Your skin is the largest organ in the body, comprising almost 15 percent of your entire body weight. It’s responsible for keeping your insides safe from harsh environmental elements, aggressors, bacteria, and more. While skin is a complex system made up of proteins and cells, one of its most vital parts is the skin barrier. Here’s everything you need to know about your skin’s first line of defense.
What is a skin barrier?
Before we get into what your skin barrier does, we first need to understand its structure. So stay with us as we get a little science-y.
Skin has several layers and sublayers, which each perform their own functions. Its three main layers are the epidermis (topmost), dermis (middle), and hypodermis (bottom). Now, when people say ‘skin barrier,’ they’re referring to the outermost part of the epidermis, or the stratum corneum. Scientists often compare the stratum corneum to a brick wall, with skin cells being the bricks and the barrier (including its essential nutrients) being the mortar that keeps it together.
What does the skin barrier do?
This metaphorical brick wall is what helps keep the deeper layers of your skin protected, nourished, and hydrated. Think of your own home and its walls. If your structure is strong and stable, you’re safe from harsh weather, intruders, and any other harmful elements you want to keep out. But if your walls are weak, then you become more prone to unwanted invaders. The same goes for your skin barrier!
An unhealthy skin barrier isn’t much of a barrier at all. Not only will it be unable to keep pollution and UV damage from harming your body, but it won't be able to retain water your skin and body needs to stay hydrated and transport nutrients.
What causes skin barrier damage?
Several factors can affect skin barrier health, including:
Using the wrong skincare products
10-step skincare routines are fun, but they’re not for everyone. If you’re on the sensitive side, using too many formulas that are harsh or drying can wreak havoc and strip your skin of nutrients. Additionally, combining products with clashing ingredients (like retinol and exfoliating AHAs) can result in irritation and — yep, you guessed it — cause damage to your barrier.
It can be tricky to avoid, but pollution, harsh weather, UV rays (the most common culprit of skin damage!), and other environmental aggressors can definitely weaken your skin barrier.
What does a healthy skin barrier look like?
Skin barrier damage manifests itself in various ways. Perhaps your skin feels dry, tight, and flaky. Or, there’s excessive stinging and redness when you apply products. But a happy skin barrier means happy skin. Since it’s doing its job of retaining moisture, your skin is more hydrated, supple, smooth, and elastic. It’s also less prone to wrinkles and premature skin aging.
Skin barrier protection 101
Fortunately, skin barrier protection doesn’t have to be hard. When in doubt, less is more. Listen to your skin, and don’t go overboard with products unless you’ve thoroughly researched each ingredient. Which ones can clash and cause irritation? Which ones may dry out your skin?
If you regularly exfoliate (as you should!), be sure to incorporate soothing and hydrating products that maintain balance in your routine.
Of course, not to forget the golden rule of skincare: wear SPF. Every. Single. Day. Like we said, the sun is the number one environmental aggressor, and it can invalidate your entire regimen in one sunny afternoon. Sunscreen acts as a protective layer that helps all your other products stay effective, as it shields you from UV rays and more. Bonus: go for skincare-forward formulas like Rose From Above SPF35 Mineral Sunscreen Base, which is packed with nourishing upcycled rose oil and plant extracts that defend and protect your skin barrier.
Now that you know what your skin barrier is and what it does, we hope you’ll remember to treat it with care and attention. Skin is resilient, and it’s pretty good at healing itself. But using the right products (including SPF!) will keep it happy and healthy.