Your Skin Barrier- what it is and why it's important!Jan 30, 2023
If you read any beauty blogs you may have heard about your skin barrier. In recent years, we've developed a better understanding of what this is and how important it is for our skin health, and health in general.
Our skin is the largest organ of the body and it provides a protective 'wrap' over our internal organs, muscles, bones, and nerves to name a few. Not only does it protect internal organs and provide for structural integrity, but it also helps keep bad things like viruses, bacteria, allergens, pollution and more out. Our skin is a living and breathing barrier that works around the clock to keep us healthy. When our skin barrier is damaged, say from trauma or an injury, the skin barrier has now been compromised and infections and inflammation can take over.
The skin as a barrier is made up of several layers starting with your deepest layer of skin which is the subcutaneous tissue aka fat. Next up is your dermis. Your dermis is composed of collagen and adnexal structures like hair follicles and sweat glands. Moving outward, you then have the epidermis. The epidermis is like a brick wall. The cells begin at the basal layer and then over several days to weeks they transition up and then slough off after the top layer called your stratum corneum. Your skin cells are called keratinocytes and held together with a lipid 'glue' made up of fatty acids, cholesterol and ceramides. This complex makes up the skin barrier.
When our body is stripped of the natural oils and water in our skin, our skin barrier is compromised and inflammation can take over. When our body is constantly 'inflamed' it is in a flight or fight state and stressed. This is unhealthy for any organ in our body, including the skin. Keeping the delicate balance, known as homeostasis with our skin barrier is key for healthy, glowing skin.
Here are several tips for keeping your skin barrier protected and well-maintained:
- Avoid overly harsh soaps and toners which will strip your skin of its natural oils and 'glue.'
- Your body naturally 'exfoliates' by sloughing off dead skin cells. It typically takes 3 weeks for keratinocytes to transition from the basal layer of the epidermis to the top layer known as the stratum corneum. When we over exfoliate, we get our skin out of cycle and can induce inflammation.
- Apply a gentle, fragrance-free moisturizer with ceramides after washing. Your skin will absorb this best when slightly damp.
- If your skin is inflamed or you have a chronic skin conditions, the pH may be out of sync. Talk to your dermatologist about ways to re-balance the pH of your skin which tends to be slightly more acidic.
- We all have bacteria on the skin in some form but when the bacteria overgrows, it can worsen chronic skin conditions like eczema and atopic dermatitis. Talk to your dermatologist about safe ways to reduce the bacterial burden on the skin which may include bleach baths or gentian violet application.
Check out my latest podcast episode with Dr. Jack Arbiser for new and old tricks on maintaining the delicate balance of our skin barrier.
New podcast episodes come out weekly on Tuesday.