skin barrier functionOkay before we go on to learn more about external skin care and DIY stuff, let’s start with basics and learn about what they call the “skin barrier function”.

When people talk about this concept of the ‘skin barrier function’, they are referring to the most outer layer of skin, technically called the stratum corneum (or sometimes referred to as “the horny layer”… lol)

The job of the ol’ stratum corneum is to be the barrier that protects the rest of your skin and body from the external environment.

So when we talk about the ‘skin barrier function’, we’re talking about how strong this barrier is and how well it does its job of protection. It is designed to be impermeable, meaning it keeps water in, and bacteria and microorganisms out.

People love to use this analogy about a brick and mortar wall, so why be different! Here it is:

Skin Barrier Function

So if you look at the stratum corneum from the side, if you were, say, a scientist or just a casual microscope fondler, it would kind of look like a brick wall.

  • The bricks are dead skin cells made from a protein called keratin. In healthy skin, skin cells die and then get pushed up and out of the skin and then are naturally exfoliated off. When they are at the top layer, they help create this barrier.
  • The mortar between the dead skin cells is the “intercellular matrix” which is made of lipids aka fatty acids aka your skin’s oil

The lipid layer – aka your skin’s oil – is the glue that holds it all together. It’s what creates skin that is hydrated, firm, and soft. It holds the water in, and keeps irritating chemicals and bacteria (including acne bacteria) out.

Think about it like the brick wall. When the mortar starts breaking down, then that’s when you get holes and cracks in which water can evaporate from, and bacteria can enter.

Once the skin has lost water to evaporation and is all dehydrated (your skin can be dehydrated even if it’s overly oily), the skin will tighten on the pores and prevent those dead skin cells (or other stuff stuck in the pore) from being pushed up and out, and will lead to a clog.

Bacteria or other irritants can then enter through the broken mortar and start feasting on the yummy stuff in that clog (I’m giving you nightmares, I know).

Then your body reacts by sending inflammation to the area and voila – you have yourself an acne.

So if you’ve got skin issues – whether it’s acne, or it’s red, sensitive, rapidly aging, or dry flakey skin… chances are you’re having some trouble with a damaged lipid layer.

What Causes a Damaged or Depleted Lipid Layer & What to Do About It

  • Internal issues – stress, poor diet, lack of sleep etc. This will cause damage to your skin’s natural oil, weakening the healthy function. So work on that healthy lifestyle! And also eat lots of healthy fats, which then build up the fatty layer with good quality lipids.
  • Over-washing – washing your face too much will strip away the oil (which often leads to your skin overproducing it). Never wash more than twice a day! Preferably only once (or even skip it and just moisturize)
  • Harsh products – harsh chemical products will also damage, weaken, and strip the lipid layer, which then leads to the chemicals entering skin and body and causing irritation. Only use natural, gentle, non-stripping skin care products.
  • Hot water or steaming – hot water is quite drying and damaging. Turn the water temp down and quit the steaming!
  • Over-exfoliation – exfoliating too much can thin and weaken the barrier since it is scraping away all the dead skin cells that make up the stratum corneum. Exfoliate only every 3 or 4 days, and only with enzymes like papaya (not mechanical exfoliation like scrubbing).
  • Sun damage or pollution – can damage the lipid layer, and make your skin’s oil more comedogenic. Wear sunscreen if you’re going to be in the sun longer than 20 minutes and you can also use anti-oxidants in your skin care to counteract this.

We’ll talk more about all this in future blog posts, so stay tuned 🙂