There are more glamorous things to talk about when it comes to looking after your skin than its barrier, otherwise known as its acid mantle. Those outside of the skindustry are often unaware to what the skin’s barrier even is, let alone being aware to the potential damage they are causing to it on a daily basis and what effects this may be having on their skin.
Our skin’s barrier is a protective, waterproof shield that sits at the top of our epidermis. It is like a brick wall of dead skin cells held in place by a lipid (fat). For all intents and purposes, it keeps the good in (hydration) and the bad out (bacteria, particles, etc.). A barrier that is functioning optimally is what we all want, even if it is on the bottom of our personal skin concern lists!
The skin’s barrier function can become impaired more easily than you think. By this, I mean that it be compromised by factors such as harsh weather, detergents, acetone, chloride, hot baths or showers and much. The barrier is a sensitive creature that requires nutrition and care! Nerdie fact: paler skin tends to have a naturally thinner barrier – are there any benefits to our Celtic heritage?!
How to know if you need to repair your skin’s barrier
Your skin feels tight and dehydrated most of the time, regardless of how hard you try to hydrate it with serums and moisturisers
Seeing as the barrier works to lock in hydration, when it is compromised, it is letting hydration seep out from the skin. Even if you’re drinking water by the bucket-load, the skin can’t retain it. In nerdie speak, this is known as TEWL (transepidermal water loss).
Your skin reacts to products that it didn’t react to in the past
The usual amounts of exfoliating acids, vitamin C and even much milder ingredients may be causing irritation as your skin is much more prone to it without its barrier.
Your skin is itchy and flaky
Your skin is more prone to potential irritants such as airborne particles like dust without its barrier and the lack of hydration that has occurred could cause flaking.
You look dull and are lacking radiance
Barrier damage can throw your natural production of sebum (oil) for a loop and without this, your skin simply will not look as healthy… because it just ain’t at its healthiest!
You have redness, soreness and red patches of skin
This comes down to irritation again. Your barrier is your shield and without it, your skin isn’t protected!
You have breakouts and you do not know why
When your skin is dehydrated, it produces excess oils to balance itself out. This overproduction of oil can cause breakouts.
The dos and don’ts of repairing your skin’s barrier (and general barrier health)
Ditch the scrubs and mechanical exfoliation (harsh brushes, gloves etc.) entirely as they cause microtrauma to the surface of the skin and can strip the skin of its barrier – we don’t want no scrubs. However, even when it comes to skin-friendly acid-based exfoliation, you need to be careful not to go bananas on it. Exfoliation speeds up skin cell turnover and we need to keep some of those dead skin cells to help to make up our barrier. Keep the exfoliation to once every two days or less, depending on what is advised for your specific skin. If your barrier is truly compromised, lay off exfoliation entirely for a few weeks at least.
Want advice on how often YOU should be exfoliating? Join the Nerd Network and have an online skin consultation with one of our expert Nerds or Nerdettes.
Do use products that help to restore your skin’s barrier if you have compromised your barrier
If you are experiencing the symptoms listed above and you think you may have over-exfoliated, you need to help your skin to recover and repair. Avéne’s Cicalfate Restorative Skin Cream (€11.49) contains zinc oxide, commonly known as a mineral sun filter. Zinc oxide is an inorganic compound (found in nature as the rare mineral zincite) known for its healing properties and heavily associated with assisting with damage to the skin. You may not need to use it forever but if you are seeing redness, itching, flakiness or tender patches, simplify your skincare routine and add this in.
Don’t use wipes or harsh micellar waters
Wipes and micellar waters tend to be barrier-stripping dynamos due to high drying alcohol content and irritating fragrances. Avoid them – get a Cleanse Off Mitt which introduces nada to your skin bar water and uses microfibre to remove makeup… The tiny loops break the surface tension between oils, makeup and debris and the skin so that makeup is removed gently and without hassling the barrier!
Do keep an eye on the products you are using on your body
We look after our faces incredibly well and can be very picky about what we put on them but many will use any shower gel or any fake tan on the rest of their body. Your body has skin too! Perhaps it isn’t exposed as often but nonetheless, it needs to be remembered.
You need to make sure that the shower gel you are using is suitable for the PH of your skin, that it does not contain high amounts of traditional soap (which many find dehydrates kin) and that it isn’t full of drying alcohols or perfumes.
Fake tan is something that many will not bare skin without – I love it myself, mostly to take the blue tone out of my skin rather than to mask my naturally very pale complexion. Many, many, many fake tans on the market contain heapings of drying alcohols, sensitising fragrances and fully chemical ingredients so that they take from the skin but do not give back. TanOrganic’s range is phenomenal as they use natural colourings and ingredients that provide benefits to the skin. Using TanOrganic means that you do not have to counteract the effects of a drying fake tan after you’ve gotten your wear out of it! Their Self Tan Lotion (€24.99) is 84% aloe vera and contains hyaluronic acid too.
Don’t go too mad on sheet masks if you think your barrier is not at its healthiest
There is a very good reason for this. For sheet mask ingredients to penetrate into the skin, they need to include an ingredient that enhances penetration. What this means is that they temporarily impact how the barrier functions to supercharge the skin with the ingredients quickly for maximum instantaneous effect. Realistically, the majority of products enhance penetration of themselves and so long as the ingredients are assisting in skin health, it is worth it.
However, if you are experiencing dryness, flakiness and tenderness, go for a barrier-friendly sheet mask like the IMAGE Biomolecular Anti-Aging Radiance Mask (€11.50). It contains niacinamide, which serves the purpose of strengthening the skin barrier whilst tackling pigmentation and giving the skin a general glow.
Do invest in a barrier-repairing treatment
Sometimes you want to leave it to the professionals. YonKa’s Hydra Repair Treatment is what to go for for a boost of barrier and general skin health. In the treatment, YonKa’s Mesonium Revitalising Oils are used to feed the skin with vitamins, minerals and amino acids – the treatment also contains YonKa’s incredibly hydrating Hydra No1 Masque and spritzes of Lotion YonKa with the Lucas Championnière sprayer. It will soothe the skin and the soul.
Don’t forget to look after your barrier from the inside
You have to feed the skin from within. Omegas are essential for barrier function, as is vitamin D, which we don’t get a lot of by the usual means on this side of the planet. Ensure that you’re taking omega and vitamin D supplements, especially as we hurtle towards official Winter. Blustery, windy, cold Winter weather is most likely to cause damage to your skin’s barrier.