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Why Your Skin Barrier is Important

IN THIS ARTICLE:

So, let me ask you a question, how is your skin barrier doing? If you don't know how to answer that question, you're not alone!  

The skin barrier plays an important role in skin health but many people don’t know if their skin barrier is in good shape. In this article, we’re going to take an in-depth look at the skin barrier.

Brick wall analogy

An easy way to think about the health of your skin barrier is to imagine a brick wall. A soundly built brick wall will be stacked and packed with mortar, so the structure won't budge. Despite rough elements like wind, rain, hail and even pollution, nothing can penetrate the wall.

But what if the bricks start to crack or if there isn't enough mortar between the bricks? Eventually, it will start to decay, debris will enter, and the structure will crumble. 

Believe it or not, the structure of your skin barrier is like a brick wall.

The outermost layer of your skin, your skin barrier (AKA: your stratum corneum), acts just like the brick and mortar analogy mentioned above. Think of the bricks as your skin cells (corneocytes) and the mortar as the oily lipid bilayer made up of ceramides, lipids and fatty acids.(1) This structure works as the first line of defence against external invaders to the skin. 

Diagram of brick wall skin structure.

The skin barrier’s brick wall structure is happiest and healthiest when it’s at a slightly acidic pH (4.5–5.5), this is often referred to as your acid mantle. The acidic pH of the skin barrier is very important in ensuring cohesion between parts of the stratum corneum, maintaining normal skin microflora (keeping away bad bacteria) and for balancing the natural lipids. 

When the skin barrier is maintained at this optimal pH, it can effectively provide protection against UV rays, pollution, oxidative damage and toxins. When the pH of our skin is disturbed, it can lead to skin dryness and disruption in the barrier’s function.(2)

"Good news: it’s possible to strengthen your skin barrier and get your skin glowing again with just a few changes."

Did you know that the skin cells at the top layer of your barrier are already dead? Our skin’s cells are constantly turning over and renewing from the deeper layers of our dermis and epidermis to provide new cells to the skin’s surface, while shedding off the dead skin. This is another reason to keep a balanced, slightly acidic stratum corneum, because if not, it will disrupt the cell turnover process.(2)

There are many cellular processes that go on deeper in the skin layers to provide your skin with a healthy, hydrated skin barrier, but we won’t get too deep into it here. Check out our How Our Skin Works article to learn more. 

The skin barrier does more than protect against external factors, it also has an essential job at forming a protective barrier internally as well. From an internal perspective, the skin barrier prevents excess loss of water and electrolytes to keep good skin health and hydration.(2)

How do I know if my skin barrier is compromised?

Signs that your skin barrier may be compromised include:(1)

  • red, inflamed skin;
  • dry, itchy skin;
  • irritation and sensitivity;
  • dull complexion;
  • increased breakouts.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of a compromised skin barrier, don’t worry! The good news is, it’s possible to strengthen your skin barrier and get your skin glowing again with just a few changes.

What factors disrupt the skin barrier?

Now that we know the signs of a weakened skin barrier, let’s look at the factors that can disrupt skin barrier function, and ways to prevent the disruption. 

Environment/pollutants: External factors such as extremely dry or humid weather and airborne pollutants can be harsh on the skin.(1)  One way to help combat this damage is with antioxidant-rich skincare products to fight against free radical damage (hello Moon Boost Serum and Fullmoon Serum).

Excess sun exposure: Nothing good ever comes from excessive sun exposure! Do your best to avoid it whenever possible. If you must spend time in the sun, wear a wide brimmed hat, cover up with long layers and always apply and reapply your favourite non-nano, reef-safe SPF.

Cleansing: This is a tricky one. Cleansing is an essential part of every skincare routine, but harsh cleansers can damage the skin barrier. As mentioned above, our skin thrives at a pH of 4.5–5.5; therefore, it’s important to make sure your cleanser isn’t too alkaline and disturbing your skin barrier.(1) Aloe Milk Cleanser and Face Foam are great options that are formulated with skin-friendly pH levels to provide a gentle cleanse without stripping the skin of natural oils.

Bottle of Graydon Skincare Face Foam Cleanser and Aloe Milk Cleanser on white soap dish with Bamboo Charcoal Sponge in front.

Harsh chemicals/exfoliants: The list of ingredients that can contribute to a compromised skin barrier is long. There are AHAs, BHAs, retinol and many more. Although these can provide great exfoliating benefits, take caution! Don’t use them too often, especially if you’re experiencing any redness, sensitivity or irritation. My best advice if you’re experiencing these symptoms is to take a mini vacation from exfoliants and focus on barrier repair products until you feel your skin is back to a strong and healthy state.

Which ingredients help to repair the skin barrier? 

You know the signs of a damaged skin barrier and what could be causing it, now let’s talk about how to repair the skin barrier!

There are three types of ingredients to look for in barrier-repairing products.

Emollients: Emollients help to soften the skin and provide a smoother, more elastic feel. Plant oils such as jojoba oil, squalane oil and evening primrose oil (to name a few) are some examples of emollients.

Occlusives: Occlusives provide a barrier on the skin that prevents moisture loss and reduces Transepidermal Water Loss (TEWL).(3) The most common occlusive ingredients found in skincare are petrolatum and mineral-oil based; however, shea butter, beeswax and plant oils like hemp and jojoba have powerful occlusive properties that help to lock in moisture.

Humectants: Humectants pull water and moisture to the skin to boost hydration.(3)  Two common humectant ingredients that provide great skin barrier hydration are hyaluronic acid and glycerin. You can find them both in Fullmoon Serum!

Moisturizers to the rescue

Moisturizers are an essential part of each person’s skincare routine, and play an important role in the protection of the skin barrier. A great moisturizer:(3)

  • Helps to repair the skin barrier,
  • Increases water content in the skin (hello plump, hydrated skin),
  • Reduces transepidermal water loss
  • Restores the lipid barrier.

A moisturizer that checks all the boxes, has a nice texture and aroma while also being affordable is hard to find! Good news is, we have some great options to share with you. 

Our top 3 barrier-protecting moisturizers

1. Putty for soothing irritated skin. If you are looking for a deeply nourishing moisturizer, you can’t go wrong with Putty. It’s formulated with zinc, colloidal oatmeal, and shea butter to protect and soothe the skin while reinforcing the skin barrier.

2. Skin Stuff Face + Eye Cream for lightweight hydration. If your skin reacts to just about everything, Skin Stuff is for you! This fragrance-free moisturizer contains ceramides, an ingredient that’s well-known for repairing the skin barrier due to its ability to mimic the skin’s natural systems.(3) 

3. All Over Face + Body Lotion to accompany all sinks and handwashing stations. Our hands are also prone to a disrupted skin barrier from excess washing and winter dryness. All Over Face + Body Lotion is made with jojoba oil. On top of its barrier protecting properties, jojoba oil also provides antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits to the skin.(1)

Graydon Skincare Putty, All Over Face + Body Lotion and Skin Stuff moisturizers in front of product smears on grey and white gradient background.

A disrupted skin barrier can be repaired but it’s best to take preventative measures to protect your skin health. Be careful not to over exfoliate and always apply an SPF certified sunscreen as the final step in your morning skincare routine. Using the right mix of products for your skin type will help keep your skin barrier strong and your complexion glowing!

Summary

  • The skin barrier is like a brick and mortar structure.
  • The skin barrier has a slightly acidic pH (4.5–5.5) known as the acid mantle.
  • Your skin barrier may be compromised if it’s feeling red, itchy, tight and easily irritated or prone to breakouts.
  • There are many factors that influence our skin barrier function including the environment and the skincare products we use.
  • Emollients, occlusives and humectants are the three types of ingredients to look for in a barrier-repairing product.
  • Find a moisturizer that suits your skin type.

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At Graydon Skincare, our commitment to sustainability goes beyond the environment. Click here to learn how our prices are part of our sustainability initiatives. 

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