Many people hear the words ‘barrier function’ in regard to skincare but few know what it really means
Fortunately, we’re going to explain it to you as well as why it’s important that you keep it in check.
Two simple tasks
To put it simply, your skin’s barrier function involves the uppermost layers of your skin and its ability to do two things – keep moisture in while keeping irritants like bacteria and pollution out. The easiest way to wrap your head around it is to imagine a brick wall. The ‘bricks’ are your skin cells and the ‘cement’ between them is an intracellular matrix made up of mostly lipids.
When your barrier function is damaged, the bricks start lifting up and you begin to lose the lipids that provide your skin with natural moisture. While you can try to rehydrate by applying a moisturiser, if you’re not using something specially formulated for barrier repair, it’ll simply escape. Worse yet, if the moisturiser you’re using contains potentially irritating ingredients, things like alcohol or fragrance, you’ll probably end up reacting to it because a broken barrier results in tetchy, sensitized skin.
Worse yet, as the baddies like pollutants and bacteria begin to flood in, you can expect itching, redness, and flaking as well as the development of inflammatory conditions like eczema.
A real repair
You can damage your skin’s barrier function in a number of ways. Too much sun, smoking, exposure to polluted air and stress can all be contributing factors but often, the real culprit, albeit unwittingly, is you. Many people over exfoliate or use products that contain actives that either too harsh for their skin or simply over apply something that would’ve been fine if it was only used three times a week. Retinol, for example, is a fantastic ingredient when used correctly. But if you use too high a percentage too often, then you’ll be in for trouble.
Still, it’s definitely possible to repair a barrier function gone bad but it requires a two-pronged approach.
Immediately stop using anything that could be potentially irritating. This means no scrubs and nothing containing any ‘exfoliating’ ingredients, things like alpha hydroxy acids or enzymes. You’ll also want to put the brakes on anything, be it a face wash or an eye cream, containing anything that could be a potential irritant, so retinol, vitamin C, alcohol, astringent and fragranced products are all off the table.
Once you’ve removed all the things you can’t use – at least for a while – from your skincare routine, it’s time to add something you can. In this case, it’s reparative products that are specially formulated to give barrier-impaired skin the very particular type of moisture it needs.
These products are typically formulated with a high concentration of ingredients that mimic your skin’s intracellular matrix, the ‘cement’ between your ‘bricks’. One of our favourites is SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid Restore 2:4:2, formulated with a 2% ceramides, 4% cholesterol and 2% fatty acids.
You’ll also find fantastic relief in Lamelle’s Serra range. Again, it’s formulated with intracellular matrix-mimicking ingredients.
The road to recovery
After a two week to month-long break from the harsh stuff and a good dose of the right type of hydration, you’ll find your skin has repaired itself and you might be able to reintroduce what you were using before, but very slowly. Your goal is to be more aware of what your skin can and can’t tolerate as well as how often you can use it.
You could also make an appointment to see a doctor or therapist at Skin Renewal. They’ll be able to analyse your skin, take a look at the skincare you’ve been using and help you set up a reparative regime that’ll help bring your skin back to good health.
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