Our skin is such a complicated yet sophisticated organ. It is made of many layers to keep our bodies protected from external environmental stressors or microorganism. To keep our skin’s health and to function normally, our skin is armed with a barrier layer or also commonly known as the “skin barrier”. Read the whole article if you want to learn more about what the skin barrier is, how to keep it healthy, how to prevent a damaged skin barrier, and what to do when it unintentionally damaged.
What is the skin barrier?
Our skin barrier is part of the top layer of our skin called the stratum corneum. It is made up of corneocytes (skin cells) and lipid interface that glued them together. To make it easier, it is also called as the “brick-mortar” structure. Corneocytes as the brick and lipid interface as the mortar. The lipid interface is made up of free fatty acids, cholesterol and ceramides. On their best state, this skin barrier will shed off their top layer which causes our skin natural exfoliation, keep our skin’s moisture intact and protect allergens from getting inside and causing irritation.
Causes of Skin Barrier Damage
Our skin barrier can be disrupted due to many possible reasons. When it’s damaged the tight arrangement between the skin cells are lost. This allows external irritants to get in our skin a lot easier and lead to more water leaving our skin. Damaged skin barrier is characterized by an easily irritated, dehydrated and flaky skin. Your skin is red, irritated, tight yet very oily.
Does this sound familiar to you? When these happen out of the blue, most probably your skin barrier has been damaged. Now before we learned on how to deal with it, it is better to track down their root causes since some of it might be caused by our own skincare mistakes that we can prevent in the future. Here are some of the most common causes of a damaged skin barrier:
Common external causes of damaged skin barrier can vary from our basic routine up to environmental factors, such as:
An overexposure to water and harsh cleanser could be the cause of a damaged skin barrier. It can strip away the natural lipid barrier on our skin. Instead of protecting your skin from dirt and impurities, it could damage the skin's first protective layer which provides most of the protection.
With more varieties of exfoliating products on the market and tendency for an instant gratification in your skincare routine, over-exfoliating is more of a common thing recently. When you over-exfoliate your skin, you’re not only taking away the unwanted dead skin cells on the top layer of your skin but also the functional “skin barrier” that are present to protect you in the first place. Always be mindful while you’re using your exfoliating products and observe any differences on your skin, this allows you to STOP doing it when needed.
3. Pollution, bad or dry air quality
Research has shown that pollution and dry air can affect our skin barrier layer. Thus, it is very common for people to experience sensitive and itchy skin when the air quality is poor. Therefore, it is best to limit outdoor activities during pollution, wear protective mask and clothing outdoors or use an air purifier in your living space to keep the air clean. This won’t only benefit your skin but also your general health in general.
4. Stress and lack of sleep
Have you ever experienced any “bad skin” day when you have lack of rest and sleep? Yes, because it has been shown through research that lack of sleep or rest can damage your skin barrier and lead to an increased transepidermal water loss. Get more rest, sleep and protect your skin barrier!
Some internal factors that are out of our control in general are:
While this is much beyond our control, some people have genetically impaired component of the skin barrier. They are either lacking in production of any components which is linked to one another on keeping our skin barrier. We commonly see this on people with atopic dermatitis or eczema. However, we can totally practice a safe and healthy skincare habits to prevent them from getting even worse.
Unfortunately, as we age, our skin barrier get weaker. This is why it’s not uncommon for people to experience drier and more sensitive skin as they aged.
How to repair damaged skin barrier?
So once it happened, what should you do next? Here we compile some tips on each step and what to do when your skin barrier is damaged.
1. Find the root cause
Yes, it’s not as easy as it sounds, but once you narrow down any possible causes (especially if it’s due to your own skincare habit) it’s a lot easier to tackle and prevent from happening in the future. Check on each of the causes point that we’ve mentioned above. Have you been over washing or over-exfoliating? How’s the air quality or your sleep quality?
2. Limit frequency and time for face washing
While water is necessary to keep our skin function normally and hydrated, it can dry out our skin even more and lead to more damage. Therefore, wash your face just once or at maximum twice a day with lukewarm water, and gentle and low pH cleansers that won’t exacerbate the loss of lipid barrier on your skin.
3. Stop exfoliating for a while
With a compromised skin barrier, stop exfoliating! This will allow your skin to regenerate it’s skin barrier. Once all the symptoms have resolved, you can slowly start incorporating exfoliation back to your routine.
4. Moisturize your skin
The most essential step in your skincare routine, especially during this time point. Putting back just hydration won’t do as much as it will be easily evaporated through the damaged skin moisture barrier. Therefore, it is important to seal them with your moisturizer, while your skin is losing more water than it usually is, all you want to do is to keep water in our skin for as long as possible. Ingredients such as ceramide, niacinamide, panthenol and fatty acids are the best to keep your skin barrier happy and healthy.
5. Don’t test out new skincare products
While your skin is not at its prime, it’s not the best idea to try out new products since your skin is more easily irritated and may react to new product. Ingredients have a greater chance of irritating your skin and exacerbates the inflammation, therefore avoid trying out new products at this period.
6. Keep your skincare routine simple
Yes, always go with the basic. This allow less chance of irritation on your already irritated skin. The basic step to maintain a healthy skin barrier when it is at its’ lowest are: Cleanse, Moisturize, and Protect. These three steps are the essential step while your barrier is recovering. Any additional hydration from a toner and/or serum is a bonus but make sure that you are familiar with the serum that you’re currently using.
Skin Barrier Repair Ingredients
|Ingredients for skin barrier restoration||Water-retaining ingredients||Skin soothing ingredients|
Here, we will also guide you on picking the right skin care product that will help accelerate your skin repair, desensitize skin and to keep your skin barrier healthy anytime. There are several ingredients that you would want to look for your irritated skin. Ingredients that help with skin barrier restoration such as ceramides, free fatty acids, natural moisturizing factors and niacinamide. While water-retaining ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, glycerin and panthenol will support your skin’s ability to retain moisture. Last but not least, various skin soothing ingredients from natural plant extracts such as aloe, centella asiatica, calendula and many more can help to tone down any redness and irritation on your skin.
Products to repair skin barrier
Here are some of our skincare top pick to keep your skin barrier intact:
1. Benton Honest Cleansing Foam
Containing Lauric Acid (Free Fatty Acid), Glycerin and Centella Asiatica extract this pH-balanced and gentle cleansing foam will not strip off your skin natural lipid and allow for skin barrier repair.
2. Axis-Y Artichoke Intensive Skin Barrier Ampoule
A nourishing ampoule which is infused with Centella Asiatica, Glycerin and Aloe extract to soothe the skin and promote skin healing, strengthening the skin barrier.
3. Benton Goodbye Redness Centella Mask Pack
Contain concentrated Centella Asiatica extract as well as Hyaluronic Acid, this sheet mask will help to tone down any irritation while at the same time providing moisture that your skin been craving for
4. Keep Cool and Soothe Phyto Greenpair Cream
Their Panthenol, Glycerin, Centella Asiatica and Phytogreen repair complex will help your skin healing process.
5. Some by Mi AHA-BHA-PHA 30 Days Miracle Cream
This cream is enriched with Niacinamide and Ceramide that will help your skin repair and restore the skin lipid barrier.
6. Benton Snail Bee High Content Steam Cream
Rich in Glycerin, Niacinamide and Snail Mucin extract, these ingredients are great to calm down your skin while keeping the water level on your skin with their moisturizing properties.
Takeaway: Our skin barrier is a very important component of our skin and essential part of a healthy skin. It protects us from external stressors that can damage our skin. It is made out of lipid interface including Ceramide, fatty acids, and cholesterol as well as skin cells. It works like a protection shield for our skin against external irritants. It is important to know what causes them to take the most appropriate action to deal with it. We also include our most favorite on skin-barrier friendly product for you to pick from!
- By Claudia Christin (@funskincare)
Seoul based Dermatology Post Graduate Student
Oyetakin-White, P., Suggs, A., Koo, B., Matsui, M. S., Yorosh, D., Cooper, K. D.,Baron, E. D., 2015. Does Poor Sleep Quality affect skin ageing? https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25266053