WHAT IS THE SKIN’S MOISTURE BARRIER & WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
The skin’s anatomy is complex and in order to understand the skin’s barrier system, understanding the layers that make it what it is, is important. The skin is made up of three primary layers that then breaks down into a further 5 layers; the top or outermost layer is the epidermis, the secondary layer is the dermis and the third, the subcutaneous tissue.
Where your moisture barrier comes into play is the outermost layer (stratum corneum) of the epidermis. The stratum corneum is the layer of actively shedding dead cells on the surface of the skin. Fortified with a network of cells containing oil glands and lipids, it is this layer that provides protection, helps retain the natural oils, electrolytes and nutrients and prevents epidermal water loss and moisture loss.
Essentially, the moisture barrier is your skin’s way of ensuring it remains supple, plump and hydrated and according to Pamela Marshall, Co-Founder of Mortar & Milk Facial Skin Clinic, “When the barrier function is compromised, it can lead to exacerbated eczema, psoriasis, increased rosacea symptoms and acne”.
HOW TO ASSESS YOUR SKIN’S BARRIER
“If your skin is sore, itchy, or inflamed, it is likely that your skin barrier has been compromised and needs healing. The skin barrier may also be compromised if you have acne and skin that is also chronically dehydrated and/or dry (flaky or tight feeling), can also have a damaged skin barrier. These few conditions are an indication that you may need to change your habits and skincare routine” shares Elena Reva, Founder of Dermoi! Skincare.
HOW CAN THE MOISTURE BARRIER BE COMPROMISED?
Your skin’s moisture barrier can be compromised through an array of factors that can transition between lifestyle, environment or your skincare products. Pamela highlights, “In terms of lifestyle activities, if you spend a lot time outside in the cold damp climate, your barrier is likely to become compromised. Swimming in chlorinated pools is also a problem for skin, although great exercise so there are ways around it. In addition, excessive UV and pollution exposure is also not great. But we are more likely to have a compromised barrier from the products we use. Most of us are using far too many products, and far too many AHA’s and retinols. There is absolutely a place for them in skincare, but not nearly as much as what we are currently doing”.
A checklist of factors that can compromise your skin’s barrier:
- An extreme change in environment, whether too hot, cold or windy.
- Allergies, irritants and pollutants.
- Sun exposure.
- Soaps and detergents.
- Harsh chemicals.
- Skincare retinoids and acids.
HOW TO REPAIR & PROTECT THE MOISTURE BARRIER?
Though it takes time and consistency, you can repair and as a result protect your moisture barrier and this starts from hydrating the skin both on the inside and out. Elena advises, “look for cosmeceutical cleansers that are formulated at an optimal pH and without skin barrier damaging ingredients (SLS). If you have extremely inflamed skin, we recommend you go for a non-foaming cleanser” before expanding “avoid over exfoliating your skin. Reducing the frequency of exfoliation will allow your skin barrier to repair itself. Perhaps reduce exfoliation to every 7-10 days. It is also best to use gentle exfoliators that contain enzymes as these are proven to be best for ultra-sensitive or compromised skin”.
*PHA’s are often recommended as they gently exfoliate whilst hydrate the complexion at the same time.
HOW TO BALANCE THE MOISTURE BARRIER
When it comes to your skin, everything is about a balance and when the moisture barrier is healthy, your skin can respond optimally. Keeping your barrier balanced by:
- Cleansing with lukewarm water and avoid using water either too hot or too cold as this contrast can send the barrier into a frenzy.
- Replace harsh cleansers and soaps with mild cleansers that will still strip the oil and build up but will still nourish the complexion.
- Avoid physical exfoliants, the harsh scrubs may tear and disrupt the barrier, instead opt for leave-on exfoliant.
- Avoid using fragrance in your products, this can increase the skin’s sensitivity and restrict of the essential oils and nutrients it may need.
- Find a frequency and concentration that works best on your skin when it comes to acids. Overly used and your complexion will become irritated and itchy.
- Keep the skin protected with SPF.
IF YOUR BARRIER IS DRY OR DEHYDRATED …
When your skin is dry it means that your barrier is unable to retain the natural oils it needs in order for the skin to stay plump and healthy. When treating dry skin, it is important to focus on your moisture barrier by regularly moisturising, avoiding harsh and dry soaps, increasing humectants into your routine to help cushion and restore the strength of your moisture barrier. It also helps to look at diet when skin is particular dry. Eating foods rich in good fats such as salmon, mackerel avocado and nuts are not only nutritious but also helpful in keeping our skin well lubricated to avoid the dryness. Supplements like Omega 3 are also worth considering, but you must consult a medical professional for further advice.
Similarly, dehydration is when your skin’s barrier isn’t retaining enough water which prevents the skin from regulating its moisture levels. As a result, your complexion may look dull and flat. Apart from increasing your water consumption, incorporating hydrating ingredients such as Hyaluronic acid, Niacinamide, Glycerin, Squalane, Ceramides and Lactic Acid into your routine will help to restore hydration into the skin and preserve the skin’s barrier.