There are countless products in existence that claim to protect and rejuvenate your skin. Some of these products enhance moisture, some cleanse or exfoliate, and others help get rid of wrinkles. All of these products have one common denominator, and that is that they act on the body’s outermost layer, the skin barrier. What exactly is the skin barrier, and what is its purpose? We aim to answer that question and inform you on how to protect it in this article.
What Is The Skin Barrier?
The skin is made up of different layers, each of which serves a unique purpose. The outermost layer, the stratum corneum, consists of tough skin cells that essentially make up your skin barrier. These skin cells, corneocytes, are bound together by mortar-like lipids. Keratin and natural moisturizers are within the corneocytes. The lipid layer contains fatty acids, cholesterol, and ceramides.
This “brick wall” that is the skin barrier keeps you alive by protecting you from environmental toxins and pathogens. Without the skin barrier, these substances could easily penetrate the skin and cause adverse health effects. If you didn’t have a skin barrier, the water inside your body would escape, evaporate, and leave you in a dehydrated state. Just as your internal organs are necessary for optimal health, so is your skin because it helps the body function properly.
What Damages The Skin Barrier?
The skin plays defense every second of every day, protecting you from pathogens, bacteria, and other threats. Some of the internal and external factors that affect skin barrier function are:
- Allergens, irritants, and pollutants
- Exposure to harsh chemicals
- Excessively humid or dry environments
- Alkaline detergents and soaps
- Genetic factors
- Over-exfoliation or over-washing
- Psychological distress
What Is The Acid Mantle?
The skin barrier has a slightly acidic pH level and this acidity (the acid mantle) creates a protective barrier. It essentially establishes a buffer that prevents the growth of viruses, bacteria, and fungi that can damage the skin and increase the risk of infections. You must protect the acid mantle around wounds. Because the skin’s acidity is necessary for functions that happen during the healing process. Sometimes, though, health conditions can change the skin’s acidity, which weakens that buffer. Diabetes or incontinence, for example, may require slightly more acidic skin care products to ensure the efficacy of the acid mantle.
How To Protect And Restore The Skin Barrier
There are many ways to help encourage a stronger skin barrier and acid mantle. What are some quick and easy tips to keep them both functional and healthy? Let’s take a look at a few strategies that can help.
Pay Attention To pH
The skin has a delicate pH balance that generally hovers around 4.7. The pH of certain products, however, can range from 3.7 to 8.2. According to researchers, you should cleanse with a product that ranges from a 4.0 to 5.0 pH level. If you keep your skin’s pH at a healthy level, you may be able to avoid conditions like dermatitis, acne, and ichthyosis.
Look For Formulations That Include Ceramides
If you want your skin barrier to function properly, you need ceramides, which exist in high concentrations in the stratum corneum. Research from 2019 found that products containing pseudo-ceramides may relieve dryness, itchiness, and scaling that results from poor skin barrier function. Ceramide-rich moisturizers, for example, help strengthen the structural integrity of the skin barrier. Additionally, ceramide moisturizers may benefit those who are more prone to acne. Acne-prone people tend to have an impaired skin barrier, so strengthening it with ceramide-rich moisturizers may reduce the risk of blemishes.
Experiment With Plant Oils
When you supply the skin with the right nutrients, you can help prevent the skin barrier from losing moisture. Research suggests that certain plant oils may supply the skin barrier with proper moisture and offer antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties, too. Some of the best plant oils for the skin barrier are argan, coconut, almond, jojoba, primrose, black currant, and rosehip oils. You can incorporate these oils into DIY skin care products, such as lotions or creams, or simply use them directly on the skin.