Over the years I have learned that frequent body movement, hydration, a clean diet, gentle yet simple skin care, and stress management play a huge role in the health and clarity of our skin. However, there was one very important piece of this puzzle missing – barrier repair!
You may be wondering what the heck barrier repair is so let me try to explain something called the stratum corneum and skin barrier function.
In essence, skin barrier function is a concept that refers to the outer most layer of the skin, aka the stratum corneum. This layer is the barrier that protects the body from the external environment and is designed to hold water in and keep bacteria, microbes, and other external invaders out.
The strength and integrity of this barrier not only keeps our skin looking healthy and moisturized, it also plays a role in its clarity.
The Structure of The Stratum Corneum
A cross-section of the stratum corneum would look like a brick wall in the sense that dead skin cells form the “bricks” and the intercellular matrix (the lipids and fatty acids – aka sebum) make up the mortar.
These waterproofing lipids are what keep skin hydrated, soft, and firm in appearance by preventing the evaporation of the water it absorbs from the environment and the deeper layers of the skin. It holds the water in and keeps bacteria (including acne bacteria!) and other impurities out.
Now imagine cracks and holes forming in the mortar and allowing water to evaporate and escape. This is when the stratum corneum becomes compromised and barrier repair is needed in order to prevent dehydration and bacteria from getting into the cracks.
Believe it or not, the skin uses its own natural exfoliation process known as desquamation. This is where fresh skin cells migrate from the bottom layer of the epidermis to the outer most layer of the skin. This process is wholly dependent on adequate hydration, so when this process gets disrupted, the skin becomes rough, scaly, and dry in appearance.
If the outer most barrier isn’t repaired, the skin becomes dehydrated (even if you have oily skin) and begins to tighten and hold onto dead skin cells. This is what causes clogged pores. When bacteria are added to the mix, your body reacts by attacking those bacteria and forming a legion of inflammation. The resulting acne can stick around even if you follow every other natural skincare tip I’ve previously mentioned.
So, if you have overhauled your lifestyle and still have acne, chances are you have a damaged outer most skin barrier.
Common Signs of Barrier Damage
Many skin conditions can be exacerbated or even caused by a damaged stratum corneum.
Some of these conditions include:
• Dry skin
• Flaky skin
• Premature aging
• Scaly skin
• Sensitive skin
It is thought that over 70% of people who suffer from acne have some degree of damage to their outer most barrier.
Even those with oily skin can have dehydrated skin, so don’t be fooled by oily skin and hydration levels! ANY skin type can become dehydrated because the outer most barrier has been altered causing it to lose its ability to retain moisture.
So, What Causes a Damaged Barrier to Begin With?
There are several reasons why your outer most barrier may begin to deteriorate:
1. Constantly stripping away sebum
2. Cumulative damage that has affected the skin cell renewal cycle
3. Environmental conditions like dry, cold or hot weather, and wind
4. Not enough physical exercise
5. Not enough sleep
6. Nutritional deficiencies
8. Over-washing your face
9. Poor diet high in processed foods and sugar
11. Sun damage
12. Unprotected winter skin
13. Using harsh products on your skin
14. Using hot water when washing and rinsing your face
15. Using too many chemicals on your skin
Experiencing any of the above for too long can start to alter the structures within the skin that are responsible for moisture retention and balance.
These structures include:
• Acid mantle
• Epidermal lipids
• Glycosaminoglycans (GAGS)
• Lymph movement or stagnation
• Natural moisturizing factors (NMFs)
• Sebaceous lipids
• Trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL)
Barrier Repair and The Recipe for Re-Hydration
So, all this information tells us that we need to achieve balanced hydration within our skin cells in order to repair the outer most skin barrier.
The first steps you want to take are things like lowering stress, getting quality sleep, exercising regularly, drinking enough water daily, and eating a clean healthy diet.
While improving those aspects of your life, you should begin taking steps towards improving your skincare routine like using cooler water to wash and rinse, switching to a gentle cleanser, avoiding harsh exfoliants, and allowing your skin to recover its hydration levels.
The worst thing you can do is use hot water or steam on your face, washing too often, stripping your skin’s oils, or scrubbing your skin too often. All this will do is dry out, strip, and damage the outer most barrier making it harder for your skin to hold onto water.
Harsh chemicals in your face/beauty products can weaken and strip the skin and cause irritation and deterioration of the lipid layer.
Using harsh exfoliants can actually scratch open the skin (microscopically) and allow water to evaporate.
Also, don’t forget to wear sunscreen if you plan on being out in the sun longer than 20 minutes as sunlight can damage the lipid layer as well.
Ingredients for Good Skin Hydration
Aside from the above, here are a few things to look into for quickly repairing your barrier:
1. Barrier restoring ingredients
Lipids are excellent ingredients to use as they tend to mimic those found in the stratum corneum. The best ones to use are those that contain ceramides and are rich in linoleic acid such as baobab, evening primrose, rose hip seed oil, safflower oil (high linoleic acid), shea butter, and sunflower oil (high linoleic acid).
Humectants are absolutely essential for repairing the outer most barrier as they attract water from deep below the epidermis as well as from humidity in our environment. This moisture is drawn into the stratum corneum where it holds in moisture and repairs the skin.
Be sure to avoid synthetic humectants like:
• Polyethylene glycol (PEGs) – a petroleum byproduct that dries out the skin over time
• Propylene glycol – the synthetic version of glycerin, also a petroleum byproduct known to irritate the skin
• Urea – a preservative that releases formaldehyde; a known carcinogen that can cause dermatitis (there is naturally occurring urea in the skin which is part of the natural moisturizing factor of the skin or NMF)
3. Skin identical ingredients
I especially love to use homemade rose water to help restore proper PH and prepare the skin for humectants and hydration sealing ingredients.
4. Skin protectants – aka occlusives
Ingredients like shea butter, avocado oil, sunflower oil, cocoa butter, jojoba oil, squalene, macadamia nut oil, evening primrose oil, and baobab oil are all wonderful emollients and are rich in phytosterols that heal and buffer the skin against dehydration.
Using skin protectants will help keep your skin soft, supple, and firm in appearance.
Skin Re-Hydration Protocol for Barrier Repair
So far, we’ve learned that the key to good skin hydration is based on the following:
1. Humidity in your environment
2. The moisture retention strength of the stratum corneum
3. The amount of water in the skin that is transferred and retained in the stratum corneum
In order to achieve these three things, here’s what you need to do:
1. Use cool-tepid water only when washing and rinsing your face
2. Use a natural non-stripping face wash no more than twice daily (raw honey works great for this)
3. Pat your face dry, then spritz on rose water
4. Next, apply a humectant like hyaluronic acid or glycerin (in concentration of no more than 10% or you will end up pulling moisture OUT of the skin)
5. Next, apply a linoleic rich facial oil like rosehip seed oil and gently massage it into the skin
6. You can then apply a skin protectant like a small amount of shea butter (unless you have oily skin then use a tiny amount of squalene mixed in your facial oil) to help hold in moisture that tries to escape
7. Occasionally mist your skin with rose water throughout the day
8. Drink plenty of water throughout the day
9. Make sure your environment has good humidity (I like to use this humidifier in my room at night)
10. Lead a healthy lifestyle
So, there you have it! Do you suffer from an impaired outer most skin barrier? What have been your barrier repair breakthroughs? Please let me know in the comments!
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