What is the function of the skin barrier?

the function of the skin barrier

Welcome to the second post in a five-part series about how to power your skin potential. We’re cover all things skin care, from powerhouse products to skin function and structure. Check out the previous posts in this series:

  1. Power your skin potential: When to start using skin care products

Today’s question:

What is the skin barrier and why is it important?

You’ve likely heard the term “skin barrier” before, especially if you follow skin care experts and “skinfluencers” on social media. But what is the skin barrier, and why is it so important?

When people talk about the skin barrier, they’re referring to the outermost layer of the epidermis: the stratum corneum. Think of it as a brick-and-mortar system where corneocytes are the bricks (made of keratin and natural moisturizers) and lipids are the mortar (containing cholesterol, ceramides, and fatty acids). Simply put, this brick wall keeps the good stuff in and the bad stuff out.

Keeping in the good stuff

The skin barrier’s number one job? Preventing dehydration. Keeping water in helps your skin stay hydrated—key to a fresh, dewy-looking complexion. A strong skin barrier slows down transcutaneous evaporative water loss (TEWL), which can cause itchy, flaky, dry skin or more extreme conditions like eczema and psoriasis.

Keeping out the bad stuff

The skin barrier protects you from a variety of harmful stuff:

  • Too low or too high humidity
  • Irritants and allergens
  • Harsh chemicals
  • Pathogens
  • Pollution
  • UV rays
  • Toxins

What is the best way to protect your skin barrier?

Fortunately, protecting your skin barrier is fairly simple. Show it some TLC with these tips.

  • Skip the sun. Minimize your sun exposure and use a broad-spectrum sunscreen before walking out the door. Those UV rays wreak havoc on your skin, and not just that outermost layer.
  • Help the hydration. Wash your face with a gentle non-soap cleanser and hydrate with a moisturizer that contains ceramides and humectants. Both help boost hydration and the skin’s ability to hold on to moisture.
  • Be gentle. Avoid pulling or tugging the skin (pat dry after cleansing) and steer clear of hot baths and showers. Take it easy when you shave, too, since nicks and cuts can cause irritation.
  • Nourish from within. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fatty acids works wonders for your skin. Drink plenty of water so your skin barrier doesn’t have to work so hard to maintain moisture.
  • Keep it light. Do you ever break out when feeling stressed? Stress can definitely affect your skin barrier, so manage it with whatever method works best for you—yoga, meditation, music, exercise, reading, or your favorite hobby.

Can you damage your skin barrier?

Unfortunately, yes. And according to the list above, it’s not too difficult. Sun exposure, dehydration, harsh cleansers, a poor diet, and stress can all damage the skin barrier. Unfortunately, the list of brick wall-breaking bad guys doesn’t stop there:

  • Over-exfoliation
  • Waxing
  • DIY skin care that includes lemon and baking soda
  • Certain medications, like steroids
  • Poor sleep habits
  • Smoking
  • Genetics
  • Age

You can’t control every item on the list (looking at you, genetics), so control what you can—your skin barrier is counting on it.

What are the signs of a damaged skin barrier?

No one knows your skin better than you. If your skin barrier feels slightly off, trust that intuition. The more obvious signs of a damaged skin barrier include dryness, redness, itching, increased acne, rough or discolored patches, rashes, heightened sensitivity, inflammation, and skin infections.

How do you repair a damaged skin barrier?

Good news! Repairing a damaged skin barrier is easier than you think, but it does require patience and embracing a “less is more” mantra.

Simplify your skin care routine

Stick with a gentle cleanser and a moisturizer packed with skin-rejuvenating ingredients like ceramides, niacinamide, and hyaluronic acid for at least one to two weeks. Sideline exfoliants and skin care products with active ingredients like retinol and Vitamin C and slowly incorporate them into your routine once you’re ready.

Press pause on the primer

Avoid makeup (tough, we know) for a couple weeks to give your skin barrier a solid rest. If you can’t go makeup free 24/7, minimize how much you wear and how often you wear it. Remember, you can totally toggle off that Zoom video during meetings.

Practice good pH

Cleansing with a product that’s close to your skin’s natural pH goes a long way in building up and repairing that delicate barrier. Your skin’s pH is around 5.7, but the pH of skin care products can range from 3.7 to 8.2. If a product lists a pH, make sure it’s similar to your skin’s so things stay balanced.

Drop in to the dermatologist

If you feel your glow may be gone for good (don’t worry, it’s not!), head to your dermatologist. They’re your skin barrier’s bestie and can help you tackle tougher problems, like rosacea or dermatitis. They can also give you an overall view of your skin health and offer advice to get you closer to your skin goals.

Pro tip: ASEA® skin care products feature gentle, effective, science-backed ingredients that support skin renewal, a barrier-building superpower.