The Skin Barrier: Care, Repair & Protection

The Skin Barrier: Care, Repair & Protection 

One of the major trends to emerge for 2023 was a focus on the skin barrier: caring for it, repairing it and most importantly, protecting it. We promised a more in-depth delve into the 2023 cosmetic trends, and we’re kicking this journey off with a look at this vitally important part of our bodies: the skin barrier.

Our skin is our largest organ, protecting our insides from the outside world. It is made up of various cells, lipids (fats), ceramides, proteins and other substances. Our skin is just a thin layer ranging from 0.5mm on the eyelids to about 4mm thick on our heels, but it has many layers, each performing a vital role in keeping us healthy and balanced.

The three main layers of the skin are the epidermis, dermis and subcutaneous layer (sometimes called the hypodermis), and each of these has sublayers. But let’s just focus on the outermost layer, the epidermis, and its topmost sublayer, the stratum corneum. This is essentially what is meant by the ‘skin barrier’ and is the skin that we see when we look at ourselves.

This skin barrier has three main functions: protecting from outside stressors like UV light and pollution, retaining moisture to keep our body hydrated, and delivering nutrients to the deeper layers of the skin.

The skin barrier is what makes your skin look healthy or not. If the barrier is strong and in good condition your skin will appear smooth, hydrated and elastic, and will be less prone to sensitivities and irritation. However if the skin barrier is compromised, the skin may appear dry and dehydrated (this is caused by a process called transepidermal water loss or TEWL for short, and cosmetic scientists love throwing this term around!), and may be more prone to damage in various forms.

This is where the skin’s microbiome comes into play. As we learned in the  microbiome blogs, our skins are colonised at birth with various microbes, creating a microbiome on the surface. This microbiome contributes to the skin barrier and should ideally be balanced to help protect our skins. Damaging the microbiome weakens our skin barrier, but keeping it balanced helps keep our skin barrier strong.

So essentially, we want a strong and healthy skin barrier (and a balanced microbiome), and to avoid weakening it!

Unfortunately there are many internal and external factors that can impact the skin barrier, from genetics to lifestyle and eating habits, to stress, pollution, UV exposure, sleep levels, physical exfoliation, the list goes on. Which is why holistic skincare has come to the fore in recent years and is one of our trends for 2023 (link to blog). We will be exploring this further in a subsequent blog.

Caring For The Skin Barrier

What should we be doing for everyday care of our skin barrier? We need gentle, non-stripping cleansers, deeply hydrating products and then something to seal this moisture in to prevent TEWL, plus sunscreen to prevent UV damage. The products you use should be microbiome friendly, pH balanced to our skins, and contain no toxic or pore clogging ingredients.

Repairing A Damaged Skin Barrier

Many products on the shelves advertise themselves as barrier repair creams. This means the product contains soothing, hydrating and moisturising ingredients to help calm sensitive and irritated skins (ie. a damaged skin barrier) and lock in moisture. With prolonged use, this should eventually help restore the skin barrier to health. It’s actually pretty easy to formulate your own barrier repair cream once you know what ingredients to use - more on this below.

Protecting The Skin Barrier

Protection is better than cure as they say! Protecting the skin barrier involves avoiding as many internal and external damaging factors as possible: drink lots of water, eat a balanced diet, try not to stress too much, and use sunscreen is essentially the gist of that - not quite as easy in practice as it was to write that sentence! Additionally, one should use the barrier-caring products mentioned above. Ways of protecting the skin barrier will be explored more in the holistic skincare blog to come.

Best Ingredients For The Skin Barrier

One simple way of determining what is good for the skin barrier, is to use ingredients/substances that are naturally found in the skin: ceramides, fatty acids, lipids containing nutrients, etc.

But these aren’t the only ingredients that contribute to a healthy skin barrier.

As already mentioned, the microbiome is of importance here, so go for  microbiome friendly ingredients.

Humectants can help too, as decreasing TEWL is important to increase skin hydration: hyaluronic acid, glycerine and honey.

Soothing ingredients are great to calm any irritation:  allantoinchamomile, rooibos and  aloe vera gel.

Protective ingredients:  bisabolollanolinbeeswaxbutters, film formers such as  hydrolyzed proteinslecithin and  zinc oxide

Occlusive ingredients:  lanolinbeeswaxavocado oil

Emollients:  jojoba oilsqualane

Barrier repairing agents:  allantoinpanthenol, EFAs such as omega 3 (alpha linolenic acid) and omega 6 (linoleic acid) - so look for oils containing those omegas.

You could also think in terms of foods that you might ingest. What is good for the inside is often good for the outside too. Whole foods for the skin include:  honey to cleanse and hydrate,  oats to exfoliate,  rose water to hydrate and tone,  rosehip oilavocado oil and  olive oil to moisturise, and  cocoa butter as barrier protection.

Masks with other foods:  honey, oatsfunctional and nutritional powders, hydrosols

These are all natural ingredients, packed with nutrients for the inside and outside!

Other good ingredients for the skin barrier:

Niacinamide: supports synthesis of ceramides and proteins which are important for skin barrier function.

Vitamin A

Vitamin D - get your sunlight! But wear sunscreen

zinc oxide - soothing and a physical UV blocker