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If your skin is dry, you might blame the winter weather. If you’re breaking out, you know bacteria and oil have to do with it (and maybe even your dirty cell phone). There are multiple issues you can come to face throughout your lifetime, but at the end of the day, it all comes down to the health of your skin barrier. By understanding the skin barrier, you will learn how to keep it healthy.

What is the skin barrier?

The skin barrier is the outermost layer of your skin’s surface, and it consists of cells and lipids (fats). Also known as the permeability barrier, moisture barrier, or lipid barrier, the skin barrier is responsible for making sure essential water and electrolytes don’t evaporate from skin. It also serves as a protective shield against harmful microorganisms by producing antimicrobial peptides and proteins. On top of that, the skin barrier helps sustain skin’s immunity, and it regulates inflammation.1

When the skin barrier is healthy, your complexion appears smooth, clear, even-toned, and balanced. On the flip side, if your skin barrier is damaged, then that’s when you’ll experience redness, irritation, breakouts, rashes, burning sensations, broken capillaries, dryness, tightness, and other symptoms you’d attribute to having sensitive skin.2

Damaged skin barrier causes

Truly sensitive skin (e.g. conditions like rosacea, psoriasis, and eczema) is inherited. But most people experience uncomfortable symptoms because they’ve damaged their skin barrier.3 The top triggers are:

  • Age. As you get older, your skin barrier function naturally weakens.4
  • Emotional Stress. Mental stress caused by life experiences, such as work problems, family issues, etc.
  • Physical Stress. Fatigue, dehydration, malnourishment, etc.
  • Environmental Stress. Climate/weather changes, indoor overheating or overcooling, or toxins in the air or water.
  • Smoking. This dehydrates the skin and slows down collagen production and cell metabolism.
  • Pollution. Smog, chemicals in work environments, fumes from carpets and furniture, etc.skin barrier | Beverly Hills MD
  • Over-exfoliation. Exfoliating skin, when performed in moderation, can be a great way to keep skin fresh, smooth and clear, but overdoing it can disrupt the delicate skin barrier. Don’t do it more than 3x a week for normal skin.
  • Excessive Washing. Too much cleansing can strip the natural moisture from the skin barrier, especially if you use harsh bar soaps or wash with too-hot water.
  • Using sensitizing ingredients. Artificial fragrances, colorants, SD alcohol, and preservatives are known to trigger skin sensitivity.
  • Cosmetic procedures. Laser resurfacing and other methods used to remove the top layer of skin can damage the skin barrier if not performed properly.
  • Consuming dehydrating beverages. Alcohol and caffeine can dehydrate skin tissues and even dilate capillaries, which causes redness.
  • Sun damage. Without protecting skin from UV rays, skin can become sensitized.
  • Nutrition. A generally poor diet can manifest on skin, but low-fat diets and spicy foods have been linked to weakening the skin barrier.5

How to restore your skin barrier

If you’re experiencing any discomfort in your skin, whether it’s redness, dryness, itching, or breakouts you can’t seem to get rid of (especially if you’re not oily or acne-prone to begin with), you need to take steps to restore balance to the skin barrier. Follow these tips:

Skincare changes

  1. Incorporate treatments that contain ceramides7 and/or glycerin,sup>8 both of which have been studied and linked to improving skin barrier function by restoring and sustaining moisture.
  2. Wash your face only twice a day at most with lukewarm water. Do not ever shower or cleanse using hot water.
  3. Exfoliate just once or a few times each week using a gentle product before increasing frequency.
  4. Always protect your skin with a broad-spectrum sunscreen.
  5. If you are receiving a professional treatment from an esthetician, dermatologist, or facialist, tell them about any former or current reactions and conditions you have. Make sure they instruct you on how to repair and heal skin after a procedure, especially if it is on the harsher side.

skin barrier | Beverly Hills MDLifestyle changes

Minimize or completely eliminate smoking and alcohol consumption. If you need coffee in the mornings, drink a glass of water afterwards to replenish hydration.
Incorporate foods known to help increase moisture in skin, such as celery, cucumbers, salmon, flax seeds, walnuts and green juice.9 Also incorporate essential fatty acids which you can find in avocados, salmon and flax seeds.10

You will be amazed to see how much easier it is to have beautiful, glowing skin when you ensure your skin barrier is strong and nurtured. Remember: Practically anytime you have an issue, your skin barrier is probably not happy. Take care of it and you’ll see the rewards soon enough!

Sources
1 Lee S, Jeong S, Ahn S. An Update of the Defensive Barrier Function of Skin. Yonsei Medical Journal. 2006;47(3):293. doi:10.3349/ymj.2006.47.3.293.

2 Howard D, King A. CODE RED: Coping Strategies for Sensitized Skin. Dermalinstitutecom. Accessed January 30, 2017.

3 Howard D, King A. CODE RED: Coping Strategies for Sensitized Skin. Dermalinstitutecom. Accessed January 30, 2017.

4 GL G. Physiologic changes in older skin. – PubMed – NCBI. Ncbinlmnihgov. 1989.  Accessed January 30, 2017.

5  Howard D, King A. CODE RED: Coping Strategies for Sensitized Skin. Dermalinstitutecom. Accessed January 30, 2017.

6 MJ CHI M. Role of ceramides in barrier function of healthy and diseased skin. – PubMed – NCBI. Ncbinlmnihgov. 2005.  Accessed January 30, 2017.

7 Loden MWessman W. The influence of a cream containing 20% glycerin and its vehicle on skin barrier properties. International Journal of Cosmetic Science. 2001;23(2):115-119. doi:10.1046/j.1467-2494.2001.00060.x.

Can You Eat Your Way To Better, Less Dry Skin?. The Huffington Post. Accessed January 30, 2017.

Essential Fatty Acids and Skin Health. Linus Pauling Institute. 2017.  Accessed January 30, 2017.

10 Essential Fatty Acids and Skin Health. Linus Pauling Institute. 2017.  Accessed January 30, 2017.

About the Author

Dr. John Layke

Dr. John Layke grew up in Milwaukee, WI, where he knew from a young age that he wanted to practice medicine. After completing his undergraduate degree at Marquette University, Dr. Layke went on to attend medical school at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and trained in general surgery at the University of Illinois Metropolitan Group Hospitals in Chicago.