberry oil, vitamin E and calendula with barrier-restoring natural lipids to calm and soothe very dry skin while promoting healing. Essential oils from lemon and lavender soften skin’s texture for a glowing appearance. Dehydrates skin is left looking fresh and radiant.

Niacinamide has been shown to support skin components such as ceramides and fatty acids that are integral to the outermost layer of our skin. Environ Botanical Infused Moisturizing Toner hydrates the skin and reinforces the skin barrier priming the skin for moisturizer application. Skin toners are vital in supporting the acid mantle of the skin as well as helping to increase hydration and improve the appearance of uneven skin tone.

Schedule a Professional Skin Consultation

To learn more about our skincare products and services, visit our skincare + makeup page or SCHEDULE A SKINCARE APPOINTMENT with one of our Columbus Ohio Estheticians.

Share The Beauty… Earn Rewards!

At PLEIJ Salon+Spa, we offer a simple and easy referral program to our existing clients (and even non-clients). When you refer a friend who is new to PLEIJ, we’ll give them a 20% OFF GIFT to use towards any service. To say thanks, we’ll give you a 10% OFF GIFT to use toward services or products!

Be sure to learn everything about this awesome program and even send out referrals.

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