So, What’s A Skin Barrier, and How Do I Care For It?
July 29, 2021
by Amanda Etkind
We all want gorgeous, glowing skin — and we do a lot to make it happen. We slather on serums and face creams in the hopes to achieve bouncy baby-soft skin, but tbh, there’s more to it than just dousing your complexion in lotions and potions. At this point, you’ve probably heard the words “skin barrier.” This buzzy phrase — if you didn’t already know— is actually pretty important. Your skin barrier acts like your skin’s very own bodyguard (we’re talking Kardashian status here). It’s there 24/7 to keep your skin protected against environmental stressors like pollution, UV rays, irritants, blue light, and the list goes on. Made up of oils, lipids, and dead skin cells (which is actually a good thing!), it helps you hold onto and trap water into your skin. But like with anything important, you have to treat it with tender-loving care. Overdoing it with products, not wearing SPF, and causing any sort of harm to this precious protector kinda makes it tough for it to do its job. Since this is just cracking the surface on all of this skin barrier talk, we decided we need to dig a little deeper. Here, we’re spilling all the tea on what a skin barrier is and how to keep it in its healthiest and happiest state.
What is a skin barrier?
Just like your fave party dip, your skin is made up of many layers, too. Each one has its own function to help protect your important self. The outermost layer, also known as the stratum corneum, is pretty much a brick wall. It consists of durable skin cells called corneocytes that are bound together by mortar-like lipids. According to connecticut-based dermatologist Dr. Mona Gohara, M.D, who spoke with Glamour on the matter, “The bricks are skin cells, and the mortar is the lipids and proteins between them. Together they keep water locked in and irritants out. “Inside the skin cells, or “bricks,” you’ll find keratin and natural moisturizers. The lipid layer contains cholesterol, fatty acids, and ceramides. All these layers work in tandem to shield your skin.
What is its function?
Let’s put it this way, it does A LOT. When these layers are living their best lives, your skin should feel soft, supple, plump, and hydrated. However, if it’s compromised, that’s when things get a little complicated. If your skin barrier didn’t exist, many damaging toxins and pathogens could penetrate your skin, causing harm to your body. Additionally, without your skin barrier, the water inside your body would escape and evaporate, leaving you completely dehydrated. Your skin barrier is a must for not only your skin health, but also health in general, and needs to be protected in order to properly function.
What are signs of a compromised skin barrier?
Sensitized skin is on the rise. According to this research report, in just the last two decades, surveys have found that people across 20 different countries in five continents have reported sensitive or sensitized skin. This is a result of overuse of harsh ingredients including physical exfoliators, high-levels of chemical exfoliators, and frankly, using too much at once. Once your barrier is compromised, it creates little tiny cracks within the skin, which allow irritants to enter and cause dry, irritable skin. While that’s pretty general, there are many indications of an injured skin barrier including redness, peeling and flaking, and skin that feels dry, tight, sensitive, and itchy and that stings or burns when products are applied. Crepiness and fine lines are more pronounced, and you may experience eczema or increased breakouts.
How should I care for it?
Honestly, the best thing you can do for your skin barrier is pare down your routine and use gentle, effective ingredients. Slapping on exfoliators, retinoids, and acids all at once is actually compromising your barrier rather than helping it. Instead you’ll want to stick to products with barrier-friendly ingredients like ceramides, niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, and glycerin to name a few. These help to keep your moisture-levels high, supporting your skin barrier best. We also suggest looking for thicker, occlusive creams if your barrier is truly out of whack. These thick creams and oils should contain the same ingredients we mentioned above plus fatty acids like carrot, evening primrose, borage, jojoba and more (many of our Goodhabit skincare contain these rockstars). These plant oils are rich in essential fatty acids and omegas, which are like food for your skin, keeping it soft, supple, and protected. Beyond eliminating harsh ingredients and upping your nourishing product regimen, you’ll want to be diligent about incorporating SPF into your daily routine as that truly helps protect against harmful UVA and UVB rays.
Now that you’ve been schooled on all things skin barrier, we hope your quest to getting (or keeping) yours to its happiest and healthiest place is all smooth sailing from here. Don’t forget to check out our lineup of barrier-boosting products there to help you on your skincare journey.