Barrier Function – Are You Unwittingly Damaging Your Skin’s Defense?
12 Dec 2018
Chances are you’ve heard the word’s ‘barrier function’ thrown around when it comes to skincare. But do you really know what it means? To explain it simply, the upper layers of your epidermis are essentially the ‘barrier’ and it’s ‘function’ is to protect you from the outside world. If it were a brick wall, the bricks would be the dried out, dead skin cells that are almost ready to shed. The cement between them is your skin’s intracellular matrix which is mostly composed of lipids (natural oils) that includes ceramides, cholesterol and free fatty acids.
If these outer layers become damaged or there’s a change in the pH of its acid mantle. This is an invisible chemical barrier that keeps your skin mildly acidic and out irritating microorganisms. So essentially you’re damaging your skin’s barrier function and leaving yourself at risk to a slew of unwanted chain reactions. But, don’t worry we’ll get into a little later on.
A barrier function gone bad
Maintaining your skin’s barrier function is important because when it’s healthy you’re protected. A healthy barrier is able to trap moisture while keeping irritants like bacteria, allergens and environmental pollutants out. If your barrier function becomes impaired, however, then you’re in for trouble. Aside from dry skin, you can also expect inflammation and increased likelihood of allergic reactions once all the ‘baddies’ start flooding in. Skin can become itchy, red, cracked, dull and flaky. You’re also wide open to triggering conditions like eczema and psoriasis.
There are lots of ways in which you can damage your skin’s barrier function. Contributing factors include air pollution, smoking, excessive UV exposure and even stress. But the most common culprit is mistreatment which is almost always unwitting.
For example, if you over exfoliate, use too harsh a scrub or continue to use products containing high concentrations of irritating ingredients. Doing these means you’re going to end up damaging your barrier function. Also, disrupting the pH balance of your skin. This is the fast track to a damaged barrier and this is easily done via the use of skincare products that are too harsh or drying.
Repair the damage and improve your barrier function
Fortunately, you can repair a ‘broken’ barrier function! Your first step is to take a look at what you’re putting on your skin and remove anything that could be irritating it. This means putting the brakes on any physical exfoliants, things like scrubs, as well as any products, be it a mask, face wash or moisturiser. These contain chemical exfoliants like alpha hydroxy acids (glycolic and lactic acid are the most popular) and enzymes.
Next, stop using anything containing medium to high levels anything potentially irritating. This means retinol, high levels of vitamin C, alcohol, menthol and fragranced products are completely out. Even witch hazel, which is touted as a soother can be sensitising if you use too much of it. (This is due to its often high tannin content and the fact that it’s usually distilled with alcohol.)
A two-week break from anything sensitizing is often enough for your skin to have repaired itself or improved. This means that you can slowly re-introduce what you were using but be more careful. Pay attention to what you use as well as how often you use it. Also advised is to make an appointment to see a doctor or therapist at Skin Renewal who’d be able to examine your regime and make suggestions on a better way forward. (People often don’t realise that their products, if used alone, wouldn’t be likely to cause sensitivity. However, when used in combination with lots of other sensitising products, they can create problems.) They could also suggest one of our Rosacea, Redness and Sensitivity Solutions, specially designed to calm and soothe.
Ultimately, much like our general health, our skin’s barrier function is something we only appreciate once it’s impaired. So, treating our skin in a way that’s effective but still gentle is vitally important. Fortunately, at Skin Renewal, we understand that it’s a balancing act and are always happy to help.