What is barrier function? It’s the barrier that prevents water loss and helps keep bacteria, viruses, fungi, and chemicals on the outside of your body. The barrier function also protects you from environmental irritants like wind or cold weather. This article will discuss how your barrier function protects you from the environment, what factors can cause it to become compromised – and importantly; how to repair it!
What is Barrier Function?
The skin is a complex organ with the function of protection. The top layer of the skin and our first line of defence is our skin barrier – known as the acid mantle. The acid mantle is a thin film on the skin’s surface composed of lipids from glandular oil mixed with amino acids secreted through sweat. Along with your microbiome (micro-organisms and healthy bacteria) – it forms part of this delicate matrix that creates a barrier to keep moisture in and pollution and bacteria out!
The Importance of Barrier Function for Skin Health
We need a strong barrier not only to have our skin looking good but for our skin to be healthy! When our barriers are neglected, it can lead to sensitivity, breakouts, dryness, rough patches, inflammation, and potential bacterial, viral, or fungal infections. The acid mantle is like the roof of your house, and if it leaks, heat or moisture will be lost quickly. Debris can easily pass through this surface too; so you’re exposed to all external elements!
Signs of an impaired barrier
If you have started to notice changes in your skin like dryness, rough patches, and itchy or scaly spots this could be an indication that the barrier function of our body’s protective layer has gone awry! A healthy barrier also could be the missing link in improving skin concerns like inflammation and acne. If your protective barrier is not able to keep hydration in and protect against external elements it will be a lot harder to improve the skin through products or treatments alone. Our skin’s ability to provide us with a healthy-looking complexion relies on our internal health just as much (if not more) than what we put on topically. This also applies to sensitised skins – where your skin becomes sensitive over time and starts reacting as opposed to a true sensitivity. This can happen if you’re using products that irritate it, like harsh cleansers or exfoliators!
External factors that affect our barrier function
Now we know about the importance of having a healthy, functioning barrier. Let’s look at what can impair your skins’ ability to do that!
- Over-exfoliation – Exfoliating too often means you are no longer buffing away dead skin cells – you are actually interrupting the skin’s cell turnover cycle and using something too harsh can lead to micro-tears in the skins corneocyte layer. Using a gentle exfoliator 1 – 2 times per week is best!
- Over-cleansing – If your skin feels tight and ‘squeaky clean’ after cleansing, it is a sign that it strips your skin of its natural oils. Check out a previous article to find out more about choosing the right cleanser for your skin!
- Environment – The weather can wreak havoc on the skin! The winter months can leave your skin feeling dry – due to exposure to the cold, wind, rain, or snow. We produce more oils over summer, which offers more protection but is more exposed to the sun and UV rays, which can impair your barrier and skin health.
- Harsh chemicals – Chemicals in the workplace, harsh cleansing products, and alcohol-based sanitisers can impair the skin’s natural ability to retain moisture. This causes it to become drier which then makes you more prone to conditions such as atopic dermatitis!
- Medications – We all know that antibiotics, antidepressants, and steroids can be really helpful for our health but they often come with side effects. The problem is the lack of oil your skin produces when taking these drugs which then affects how well it keeps out dirt or other elements.
- Genetic factors – If you are prone to conditions like sensitive skin, dermatitis, psoriasis, and eczema you need to be taking care of your internal health as you will be a lot more susceptible to flare-ups if the barrier of your skin is not functioning well!
- Ph balance – The pH scale ranges from 0-14 where each number represents a certain acidity or alkaline level. It is found that skin surface normal values vary between 4.2 and 5.6 so products with higher acidic products change the barrier function of your skin!
- Lifestyle – Junk food, excessive alcohol, and smoking can all do a number on our skin. One way they affect the body is by narrowing down blood vessels making it much harder for nutrients to reach the deeper layers of the skin which leads to dry, dull-looking skin. If this happens at an early age or chronological aging will eventually take over as well! Poor diet doesn’t offer much nutritional value – not only does it decrease immunity but also provides little hydration feedback from sebum production either which wreaks havoc on the skin’s barrier function.
How to repair your skin’s barrier
While there are many benefits to different skincare products on the market, when trying to repair your barrier it is best to keep it simple! A gentle cleanser, hydrator, and SPF is a great starting point then as your skin strengthens you can introduce other products and ingredients to your routine!
Hydration is key for our skin to look and feel healthy. Not only is it important to hydrate and protect it topically, but it is also vital (for more than just the skin!) to make sure we are getting enough water each day. Drink up!
While hydrating with water is vital, we need to have enough lipids (oils) in the skin to create a protective layer (acid mantle). This can be quite hard to do with diet alone which is why supplementing essential fatty acids is the easiest way to build up these levels internally! Look for a supplement high in Omega 3 & 6 as these have anti-inflammatory properties and will help to fill in gaps in the barrier of the skin. A healthy, balanced diet rich in vegetables, antioxidants, and good fats will improve your skin and general health!
We hope this article has helped you learn more about what barrier function is, how it affects your skin health, and the products that can help. If you have any questions or comments for us – don’t hesitate to reach out!