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Damaged Skin Barrier? Here’s How You Can Strengthen It

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The way I see the skin barrier is like an infantry army meant to stop enemies from breaking through. Obviously, to have a solid first fighting line takes a lot of knowledge and training. The same goes for skincare. Now let’s see what it’s ALL about.

What is skin barrier function?

The skin barrier is basically the outermost layer of the epidermis. This top skin layer serves as the body’s first defense line against external aggressors and holds water inside. There’s a reason the outermost skin’s layer (aka stratum corneum) is called the “brick wall.” And you need to protect it unless you want dehydrated, dull, and premature wrinkled skin. FYI, the skin barrier consists of many essential nutrients, such as ceramides, cholesterol, fatty acids, lipids, and protein layers. 

So to answer the question, the skin barrier has not one but a few roles vital for skin health. It protects from UVA/UVB radiation, pollution, retains moisture keeping your skin hydrated, and transitions nutrients to the skin.

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Skin barrier is called the skin’s natural moisturizing factor for a reason.

How do I know my skin barrier is messed up?

As soon as you notice your skin getting inflamed, dry, itchy, flakey, or acne flare-ups, you’ll know your skin barrier is damaged. Also, when you notice a sudden sensitivity to products you were used to, most likely, your skin defense system is weakened. When the skin barrier is affected, it can’t fulfill its protective role anymore, so dust, bacteria, and irritants get into the skin. Something else: poor knowledge on how to mix skincare ingredients may lead to damaging your skin barrier.

How to repair a damaged skin barrier

Actually, there are a few ways to repair your degraded skin barrier. So to start, you might want to simplify your skincare routine a bit, cutting off the products you don’t necessarily need. Simply said, go to the basics: cleanse and moisturize. And make sure you don’t use products with ingredients that may dry out your skin, such as SLSs, or alcohol. Not hydrating enough or drinking too much caffeine or alcohol and aging are other factors that disrupt your skin barrier’s normal function. You may also want to stop exfoliating your skin for a while — either we talk about products with AHAs, like glycolic acid or your weekly coffee scrub

That’s pretty much about it, be patient and think about strengthening your skin barrier, which leads us to the next point.

How to strengthen your skin barrier

Since a broken barrier function means dehydrated skin, you may want to alternate the use of a humectant product with an occlusive one. While humectants extract water molecules from the environment and pull them into the skin’s surface (preventing dryness), occlusives form a protective layer on top of the skin to seal water in. 

Antioxidants are the skin’s barrier’s allies since they have the same role: stop external aggressors from getting into the skin and damage it. My fav to use, especially for strengthening the skin barrier (but also to control my oily skin), is niacinamide.

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The pH of your skin surface has a high impact on how your skin barrier works. Always consider your skins’ pH, as messing with this is a leading cause of skin barrier disruption. Most people’s pH level ranges between 4.5 to 5.5. When its level is compromised, it can trigger skin concerns, such as dryness, eczema, or dermatitis. Related to skin pH is the acid mantle. This is a thin film on your skin’s surface (above skin barrier) made up of fatty acids secreted from the oil glands, mixed with lactic acid and amino acids from sweat, responsible for keeping lipids in and blocking toxins, bacteria, and pollution from entering the skin. Our acid mantle’s ideal balance is slightly acidic, at a pH range between 4.5-5.5. If this score gets too alkaline, your skin will get dry and sensitive, also affecting collagen and elastin production; thus, it can cause wrinkles.

Your derm can measure your skin’s pH level, but you can also do it at home with a pH strip test. To maintain the proper pH level in your skin, you need to limit the use of antibacterial products, prolonged sun exposure, or washing your face too often. How you take care of your skin (without stripping away its natural shield) it’s vital for an infallible complexion.

Besides paying attention to these factors, some ingredients in your skincare products will also help you build up your skin barrier. They’re all here!

Ingredients that boost skin barrier protection

Show your skin some TLC, and it’ll pay off. You’re doing it by adding these ingredients to your skincare routine. 

Hyaluronic acid

What’s the ingredient that’s able to take water from the environment and pull it into your skin as it binds to water molecules? That’s right, hyaluronic acid. You can use this water-loving element in serums since their itty-bitty molecules penetrate in-depth, nourishing the skin’s inner layer. Besides, it’s great to maintain your skin hydrated, plumped, and smooth — a must ingredient in every skincare routine.

Ceramide

I already mentioned that the skin barrier consists of ceramide, so you’d want to add it to your routine. A moisturizer with ceramide will enhance the skin’s ability to hold on to moisture — even studies say it. 

Botanical oils

Also, face oils are considered heroes at boosting skin barrier protection. They can create a protective layer on the skin, locking moisture in. The best oils to improve your skin’s barrier role are olive, sunflower seed, coconut, jojoba, oat, and argan oils, as they’re rich in fatty acids (omega 3, 6, and 9), known to have intense barrier repair potential and improve the skins natural moisturizing factor, as this study explains. For proper benefits, the processing method also counts in — it needs to be cold-pressed and chemical-free.

Panthenol

Vitamin B5 is a tremendous ingredient that fights against transepidermal water loss since it’s a humectant. It’s pretty potent in supporting the skin’s lipid layer, and a stable lipid layer means less water loss.

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Peptides

These amino acid chains are great at helping the skin regenerate, as they’re part of the skin’s building blocks. Peptides give the skin elasticity and are required for a healthy skin barrier. You can combine a peptides-enriched serum with antioxidants and ceramides to boost its effects.

Amino acids

Welp, our skin is made up of amino acid chains, so it’s self-evident why you need them in your skin barrier strengthening battle.

They are natural moisturizing factors that aid bind water to the skin and make it stay there. By keeping water in, your skin will be able to heal itself faster, whenever it needs.

SPF

And since the sun is a culprit of a compromised skin barrier, don’t forget about sunscreen! A clean formulated SPF without oxybenzone, octinoxate, fragrances, or parabens completes the puzzle of a skin barrier defense system. An SPF moisturizer acts as a shield that keeps environmental attacks at bay, and you need it every day, without a doubt.

Best products to keep a healthy skin barrier

Now that you understand why your skin barrier is such a big deal, that’s essential for plump skin and needs to be protected to function properly, here, the best products to help you maintain a healthy skin barrier.

Humectant moisturizer

L’Occitane Moisturizing Cream

L'Occitane Moisturizing Cream
Occlusive moisturizer

Skinceuticals Scar Reducing Hydra Balm

Skinceuticals Hydra Balm
Antioxidant serum

Avène A-Oxitive Antioxidant Serum

Avène A-Oxitive Serum
Amino-acids rich face oil

Herbivore Emerald Moisture

Herbivore Emerald  Moisture
HA + B5 Serum

The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid Serum

The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid
Face mineral sunscreen 50 SPF

La Roche-Posay Anthelios Fluid 

La Roche-Posay Anthelios Ultra-Light Fluid
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