With the weather taking a quick arctic turn, now is the time to protect your skin more than ever. But what do we actually need to protect when it comes to our skin? The Barrier Function; it’s the skin’s Barrier Function that actually fights against all the nasty elements that come its way, and therefore it is this which must be kept in tact and protected for a healthy, plump and radiant complexion.
Emma Hobson, Education Manager for the International Dermal Institute and Dermalogica, tells us why an impaired Barrier Function may be the problem of your winter skin woes.
“You might not be able to see it from the moon nor with the naked eye, but one of the greatest walls ever built is that of the Barrier Function of the skin”, says Hobson.
“This amazing feat of skin engineering means we have a strong, resilient ‘wall’ protecting our body from harsh environmental elements, helping to retain moisture and keeping and allergens out.”
Just like a physical wall, the barrier function is deigned almost identically:
- The bricks: the dead, dry skin cells which are soon to be shed
- The mortar: composed of lipids (ceramides, essential fatty acids and cholesterol)
- But what happens when that ‘brick wall’ is under attack? Dull, lacklustre and unhappy skin.
“Sometimes the structure of this ‘brick wall’ is compromised and gaps can appear due to the lack of epidermal barrier lipids. As a result, our skin is susceptible to dehydration due to moisture escaping (Trans Epidermal Moisture Loss), and increased skin sensitivity as microbes and allergens now have a path of entry into the skin,” says Hobson.
“It can feel taught and flaky with fine lines are around the eyes, over the forehead and cheeks. When pinched between the fingers, it will resemble a piece of parchment paper.”
So what exactly causes this breakdown of our skin’s protective barrier?
- The environment e.g. cold, windy weather, air- con, heating, the sun, plane travel
- Poor skin care e.g. using harsh, stripping products like SD alcohol or soap, excessive exfoliation, water that is too hot, or not wearing a moisturiser
- Diet e.g. excess alcohol, caffeine and salt consumption, not eating sufficient Essential Fatty Acids, insufficient water intake
- Stress itself can disturb the barrier function by slowing down synthesis of epidermal lipids
- Excessive sweating
- Certain medications (such as nasal decongestants), general anaesthetic, cancer therapies
Four Tips To Re-establish A Good Barrier Function
- Exfoliation. This step is important to prevent the skin from feeling dry, rough and flaky and it will help eradicate any dry patches. The key is not to use an aggressive exfoliant that causes any skin sensitivity or irritation. I’d recommend exfoliating boosters that are easily applied under the moisturiser and work gently throughout the day. There are also slightly stronger forms of exfoliations such as Hydroxy Acid which can generally be used once or twice a week.
- To boost the moisture and regain the plumpness in the skin, apply layers of a hydrating serum, toner, moisturiser and primer (the skin responds well to layering). The moisturiser doesn’t need to be heavy or contain a lot of oil (as the skin is lacking moisture, not oil). I’d recommend a medium weight moisturiser with SPF30+. If the skin is tight and flaky, use an anhydrous (water free) moisturiser made with skin protecting silicones. This will seal in moisture and prevents the skin from drying out, whilst also helping to repair the Barrier Function. At night, look at applying an oil based serum or night oil to the areas of dry skin.
- For an added boost, apply a hydrating gel mask once a week, ensuring it’s applied close the corners of the nose, mouth and eyes to target these vulnerable areas.
- Though drinking water is important, it doesn’t correlate directly to having hydrated skin. It’s better to encompass products that hydrate the skin and protect your barrier function by preventing moisture loss.