What to Know About Your Skin Barrier and How to Protect It

Keeping your all-important, superficial layer of skin happy and healthy is the key to maintaining comfortable skin. 

When your skin barrier is damaged, redness, dryness and everything in between can be introduced.

Plus, it’s all way too easy to harm your delicate skin barrier -- so much that you might not even realize you’re self-sabotaging your own skin with daily habits or not-so-great skincare products. Yikes.

But don’t worry—Topicals has your back, and we’ll tell you everything you need to know about your skin barrier and how you can keep it glowing.


What Exactly is your Skin Barrier?

Keeping your body healthy is important—and that includes your skin. When your skin barrier is strong and in good shape, it protects your skin from daily external stressors and locks in moisture. When it’s damaged though, allergens and irritants seep in and water evaporates, leaving your skin dry, dull, and dehydrated. 

The skin barrier is called the epidermis, which is the outermost layer of cells on your skin. It sits above the dermis, which houses your blood vessels, nerves, sweat glands, and importantly, elastin and collagen — the two structural proteins that give your skin bounce and firmness. Beneath that is the subcutaneous layer, which is mainly made up of fat to help give your skin a lil’ bit of cushion. 

Being the layer that is in contact with the outside world (hence the term "barrierin skin barrier), it oversees some key functions. 

The epidermis protects your skin from any sort of foreign substance, whether it be chemicals or bacteria. The epidermis also works hard to prevent water loss, keeping the skin hydrated. 

To help pull this off, the skin barrier has a pretty unique structure. The epidermis is composed of cells (mostly dead skin cells towards the top) and a matrix of lipids surrounding these cells. The powerful lipid composition of the epidermis functions to reduce transepidermal water loss. 

The best way to visualize this is by thinking of your skin barrier as an actual wall made of bricks and mortar. 

The skin barrier is provided by structures called lamellar sheets. These sheets are present between your cells of the top-most layer of your skin, the stratum corneum. These crucial structures are like the mortar between the bricks in the wall. Lamellar sheets, which are composed of fatty acids, ceramides, and cholesterol, hold your skin cells in place while keeping your stratum corneum intact. 

And when your skin barrier is intact, this construction works beautifully to keep hydration in and bacteria, allergens and pollutants out. That’s the epitome of healthy skin if you ask us.


Symptoms of a Damaged Skin Barrier

When your skin barrier has been compromised, it can manifest in a number of ways. In some cases, your existing skin conditions, or concerns such as sensitivity or breakouts, can intensify or flare-up. 

These tend to be the most common telltale signs that your skin barrier is damaged:

  • Dry or dull skin

  • Skin redness

  • Sensitive skin

  • Acne

  • Itchiness

  • Rough or discolored patches

  • Viral, bacterial, or fungal skin infections

If you happen to notice any of these signs that your skin barrier might be damaged, there are some things you can do to help make it healthy again. 


Causes of a Damaged Skin Barrier

When your skin barrier is damaged, that powerful lipid matrix (your mortar) isn’t as sturdy as it should be, which can lead to gaps and cracks. When that happens, it does a really poor job keeping those germs, allergens, and pollutants out of the skin, as well as preventing water loss from the skin. 

Not only will your skin become dehydrated, but those unwelcome invaders could cause inflammation, too. Ugh. 

The most prevalent causes of a damaged skin barrier include:

  • Genetics

  • Age

  • Aggressive skin care habits, such as over-cleansing and over-washing. 

  • Environmental aggressors, like exposure to pollution and the sun’s UV rays

If your skin barrier is damaged, it could be due to a number of different things. 

First, there’s your genetics -- these include certain skin conditions like eczema, which is a common inflammatory skin condition accompanied by a weak skin barrier, keeping it from functioning at its best, which in turn leaves the skin dehydrated and vulnerable to infection. 

Your age is another contributor since your ability to naturally produce oil wanes over time. This makes it much more challenging to replenish the lipids that are so crucial to the integrity of the skin barrier. 

Up next are the external factors or what we like to call self-sabotage. It’s okay to admit it, we all do it sometimes.

A common offender is over-cleansing your skin. By cleansing too frequently or cleansing with ingredients that are a bit too harsh or aggressive, you can strip your skin of its natural oils. That could damage the powerful lipid matrix in your skin barrier. 

In addition to over-cleansing, the most intense counterpart is over-exfoliating. Chemical exfoliants, like chemical peels, for example, are excellent at removing dirt, grime, and dead skin cells from the surface of your skin. 

However, over-exfoliating could potentially damage the live, healthy cells in your skin barrier if the concentration is too high. Meanwhile, mechanical exfoliants, such as popular scrubs or other abrasives, can create microtears in the skin, which, not surprisingly, can also harm your delicate skin barrier. 

Finally, there’s the environmental factor. 

Dry, cold air in the winter or created by indoor air control can sap moisture from your skin barrier in a matter of minutes. 

Additionally, anything that spurs the release of free radicals, such as pollution and sunlight, can also greatly impact the integrity of your skin barrier. Free radicals are unstable molecules that’ll wreak havoc on your skin, damaging collagen, cells, lipids, and even DNA in the process, ultimately accelerating the aging process.


How to Treat a Damaged Skin Barrier

The very first thing you need to do in order to repair your damaged skin barrier is to scope out your skincare habits and assess whether your skin needs a break or not. 

Your skin type will come into play here: if you have naturally oily skin, cleansing in the morning and again at night should be okay. If you have dry skin, you may be better off sticking to cleansing only in the evening and rinsing your face with cool water in the AM. 

Also, pick your skincare products wisely. 

If you do happen to have dry skin, reach for a whipped mask that’s packed with powerful botanicals for skin so smooth, it’s like butter. 

We of course love our hydrating mask because it helps to naturally strengthen the skin’s moisture barrier while soothing irritation and inflammation.

For exfoliating, our brightening and clearing gel contains gentle exfoliating acids to help fade some of your most stubborn marks, scars, and spots so you can kick back and let your worries fade away. 

A good moisturizer is also important, and this goes for every skin type -- even those who are oily or prone to acne. A good-quality moisturizer should become a part of your daily skincare ritual, and if your skin barrier is extremely damaged, you can never use too much moisturizer. Why? Simple, because your skin barrier can never max out on moisture.

Lastly, the best offense is always by having a good defense. Rather than trying to repair your damaged skin barrier, it’s much easier to prevent it from getting damaged in the first place. Take care of your body’s largest organ, and always wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen


Bottom Line

The outermost layer of your skin -- known as your skin barrier -- protects your body from a constant onslaught of environmental threats while simultaneously protecting your body’s critical water balance.  

Take care of your skin and keep your skin barrier strong with powerful medicated botanicals made for you. 

Topicals is backed by science, aiming to change the way the world views skin. Because at the end of the day, nobody’s perfect, and life (and skin) is fluid and messy af. With real information and dermatologist-approved skincare products, Topicals is your secret weapon to reaching ultimate skincare health!