I Don’t Know What’s Wrong With My Skin! The Skin Barrier Function Explained

The skin is our largest organ, and even though it isn’t life-giving, it is also one of our most complex organs and performs a variety of important functions. After all, it’s the part of the body with which we greet the world.

Dr Monty Lyman states this beautifully “skin is both a barrier against the terrors of the outside world and with millions of nerve endings to help us feel our way through life – a bridge into our very being.”

It’s curious then that people are often left baffled about the occurrence of a sudden breakout, over-sensitive skin or a darkening of pigmentation, without stopping to ponder that this could be caused by an impaired skin barrier function.

How Your Skincare Routine Can Damage Your Skin Barrier

The root cause of most skin issues, except in cases where there is a medical condition present, is normally a damaged skin barrier. These problems typically arise as a result of an improper skin care routine, which can actually be detrimental to your skin’s health. The prolonged use of incorrect products has been shown to cause formerly healthy skin to lose its radiance, and years of applying unsuitable off-the-shelf formulations will finally catch up with your complexion.

The catalyst for this change is usually something that occurs away from the bathroom mirror. You may, for example, encounter a sudden shift in your environment, a high stress level or an unexpected illness. Perhaps you’re just getting older and your skin’s natural defence mechanism is much slower than it used to be. In any case, there will come a time when your skin can’t take it any longer and things will start to spiral out of control.

I’ve heard people say far too often that their “skin suddenly feels dry and OMG – 2-3 weeks into testing out very basic essentials has led to my skin breaking out”. This is the beginning of a vicious cycle, where already damaged skin is further dried out by acne products that proclaim to be able to instantly banish spots.


The Effects Of An Impaired Skin Barrier Function

An impaired skin barrier function has several ramifications. For one, this will cause an imbalance in the skin’s natural homeostasis, a phenomenon that will reveal itself in many different ways such as dehydration, cell build-up, general dullness, inflammation, irritation and so much more.

The outer layer of the skin – the “epidermis” – forms both a physical protective covering as well as a chemical barrier. Together, these ensure the natural barrier function and the body’s first line of defence.

The physical barrier is made up of:

  • Hardened cells – there is much debate over whether these nucleus-less cells are dead or alive. The dermaplaning crew believe them to be dead, whilst the corneotherapy specialists see them as alive.
  • Natural skin lipids – these include ceramides that are found both on the inside and outside of cells, fatty acids and cholesterol. They are embedded between the layers of the hardened cells.
  • Water and proteins – these include water-retaining amino acids that help to hold on to the skin’s natural water reserve. This is otherwise known as its “natural moisturising factor”.

The physical barrier resembles the structure of a wall – with bricks and cement. This enables the skin to physically prevent micro-organisms, dust and other unwanted substances like harmful preservatives and perfumes in products from entering the human body. Natural water loss is also reduced to stop the skin from drying up.

The chemical barrier consists of the acid mantle, or the natural PH environment of the skin. The skin’s natural PH lies between (5.5-6.5) and is made up of sweat, sebum, natural secretions and ecoflora.

Elements in the sebaceous secretions provide food for the bacteria that live on the surface of the skin. It is, therefore, important to maintain the PH in order to enjoy a healthy microbiome and to form a bactericidal surface to prevent infection and aid healing.

How Should I Rebuild My Skin Barrier?

Take a step back and nourish your skin. Don’t be afraid to let it heal, and remember that this won’t happen overnight. Think of all the years you’ve ignored the needs of your skin, so just be patient and give it some time and love. The best way to do this is to identify the correct skin care products for the maintenance of a healthy barrier function. If you are unhappy with your skin, the first thing to do is to make sure you are using the right products for your skin type and any skin conditions you may have.

In terms of clinical treatments, the reparative and hydrating likes of the Byonik Ectoin treatment, CooLift Cryogun and a good old-fashioned bespoke facial can boost the healing process.

My favourite products for barrier function repair are:

1. NeoGenesis Barrier Renewal Cream
2. Alumier MD Ultimate Boost Serum
3. Clinisoothe+ Skin Purifier
4. Dermaviduals Cleansing Milk.

These can all be purchased from my webshop.

To find out more about the skin barrier function, or to book in for skincare advice or an in-clinic treatment, get in touch with me today.

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