What is your skin barrier and what does it do?

Your skin is made up of multiple layers, each of which plays an important role in protecting your body.
The outermost layer, called the cuticle, is often described as a brick wall. It's made up of tough skin cells called keratinocytes, which are held together by a mortar-like lipid. This is your skin barrier.
Within the skin cells, or "bricks," you'll find keratin and natural moisturizers. The lipid layer contains:

  • cholesterol
  • fatty acid
  • Ceramide

This very thin brick wall really keeps you alive. Without it, a variety of harmful environmental toxins and pathogens can penetrate your skin and cause adverse effects in your body.
Additionally, without your skin barrier, the water in your body can escape and evaporate, leaving you completely dehydrated.
Your skin barrier is vital to your overall health and needs to be protected to help your body function properly.

What can damage your skin barrier?

Every day, your skin fights off a litany of threats, many from outside your body and some from within.

Some external and internal factors that can affect the 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
  • Excessive exfoliation or over-washing
  • Steroid
  • Psychological DistressTrusted Source
  • Genetic factors may make you more susceptible to certain skin conditions, such as atopic dermatitis and psoriasis

The role of acidic mantle

Your skin barrier is slightly acidic. This acidity (acid mantle) helps create a buffer that prevents the growth of harmful bacteria, viruses, and fungi that can damage your skin and lead to infections and other skin conditions.
Protecting the acidic protective film around the wound is particularly important because the acidity of the skin is necessary for many of the biological interactions that occur during the healing process.
Sometimes, health conditions such as diabetes or incontinence can change the acidity of the skin, weakening this buffering. For people with these conditions, experts recommend using slightly more acidic skin care products.

How to tell if your skin barrier is damaged?

When your skin barrier doesn't function properly, you may be more susceptible to the following skin symptoms and conditions:

  • dry, scaly skin
  • itch
  • rough or discolored patches
  • acne
  • sensitive or inflamed areas
  • Bacterial, viral or fungal skin infection

How to protect and restore your skin barrier

Given the importance of maintaining your skin barrier and acid mantle, what can you do to keep them healthy and functional? Let’s look at five strategies that can help.

Simplify your skin care routine

If you're following a complex daily skin care regimen that involves a basket of products, you may be inadvertently weakening your skin barrier. Consider talking to a dermatologist or other skin care expert about which products are essential and most effective.

If you're exfoliating, be aware of how your skin reacts to the method you're using. 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.

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

Pay attention to pH

Your skin's delicate acidic crust hovers around a pH of 4.7. But some skin products can have a pH between 3.7 and 8.2.

Researchers recommend using products with a pH between 4.0 and 5.0 for cleaning.

Keeping your skin's pH at healthy levels may help protect you from skin conditions such as dermatitis, ichthyosis, acne, and Candida albicans infections. Although not all products list their pH value, some do.

Try plant oils to replenish your skin barrier

Research from 2018 suggests that certain plant oils may help repair the skin barrier and prevent it from losing moisture. Many of these oils also have antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
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 seed oil
  • soybean oil
  • Evening primrose oil
  • blackcurrant oil

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

You can apply creams and lotions that contain one or more of these oils as ingredients. Or you can pour a small amount of oil into your palms and gently massage it into your skin until it's absorbed.

Look for formulas that contain ceramides

Ceramides are waxy lipids found in particularly high concentrations in the stratum corneum. They are essential to ensure your skin barrier is functioning properly.

Research from 2019 suggests that products containing pseudoceramides may help improve dryness, itching and scaling caused by poor barrier function. Ceramide-rich moisturizers also strengthen the structural integrity of the skin barrier.

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

Try a moisturizer containing hyaluronic acid, petroleum jelly, or glycerin

Dry skin is a common problem, and moisturizer is an often recommended solution.

Occlusive moisturizers help the skin barrier by reducing water loss from the skin. These products leave a film on your skin that helps prevent moisture loss.

One of the most commonly recommended occlusive moisturizers is petroleum jelly, which experts say can prevent up to 99% of skin moisture loss.

Like occlusive moisturizers, moisturizers also improve barrier function. Moisturizers work by pulling moisture from the environment or from within the body and binding it into the skin barrier. Researchers recommend products containing hyaluronic acid, glycerin, honey and urea.

Not all skin care ingredients work for everyone. That's why you may want to try a few different products to determine which one works best at keeping your skin healthy, protected, and moisturized.

in conclusion

The outermost layer of skin, called the skin barrier, protects your body from environmental threats while protecting your body's critical moisture balance.

Symptoms such as dryness, itching, and inflammation can alert you to disturbances in this important barrier.

You can help repair your skin barrier by:

Simplify your skin care regimen. Use products with the right pH. Use a moisturizer that contains humectants like ceramides or hyaluronic acid. Moisturizers containing petroleum jelly can also help your skin barrier seal in moisture.

Your skin barrier is your body’s frontline defense against everything the environment can throw at you. Staying healthy isn't just a matter of beauty.


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