What is the Skin Barrier?
Skin barrier function is a hot topic in skin care, but what does it mean and how does it apply to you?
Generally speaking, your skin acts as a protective barrier, keeping allergens, irritants, and microorganisms out, and moisture in. We love the brick wall analogy, where skin cells are the ‘bricks’, and intercellular fluids make up the ‘mortar.’ Ideally, skin cells are tightly packed and interlocked with a healthy lipid-enhanced substance. This figurative ‘brick wall’ acts as a first-line defense system against the environment, providing physical and chemical protection against irritants, allergens, and pathogenic invaders. This barrier system also works in reverse, to hold in water and internal fluids.
Cracks in the defenses
When your skin’s barrier system doesn’t function as intended, increased space between the cells and/or an unhealthy lipid composition can result in increased water loss (TEWL – Trans-Epidermal Water Loss), as well as allowing entry of environmental nasties, irritating cosmetics, and microorganisms. All of which can lead to immunological reaction and inflammation, such as atopic dermatitis.
It’s all about the fats
The strength of your barrier rests greatly in the quality of the lipids that your body produces. Nutritional gaps, genetics, topical product usage, and lifestyle are just some of the factors that can influence that quality. The genetic component includes age. After the age of 40, the amount of lipids decreases significantly, which is why we tend towards dry skin as we get older.
Protecting your skin barrier
Harsh products, perfume, excessive steam, and hot water can all lead to rough, itchy, irritated skin, a sure sign of an impaired barrier. By taking steps early to protect and repair your barrier, you can minimize discomfort and move towards healthier skin.