The Skins Barrier
Did you know that our skin has a special barrier function to protect us and keep our skin healthy and happy? And if our barrier function is damaged, it can cause irritation and worsen skin conditions like acne, rosacea and eczema? During this blog we will look at -What the skin's barrier actually is -How it can become damaged -How to fix it to create healthier and happier skin
So what exactly is the Skins Barrier and how does it work?
The skin's barrier is there to physically protect us from external insults, irritants like pollution, UV rays, dust, and microbial pathogens such as viruses, bacteria, fungus, and parasites. It also prevents excess water loss from the skin, keeping us hydrated and our skin moisturised. What is it made of? Our outermost layer of skin is called the Stratum Corneum and it is made up of cells called Corneocytes. These cells are stacked like a brick wall in layers of between 10 to 30, and have a glue-like structure surrounding them holding the cells together. This glue-like structure is made of epidermal lipids which contain Ceramides, Cholesterol and Free fatty acids. However, if this brick wall-like structure is compromised, and the glue isn't strong and healthy the brick wall then becomes fragile and breaks down. When this happens it can damage our skin's health, causing inflammation, irritation, breakouts and can cause ‘trans-epidermal water loss’ resulting in dehydrated or very dry skin. It can also allow pathogens and allergens to enter the skin causing autoimmune responses and hypersensitivity. Skins with conditions such as rosacea, acne, eczema, psoriasis and dermatitis will all have some form of impaired barrier function. To help heal the skin and reduce symptoms from these conditions it is very important to strengthen and restore the skin's barrier.
Diagram of a normal skin barrier and disrupted skin barrier
So how does damage to the skin's barrier occur?
Below is a list of factors that can cause a breakdown of the skin's barrier Over cleansing/Using the wrong cleanser - an overexposure to water (especially hot water) or to a cleanser that is too harsh (think surfactants and foaming gel cleansers) cause the natural epidermal lipids to be stripped away, leading to a compromised skin barrier. The skin can become dehydrated as water is lost from the skin, but it can also become oily at the same time as the skin produces excess oil to try and combat the dehydration. Over-exfoliating - whether exfoliating manually (scrubs, face brushes, harsh cleansing cloths/face towels) or chemically (AHAs like Glycolic and lactic acid), too much exfoliation strips away too many the skin cells on the surface of our skin that are there to protect us. This leaves the barrier weak and unable to do its job properly.
Overuse of Retinol (vitamin A)- Retinol causes an acceleration of skin cell turnover, which if used correctly can make our skin stronger. However, overuse of retinol causes this process to happen too quickly, meaning the lipids that hold our skins cells together can't properly form, leading to a weakening of the skin's barrier resulting in hypersensitivity, reactivity and dry flaky skin. Stress and lack of sleep - lack of sleep and stress causes the hormone cortisol to rise in our bodies, and too much cortisol can have a negative effect on the skin. It can cause a weakening of the skins barrier, inflammation, acne and flare-up of existing sin conditions such as psoriasis and rosacea.
Diet low in essential fatty acids - Fatty acids like omega 3s and omega 6s are the building blocks of healthy cell membranes, they also help to create the skins natural oils which are essential for a strong barrier. Our body doesn't naturally create these fatty acids so it's crucial we get these from our food. Overexposure to the sun - The suns rays can be very damaging to the skin and cause a break down in the lipids that make up our skins protective barrier. Pollution - Air pollution can be very damaging to the skin's barrier as it can break down the important lipids in our skin and then when the pollution penetrates our skin it causes irritation and inflammation. Use of astringent products - astringent products such as toners that contain alcohol can dry out our skin by stripping it of its natural lipids. Overuse of these products can cause barrier damage. Alteration of the skins natural pH - Our skin is naturally slightly acidic at the pH of between 4.7 and 5.75. However, some products we use such as soap which is too alkaline can alter this pH and overuse of these products results in damage to the skin's barrier. Central heating and air conditioning - Both air con and central heating reduce humidity, not just from the air, but it depletes essential moisture from our skin too. This results in dry and irritated skin. Potential allergens in skincare - some people can be sensitive to things like artificial fragrance and colourings in skincare and overuse of these can cause damage to the skin's barrier. Genetics - Unfortunately some people are predisposed to having some form of the impaired skin barrier. However, with healthy skincare habits, the skin can be supported and symptoms of barrier damage can be reduced and managed.
Ageing - As we age our skin's barrier gets weaker, which is why peoples skin can become drier and more sensitive and people can also develop conditions such as rosacea and dermatitis later in life.
So how do we strengthen and restore the skin's barrier? Below are some things we can do to help support and restore the skins barrier function and in turn making our skin healthier and reducing symptoms of skin conditions like acne and rosacea. Remove - remove anything from your skincare routine that could be a culprit, such as astringent products containing pure alcohol, highly fragranced products, stripping cleansers like gel or foaming cleansers.
Opt for something more gentle like the Oilixia Gummy Cleanser - this is a very thorough but gentle non-stripping cleanser, it contains oils that support and feed the skin helping to strengthen it and keep it calm and is suitable for all skin types. When cleansing only ever use tepid water as hot water can strip the skin of its protective oils and lipids leading to dehydration. Stop - stop all exfoliating until your skin is happier and less irritated, you can then re-introduce exfoliating, but only once a week to ensure your barrier remains strong. Then opt for something gentle like the Nini Organics Coffee and Cacao Scrub - This gentle scrub is packed full of superfoods which nourish and heal the skin. Protect and prevent - using gentle hydrating and moisturising products, antioxidants that fight free radical damage from pollution and an SPF everyday is key to strengthening and protecting your skin's barrier from further damage. To moisturise try the Haeckels Eco Marine Facial Cream - this cream promotes healing and strengthens skin whilst restoring its natural suppleness and radiance. Especially rich in omega 3 and sterols it is soothing and anti-inflammatory. For antioxidant protection against pollution use an antioxidant serum like the Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum which contains lots of lovely antioxidant and hydrating ingredients. Feed your skin - eat plenty of foods high in essential fatty acids to feed your skin with the things it needs to create a strong and healthy barrier. Foods that are high in essential fatty acids include mackerel, salmon, Walnuts, sardines, soybeans chia seeds, flax seeds, eggs Breathe - stress management and lowering cortisol levels will help to strengthen the skin and make it less reactive. Try yoga, walks in nature, meditation, a massage or facial, or just making time for yourself each day to do something you enjoy. Avoid - avoid, where you can, too much central heating and air-con. Get out into the fresh air as much as you can. And try an air humidifier for inside your house or office. How can facials help in strengthening the skin's barrier? At re:lax all of our facials are suitable and beneficial for skin with compromised barriers, whether that be in the form acne, rosacea or psoriasis. Our facials are tailored to your needs and are designed to be gentle but also designed to strengthen the skin and promote healing to your skin's barrier.
We use hands-on techniques like massage and Gua Sha to promote lymph drainage and promote blood circulation which brings fresh nutrients and oxygen to the skin, helps to heal the skin and reduce inflammation. These techniques also promote elastin and collagen production further strengthening the skin's barrier which will help reduce the severity of future breakouts and flare-ups.
We also use tools such as LED light therapy and High Frequency.
LED light therapy reduces inflammation, promotes healing, promotes collagen and elastin production all helping to strengthen the skin's barrier, it also kills the bacteria that causes breakouts! We love LED - just 10 minutes under the red light will give you a beautiful healthy glow!
High Frequency is an electrical tool that was first developed for wound healing! It stimulates cell renewal by warming and oxygenating the skin. It helps reduce redness, inflammation and breakouts due to its anti-bacterial properties.
And not to forget! All of our treatments are super relaxing, containing lots of lovely face, head, neck, shoulder and foot massage to help you de-stress, switch off and reduce those cortisol levels which in turn can help to strengthen that barrier!