Understanding the Skin Barrier

I am, unfortunately, ‘blessed’ with somewhat sensitive skin, prone to irritation and inflammation. Why is this the case (I have asked myself often enough)? Well, what can I say, genetics is a real thing! But at the same time, am I looking after my skin as well as I should? Let’s face it, do we really actually understand the nature of the skin, an absorbent sponge to so many harmful external factors and so easily affected by our bad habits?

I have realised it’s super important to respect the delicacy of the fragile skin barrier, which works tirelessly to defend the skin from harmful free radicals, pollution and harsh chemicals. So, let’s get scientific and get to know our skin barrier a bit more.

Skin Deep – the structure of the skin barrier

To really understand the skin barrier, we need to look at the building blocks that form part of its structure. Integral to the stratum corneum and forming the top layer of the epidermis, the skin barrier is like a brick wall, with flattened skin cells (corneocytes) representing bricks and lipids (ceramides), cholesterol and free fatty acids embodying the glue that holds the bricks together.

With a transparent hydro-lipid film (a mixture of fats and water), the skin is kept happy and healthy. The water component maintains a mildly acidic pH level – optimal for those necessary microorganisms. For the love of soft and supple skin, lipids nourish the skin barrier, keeping the skin cells nice and firm, and locking in water molecules, preventing the skin from drying out. And that’s not all. Lipids are hard workers when it comes to safeguarding the skin barrier from bacteria, allergens and environmental factors.

Broken skin barrier – what happens when there is no reinforcement?

A thin, weak and damaged skin barrier, with no glue to hold it together cannot keep moisture in. Without a defence line, bacteria, pollution, allergens and chemicals can enter the skin, causing inflammation. The skin can, in turn, become red, itchy, flaky, swollen, cracked and even painful. Skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and breakouts are commonly caused by a damaged skin barrier. Not an appealing prospect!

So it’s super important to nourish and care for the skin barrier for the perfect, glowing and revitalised skin.

What do we need to keep an eye out for?

Unfortunately, hand-in-hand with ageing comes a decrease in lipids, so the skin is more prone to dryness, flakiness, wrinkles, sagging and fine lines. To all the 20- something-year-olds, this, unfortunately, doesn’t mean we’re saved – the depletion of lipids in our skin doesn’t only start happening when we hit our 40s. Now is the time to take extra good care of our skin barrier, so that we don’t regret it later on.

Sun exposure and pollutants are absolute wreckers of the skin barrier, oxidising lipids and initiating DNA damage in the skin cells. Unfortunately, it’s not always so easy to control these environmental factors. The best we can do is ensure our skin barrier is nice and strong with the ability to withstand these harsh elements that wreak havoc on the skin.

Bad lifestyle habits and personal care are also big fat culprits to the decrease in lipids present in the skin barrier. It just comes down to making a conscious decision to lead a healthier lifestyle (even if it means saying no to that oh-so-tempting cigarette). Harsh face cleansers are a definite no-no, especially those containing sulfates, which strip vital oils from the skin, diminishing the skin barrier in the process.

How can we win this battle?

Developing smart skincare habits is just the weapon we need to protect our skin and ensure the health of our skin barrier. We need to choose the right skincare products that target our skin concerns. For skin dryness and red patches, it all comes down to gentle cleansers and mild exfoliants. And when our skin lacks those essential fatty acids, we need to add nourishing serums and moisturisers to our daily routine. Here are a few skincare practices I found to be helpful:

Cleansing

Let’s begin by choosing a cleanser that protects the skin barrier and cleanses the face from bacteria and daily build-up, without stripping off all its goodness. Cetaphil Gentle Cleansing Lotion (R205 for 400ml, clicks.co.za), suitable for all skin types, is a mild formula that doesn’t dry out or irritate the skin. I gave it a try and thought it was wonderful. My face felt clean, refreshed and silky smooth, without that raw after feeling I often experience when using face wash. Definitely my go-to choice now!

9Lives-Cetaphil Gentle Cleansing Lotion

AHAs and exfoliants

Chemical exfoliants, such as mandelic, lactic or glycolic acid are a great way to renew skin cells. Keep in mind that it’s never a good idea to over-exfoliate as it may lead to skin irritation and inflammation. I looked into different types of exfoliants, which you can read right here.

Targeted serums

Antioxidant like Vitamin C serums are warriors at fending off those nasty free-radicals and work wonders at correcting the damage caused by free-radicals.

Expertly formulated with 20% L-Ascorbic acid, the post potent form of Vitamin C, dr dermal IntenCE Antioxidant Plasma (R875 for 30ml, drdermal.com) is a punchy concoction of antioxidants that can penetrate deep into your skin, where it can pair with free-radicals and environmental aggressors, putting a halt to their destruction. This reboots the skin’s defense line, breathing new life into dull, damaged skin – now this was just what my skin needed.

Dispensing just a couple of drops into the palms of my hands, I gently massaged this liquid gold-like serum onto cleansed. Although a tad oily in nature, it absorbed remarkably well into my skin and didn’t leave too much of a shine. I then proceeded to moisturise.

9Lives-dr dermal IntenCE Antioxidant Plasma

Moisturiser

To ensure our skin barrier’s wellbeing, it’s important that we choose a moisturiser that targets damaged skin, rejuvenating it and improving its condition. Optiphi Classic Restore Therapy (R900 for 50ml, optiphi.com) gets the job done! This restoring moisturiser offers a wealth of benefits such as optimal hydration, restoring the skin density and supporting the skin structure. It rebuilds dermal thickness and ensures visible rejuvenation – so the skin is left feeling firm and supple, improving the appearance of fine lines and damage.

What can I say, this Optiphi Restore Therapy certainly lived up to its impressive resumé – I fell in love with it immediately. With a soft and sensational consistency, this restoring moisturiser dissolved seamlessly into my skin, leaving it looking radiant.

9Lives-Optiphi-Classic-Restore-Therapy

Barrier Creams

So an optimal combination of fatty acids, namely omega 3, 6 and 9 determines how our natural oils behave in the skin, which translates into whether our skin barrier does its job – to form a sound structure that functions as a protective layer.

With a perfect balance of omega 3, 6, 9 and hyaluronic acid, SVR Topialyse Barriere Cream (R210 for 50ml, Clicks.co.za) was my go-to everyday option for repairing my skin barrier and soothing my sensitive skin. I loved how my skin soaked up the smooth, light texture of the cream, leaving it feeling soft and supple to the touch. And my oh my did I have an illuminating healthy glow afterwards (It’s amazing what the right beauty products can do to boost your confidence).

9Lives-SVR-Topialyse-Bariere

For those looking to relieve super dry and highly sensitive skin (especially after our winter season), try the SBR Lipocream (R164 for 100g, wellnesswarehouse.comwhich has amazing healing powers. Rich in lipids, this barrier cream is just what you need to restore and maintain the optimal functioning of the skin barrier.

This cream has a thick consistency – jam packed with lipids that can soothe dehydrated skin. I gently massaged the soft cream into my face, allowing my skin to slowly absorb its goodness. Afterwards, my skin felt dewy, plump and altogether well-nourished.

9Lives-SBR-Lipocream

What works for your skin concerns? I’d like to know. Feel free to share our experience in the comment section below (because sharing is caring).

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