Understanding Your Skin Barrier

Have you ever wondered why your skin gets dry, flaky, irritated, itchy or sensitive? These are all signs of a weakened skin barrier function. Your Stratum Corneum, or outermost layer of the skin, is your skin barrier. The Stratum Corneum’s job is to protect your skin and body from the external environment. When we talk about how strong this barrier is we refer to it as your skin barrier function. The skin barrier is designed to be impermeable, meaning it keeps water in and bacteria and microorganisms out.

Think of your skin as a brick wall. Skin is made up of “bricks” (protein from skin cells) and “mortar” (lipids and improtant fats). The lipid layer – aka your skins oil – is the glue that holds the wall together. It creates skin that is strong, hydrated and soft. It holds the natural moisturizers in and keeps bacteria and environmental chemicals out. After the age of 40 the amounts of lipids decrease significantly which is why we are more prone to dry skin as we age.

When the lipids in the mortar are damaged or depleted by environmental conditions, harsh products or handling, our skin loses water, gets dried out, and becomes more permeable to irritants and allergens. Once irritants and allergens penetrate the epidermis, it can trigger inflammation.

Harsh products including solvents, detergents, perfumes and irritating chemicals can weaken the barrier. Excessive cleansing with soap and water can break down the barrier and cleansing in hot water can strip lipid from the skin.

To have healthy skin it is important to maintain a strong barrier function. You can do this by using gentle cleansers, having regular peels or facials, avoiding harsh irritants and cleansers, avoiding extreme environmental conditions, and only exfoliating occassionally.