I’m sure at least once in your life you will have had a compromised skin barrier but maybe not known it. I know before I became obsessed with skincare, I didn’t know it was even a thing! With the cold season upon us, it’s important to know how to recognise if your barrier is feeling a bit unloved.
When skin acts up it is so easy to treat the immediate issue visible to the naked eye, rather than getting to the bottom of the actual problem that potentially lies underneath.
What is your skin barrier?
In a nutshell, this is what keeps all the good stuff in (water and electrolytes) and the unwelcome stuff out (irritants and bacteria)! A bit like your own personal bodyguard. Its job is to protect our skin from environmental damage, UV light, infection, and irritants whilst maintaining moisture. A healthy skin barrier is a foundation for your best skin ever.
Lipids surround the cells and form the first line of defence between you and the outside world which is pretty much the primary point of skin! When the structure of the epidermis is damaged the skin barrier function is weakened, water is lost, and your skin is open to all kinds of bacteria.
For example, ceramides are lipids that cement skin cells together and work to strengthen the skin. They play a vital role in the appearance of your skin and how it responds to environmental stressors. If we are not including these in our routines then our skin barrier is likely to become compromised and will lead to dryness, itching, and flakiness. If your skin barrier is working effectively it will be retaining water and will be maintaining a good level of hydration. The result of this is that healthy plump and radiant glow which we all strive for!
What is a compromised skin barrier?…
This is where the front line of our skin, the most outer layer becomes damaged. This is the only layer people see so from a cosmetic point of view it’s essential to keep it in tip-top condition!
Unfortunately, many causes can trigger a compromised barrier. Here are some of the main culprits:
- Changing up your products/routine regularly – this is so tempting especially when you are a beauty junkie, but this can cause disruption putting your skin out of balance
- Over exfoliation and Over Cleansing – exfoliation in moderation can help keep skin clear and smooth, overdoing it can lead to disruption of the skin barrier. The same goes for cleansing, believe it or not too much cleansing can strip the skin’s natural moisture from the skin. Using harsh cleansers and hot water can have the same effect
- Environmental damage and stressors – harsh weather conditions as well as air-con and toxins in the air/water including pollution and chemicals at work
- Age – as you get older your skin barrier function naturally weakens
- Emotional and physical stress – we are quick to understand that when we are unwell this could be a sign of stress and being run down, but this can also be reflected in your skin’s appearance
- Sensitising Ingredients – some people have skin that is sensitive to fragrances, essential oils, preservatives and alcohols
- Cosmetic procedures –laser resurfacing and other treatments can damage the top layer of skin if performed incorrectly
- Excessive consumption of dehydrating beverages, poor diet and smoking– caffeine and alcohol can dehydrate the skin tissue and dilate the capillaries which can cause redness. A poor diet can reflect on the skin with low fat and spicy foods being linked to weakening the skin barrier. Smoking dehydrates skin and will slow down collagen production and cell metabolism
- Sun damage – exposure to the sun without adequate protection can cause sensitivity
How do I know if I have a compromised skin barrier?
You know that paint stripping toner you used as a teen to help treat acne? Well, guess what, it most certainly didn’t help! Many skin problems are in fact our skin telling us that our barrier is damaged and needs some tender loving care. In fact, anytime you have a skin issue 9 times out of 10 your skin barrier is probably not very happy. The best way to look at it is to stop putting your skin into a category of dry, oily, combination, breakout-prone, etc and just look at caring for your barrier. Put down the Clearasil and move away! It’s not what you need! Before things get out of control and your skin is raging it’s vital to understand the initial signs so you can nip it in the bud.
Some of the tell-tale signs to look out for are irritation, increased breakouts, inflammation, excessive oiliness, tightness, dryness, and itchiness.
If you find yourself suffering from breakouts or if your skin is appearing overly oily it could be time to start nurturing it and changing up your routine. There is a vicious cycle that goes on when your barrier function is damaged. The dermal layers become dehydrated when these layers become dehydrated, they’ll send a memo to our sebaceous glands to produce more oil. This is the time to be focusing on healing your skin and bringing down the inflammation. It goes against the grain of what we are told to treat skin with when it comes to treating acne and oily skin but hear me out! Eliminating harsh actives and introducing gentle repairing ingredients such as Ceramides, Glycerin, Hyaluronic Acid, and Cholesterol will go a long way in turning your skin around for the better.
The goal is resilient skin so building up the skin’s outer barrier will always be a benefit whatever issue your skin may be suffering from.
Some of my favourite barrier repairing products include:
Packed with ceramides, cholesterol, and oat to calm and soothe. It’s non-comedogenic and non-greasy, this is a saviour in the colder weather mixed in or used alongside your moisturiser
This has 2 formulations to choose from, I personally like both with the richer version being great in cold weather and as a night moisturiser. These are both targeted at repairing a sensitised skin barrier as they speed up recovery time. Infused with ceramides, beta-glucan, fatty acids you can’t go wrong selecting one of these to be in your arsenal.
Not only is this seriously fantastic at removing makeup and cleansing the skin but it has a blend of healing and balancing ingredients without the use of essential oils or synthetic fragrance. A balm to milk texture, this is a delight to use and is perfect for sensitive and acne-prone skins, but all skins would benefit from using this.
This contains niacinamide which has a variety of benefits including increasing cell lipid production (ceramides, fatty acids, cholesterol), preventing hyperpigmentation and putting a stop to acne bacteria growth. This is a lush formula with copper tripeptides, ferulic acid and hyaluronic acid thrown into the mix, it is great for bringing skin back into balance.