Whether your skin type is oily or dry, no matter which condition/s you may be experiencing, from pigmentation to ageing, all skin has one very important common denominator which determines its overall health: barrier function.
As the number of skincare products and treatments on the market continues to grow, so too does the risk of barrier impairment. Incorrect skincare prescriptions, overly-frequent exfoliation or use of chemical peeling agents, or too many consecutive clinical treatments without adequate healing time, are all common causes of skin barrier disruption. Here’s what you need to know about impaired barrier function, and how to avoid it.
What exactly is the skin’s barrier?
Essentially, the skin’s barrier is an umbrella term for several physiological elements of the epidermis. These elements come together to keep water and harmful microbes out, protect the skin from external damage, and to keep the skin naturally moisturised. They include our natural lipid complex, which is dispersed throughout the extracellular spaces of the skin’s outer layers; as well as our skin’s microbiome and the general health and functioning of our cell walls.
When one or multiple of these elements become disrupted, barrier function is then compromised. This can lead to bacterial or fungal skin infections, inflammatory conditions like rosacea or dermatitis, and accelerated ageing through over-production of free radicals. The skin may also demonstrate signs of discomfort like redness, itchiness, stinging, or reactivity to certain skincare products.
How to avoid barrier disruption:
Preventing barrier impairment, and treating it as soon as possible when it occurs, is one of the most important steps towards healthier, more youthful skin. With an impaired barrier comes inflammation, and with inflammation comes premature ageing – due to an influx of protein-degrading free radicals. Here are some key steps for preventing and treating barrier impairment:
- Cease use of all active ingredients, including vitamin A derivatives and exfoliating agents
- Use anti-inflammatory agents such as aloe vera, chamomile, and zinc to calm the skin
- Niacinamide (vitamin B3) has been shown to reduce inflammatory mediators and improve skin resilience, leading to better barrier function
- Be as gentle as possible – avoid excessive heat and over-washing
- Use occlusive agents to create a barrier for bacteria and lock in moisture
- Combat free radicals and oxidative stress with products loaded with antioxidants
- Consult a skin specialist to ensure you are following a suitable home care and in-clinic regimen that won’t cause harm or disruption to your skin
- Follow the instructions on your products and do not exceed recommended usage
- Pay attention to what your skin is trying to tell you – look out for warning signs like redness or tingling/stinging, and cease use of products or activities that induce these sensations (unless directed otherwise by your treating professional)
Often the best way to achieve healthy glowing skin is to prevent damage before it occurs, rather than heavy-handed product regimes that lead to barrier disruption. Treat your skin (and your barrier) kindly, and we promise that your skin will treat you kindly right back!