Is your skin dry and flaky? You might have a damaged barrier!

Have you ever used a product that your skin normally loves, and all of a sudden it burns and irritates your skin? This, along with dryness, flakiness, and red itchy skin, is a sign of a compromised skin barrier.

Your skin is the largest organ in your body and it protects all of your inner organs from the assaults of the outside world - like pollution, toxins, pathogens, etc.

To do its job effectively, your skin needs to have a properly functioning barrier, also called the acid mantle, and in today’s blog we’re going to talk about the layers of the skin, what causes a compromised skin barrier, and how to fix it while preventing damage from happening in the future.

Your skin is composed of 3 main layers: the epidermis, the dermis, and the subcutaneous layer.

The epidermis is the uppermost crust of the skin, and this is what serves as the barrier to the inside of your body. Within the epidermis you have another set of layers, the top of which is called the stratum corneum. This layer looks like bricks and mortar that you would use to build a wall. The ‘bricks’ are skin cells and the ‘mortar’ is ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids, holding the bricks together.

This part of the skin is what keeps pollutants and stressors out, but also what keeps all the good stuff in your skin. Transepidermal water loss (TEWL) is the main aggravator that causes. dryness, flakiness, irritation, and overall uncomfortable skin, when your barrier is damaged.

Along with general discomfort, there are a number of skin diseases that are associated with a broken down barrier such as eczema, so it’s very important to keep your skin barrier healthy and functioning optimally.

So what causes a breakdown in the skin barrier?

There are extrinsic and intrinsic factors we need to look at to get a full picture of the causes.

Extrinsic factors, things that affect our skin barrier from the outside, are factors such as lack of humidity in your environment, pollutants in the air, hot water temperature when showering/washing your face, and over exfoliation. All of these things can weaken your barrier and lead to TEWL thus creating uncomfortable skin conditions.

Intrinsic factors, things that affect our skin barrier from inside our body, are things such as lack of sleep, stress, and nutritional deficiencies. Lack of sleep and stress can increase our cortisol levels, and not getting adequate nutrition and hydration from our diet can all lead to a breakdown in the integrity of our skin barrier function.

So how do we fix and prevent a damaged barrier? Glad you asked!

To fix a damaged barrier the best thing to start with is removing actives and exfoliants from your routine, use only very gentle and hydrating products until your skin feels better. Make sure to get adequate sleep, reduce stress, and eat a nourishing diet devoid of any foods that you are intolerant to. My skincare line has been formulated to be nourishing and reparative for the skin, so check out our NMF Hydrator to support your skin through this process.

To prevent barrier dysfunction going forward, let’s start with the extrinsic factors:

  • Make sure that you are using products that are gentle and not too alkaline. Your skin sits at a pH of about 5.5, which is slightly acidic, and when you use cleansers that are too alkaline you will throw off that delicate pH balance and lead to a compromised barrier.
  • Use active products (acids, retinols, exfoliants) that are effective but not too aggressive for your skin. Everyone’s skin is different so you will need to do
    some testing to figure out what works best for you.
  • Avoid topical steroids on your face. These are generally prescribed for dermatitis and eczema, but avoid using them on the face as much as possible.

Intrinsic factors:

  • Make sure you are getting adequate sleep
  • Eat a diet rich in plant foods, healthy fats, and lots of water!

A compromised barrier is something that happens to most of us at some time in our lives, and lucky for us our skin is always seeking equilibrium, so if you have red and irritated skin now, just follow the suggestions outlined above to help your skin move back into equilibrium and you’ll have healthy skin again in no time!

Check out my latest YouTube video on this topic to learn more about the science behind the barrier and how to best support it.

Search our shop