By Guest Author: Hilary Hunt
In case you’ve forgotten, your skin is your biggest organ. It is the proverbial suit you walk around in every day and for the rest of your life. It’s kind of a big deal.
When referring to the collective function and health of your epidermis, we are referring to the “skin barrier.” Essentially, the skin barrier is the stratum corneum (outermost layer of skin) and a lipid matrix that acts as the glue holding dead skin cells together. A healthy skin barrier helps you retain moisture and protects you from external irritants that cause infection, inflammation, and skin damage. However, some skincare practices can compromise the function of our skin barrier. To be fair, even just existing as an organism susceptible to the elements here on earth can be rough on the skin, so why not show it a little more love?
When your skin barrier is compromised, it’ll let you know with a whole host of symptoms: excessive oil, breakouts, inflammation, itchy and flaking skin, dryness, and premature aging. The good news is you can support your skin barrier and care for it better by following a few simple tips.
- Moisturize with skin barrier superstars.
Advice on what constitutes a good moisturizer varies as widely as our diverse skin types and skin needs. So, let’s break it down to the basics of what you should look for in a skin barrier supporting moisturizer.
- Ceramides keep the skin plump and hydrated, but unfortunately, they diminish as we age. To give your skin barrier what it can no longer give to itself, look for ceramides in your moisturizers. (See #4 for more on how to up your ceramide levels.)
- Antioxidants further support your skin barrier’s protective function, helping it to keep those icky free radicals at bay. Look for ingredients like niacinamide, grape seed extract, and vitamins C and E in your moisturizing products.
- Hyaluronic acid is a fantastic little humectant that draws in water to keep your skin’s moisture levels optimized. (Another good humectant you’ll see on the labels of most moisturizers is glycerin.)
- Emollients smooth your skin and prevent moisture loss. But what exactly is an emollient? Take your pick from a veritable buffet of different varieties, like squalene, shea butter, cocoa butter, plant oils, mineral oil, and lanolin, to name a few.
- Your skin has a sensitive soul. Proceed gently.
Your skin is a diva whose feelings you have hurt, and she’s not coming out of her trailer until you show her the respect she deserves.
In other words, we should all see our skin as the sensitive type and proceed accordingly if we want it to perform to its full potential. In our efforts to combat acne and aging, we all too often end up hurting our skin barrier’s ability to regulate itself rather than giving it the support it needs to function well.
Common culprits among many skincare routines are:
- Overexfoliation and exfoliating with nut or fruit shells.
- Harsh and irritating skincare products with aggressive active ingredients.
- Overwashing the skin with oil-stripping sulfates.
For exfoliation, try using baking soda a couple times a week. Just pour a little in your palm, add a smidgeon of water to turn it into a paste, then massage it onto your face in circular motions. Rinse with warm water. It’s much more effective and gentler than most exfoliators on the market. (My aesthetician friend recommends it to her clients.) But my favorite thing about using baking soda? It is blessedly inexpensive.
For face wash, avoid foaming cleansers and products with sulfates. Banish astringents with alcohol or witch hazel. Anything that leaves your skin feeling tight and parched after use is bad news for the health of your skin barrier.
If you’re using a cream with retinol, or a prescription retinol, it’s vital you protect your skin from the sun and avoid other products or treatments that are skin aggressors. Try to only apply it at night, and consult your dermatologist or aesthetician if you’re struggling to find the right balance.
- The sun is a deadly laser. Protect your skin.
We’ve all heard this one before, but allow me to really drive the point home. Even moderate amounts of sun in a cloudy sky are damaging to your skin. And when I say damaging, I mean enlarged pores, accelerated aging, a weakened skin barrier, and an increased risk of skin cancer.
There’s no quibbling on this point. The sun is the archenemy of your skin barrier’s health, so if you still want to lap up those rays like a cat, be sure you’re wearing sun protection. That means sunscreen, wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses–the works! Sunscreen should be full spectrum and have an SPF of 30+. Mineral sunscreen is best, especially for those wishing to avoid eye-stinging chemicals. And fear not; there are lots of mineral sunscreens on the market now that won’t make you look like a ghost.
- Supplement Your Ceramides
As mentioned in #1, ceramides are a big deal to the health and happiness of your skin barrier. Moisturizers with ceramides are great, but you can also hydrate your skin from the inside out. And I’m not just talking about drinking plenty of water, though you should definitely do that too. With an ingestible ceramide, you can deliver skin-plumping lipids to every inch of your skin, on a cellular level. Sounds dreamy to me.
Follow these four simple tips, and you’ll be feeling more comfortable in your own skin.