Strengthening the skin barrier – here’s how it works
Many care products for the face, and those for the body, mention the skin barrier or skin protection barrier in their descriptions. They talk about strengthening and protecting this skin barrier by using cosmetics. But what actually is the skin barrier and why is it so important to protect or strengthen it? Discover here what it’s all about and how you can get healthy, glowing skin through your individual routines and the best skincare.
05 January 2023 • 5 min. reading time
Table of contents
What is the skin barrier?
The skin protection barrier – often also simply called the skin barrier – is formed from the external cell layers of your skin. This is given the scientific name stratum corneum. Our skin consists of several layers, with the outermost layer formed from dead horn cells. The skin’s own fats (lipids) hold these horn cells together like a binder. These lipids also prevent foreign substances from penetrating the skin from the outside and stop the body from losing too much water. Complex mechanisms regulate the body temperature, hydration and immune defence systems.
When the skin barrier is intact, the skin feels smooth and soft. The outer surface of the skin in a healthy condition often has a fine glow. External influences like heat, cold or contact with various substances can’t have much effect on the skin if it has an intact skin barrier. However, the skin’s natural lipids can be washed away through frequent washing with soap, taking long baths or showers with hot water as well as contact with substances such as disinfectants. Your skin then feels dry, tight and can be more sensitive. It regenerates partially by itself. This process can be promoted internally and externally.
What is the skin’s acid mantle and how does it work?
Along with the skin barrier, which is situated in the outermost cell layers, your skin forms a protective hydro-lipid film on its outer surface. This layer is the natural protective acid mantle and consists of sweat, fats, amino acids and keratinised flakes of skin. Depending on the area of the body, the protective acid mantle has a slightly acidic pH value between 4.7 and approx. 5.5. As numerous viruses, bacteria and yeast fungi need a nutrient medium with a neutral or alkaline pH value, they cannot grow in this environment. A slightly acidic environment like that offered by the natural protective acid mantle of the skin promotes a healthy microbiome. Microorganisms that protect your skin from pathogens and harmful substances grow in this microbiome. With an intact skin barrier, the protective acid mantle of the skin is also frequently in a healthy and functional state.
What happens if the skin barrier becomes weak?
A weakened skin barrier can lead to the following, amongst other things:
- dry skin
- redness, feelings of tightness and itching
- a tendency towards inflammation
- worsening of symptoms of impure skin, blemishes and acne
- an increase in the occurrence of contact dermatitis or neurodermatitis
If the skin barrier becomes weak, germs and bacteria can penetrate the skin more easily and cause inflammation. Then the skin also loses more moisture through the outer surface than when the acid mantle is in an intact state. It loses elasticity and tone, and becomes more sensitive. Because of this, symptoms of a weakened skin protection barrier can include not only dry skin, irritation and itching but also fine lines and wrinkles. What’s more, the outer surface of very dry skin often feels raw and flaky. Sometimes, very dry skin forms fine cracks, which – under certain circumstances – can even bleed.
How can you protect the skin barrier?
To strengthen or protect your skin barrier, regular skincare to suit your skin type is important. The skin barrier can be weakened every time you wash but also through environmental influences. You can protect it from becoming dry by applying a cream that contains ceramide or vegetable oils, for example. In addition, avoid contact with the following substances:
- cleaning agents or disinfectants containing alcohol
- chemicals that attack the protective lipid mantle of your skin
- hot water with aggressive cleaning agents (classic soap, washing-up liquid, sanitary cleaners)
Of course, most of these agents are not used on the face anyway. But the skin protection barrier of the skin on your hands also deserves protection. Choose hand soaps that do not dry the skin and care for your hands with a good hand cream that strengthens the natural skin barrier.
There are suitable creams, serums and facial oils to strengthen the skin barrier on the face. It’s not only creams with ceramide or vegetable oils that help. A serum that aids the natural regeneration of your skin as well as a balanced skin microbiome also contributes to healing your skin barrier.
What harms your skin's protective barrier?
Alongside contact with degreasing chemicals or hot water, unsuitable cosmetics can weaken your skin barrier. Ingredients and skincare products that you should avoid include:
- emulsifiers (emulsifiers can dissolve important lipids in the skin, which are then washed away the next time you wash)
- mineral oilss seal the outer surface of the skin, thereby preventing excessive moisture loss, but unfortunately your skin forgets, over time, to produce its own lipids in sufficient quantity
- both aggressive mechanical and chemical peels can be very challenging for the outer surface of the skin and can weaken your natural skin barrier
- a formula with too much alcohol can dissolve the skin’s natural fats, thus having a severe drying effect on the skin, which can damage the skin protection barrier
Note: A cream that contains mineral oils is not necessarily harmful. By offering excellent protection from moisture loss and external influences, it can be helpful with very dry skin or for situations where the skin is in contact with chemicals.
What practices promote an intact skin barrier?
You can promote an intact skin barrier with appropriate skincare, which supplies moisture, protects the acid mantle and stimulates the production of the body’s own lipids. Your skin also receives nutrients from the inside. You can strengthen your skin barrier internally by integrating the following practices into your life:
- eat healthy food with the optimal amount of micronutrients and vitamins
- drink plenty of fluids (approx. 2 L per day of sugar-free drinks like water or tea)
- take regular exercise in the open air – your body needs oxygen for all of its regeneration processes (take care to use a sunscreen for your skin)
- avoid substances like tobacco and alcohol
- when bathing or showering, set the temperature of the water to lukewarm
- instead of normal soap, use a pH neutral syndet or a cleansing lotion that is kind to the skin.
You can strengthen your skin barrier from the outside by selecting skincare products with components that are as natural as possible, such as vegetable oils, ceramides and antioxidants. Many of these ingredients will also help restore your natural skin barrier.
Which products strengthen the skin barrier?
Advanced Génifique Serum
The Advanced Génifique Serum from Lancôme is enriched with prebiotic and probiotic extracts and strengthens the skin’s microbiome. It also reduces the signs of skin-ageing. With regular use, your complexion becomes more even with improved tone, texture and clarity.
Advanced Génifique Serum
The regenerating Anti-Aging Serum Life Plankton™ Elixir can repair your skin barrier with regular use. It contains a formula with highly concentrated Life Plankton, Vitamin C and hyaluronic acid, which promote the skin’s own natural resistance.
Cera Repair Barrier Cream
The Cera Repair Barrier Cream from Biotherm protects your skin from environmental influences and premature ageing. The cream strengthens your skin’s essential protective barrier with the innovative Life Plankton™ complex and skin-related bio-ceramides. This prevents moisture loss and wrinkles.
Ultra Facial Cream
A carefully coordinated combination that moisturises your face and eye area is provided by Kiehl’s moisturising skincare Ultra Facial Cream 50 ml in a set with the eyecare Creamy Eye Treatment with Avocado 14 ml from Kiehl’s. Valuable ingredients like squalene, apricot kernel oil and avocado oil can strengthen your natural skin barrier.
Kiehl's Moisturiser Cream 50 ml + Eye care Creamy Eye Treatment with Avocado 14 ml
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