Our skin, regardless of all external factors it conveys, is very sensitive and needs to be handled with care. Improper cleaning or overuse of the active ingredients can damage the skin and thus impair its barrier function. Damaged skin barrier can cause a whole bunch of problems.
Cheat sheet about skin structure
The skin is the largest organ in the body and covers the entire outer surface of the body. The skin is made up of three layers, namely the epidermis, dermis and subcutis, which differ greatly in their anatomy and function. The skin structure consists of a complex web that provides the body with a primary line of defense against pathogens, UV light and chemicals and mechanical damage. It also regulates the temperature and the amount of water released into the environment.
What is a skin barrier and how does it work?
The stratum corneum structure is like a brick wall in which corneocytes or ‘bricks’ are surrounded by intercellular lipids that act as a ‘mortar’ to maintain the barrier function of the skin. As long as the bricks and mortar are held together, the integrity of the skin is normal. The passage of water into and out of the skin is controlled in such a way that it retains about 13% humidity in the top layer of the skin, pathogens from the environment cannot pass into the skin, the skin has its own protective mechanisms against UV light.
Antimicrobial protection is associated with slightly acidic pH and antimicrobial peptides. Skin hydration is also crucial for maintaining the homeostasis of the skin barrier.
What is a damaged skin barrier?
Barrier damage is a phenomenon where our bricks and mortar no longer hold together so tightly. As the the bricks and the mortar move apart, the places between them remain empty. This phenomenon is usually due to external factors such as improper skin care, skin cleansing with inadequate cleansers, exposure to various irritants, overuse of cosmetically active ingredients or low humidity.
External factors are those that can alter the barrier function of the skin and thus increase transepidermal water loss, cause protein and lipid changes in the stratum corneum, which may gradually lead to the formation of sensitive skin.
If the barrier integrity of the skin cannot be restored by its own repair mechanisms, the whole situation on skin becomes very tense. So you are constantly losing moisture from the skin, the lipid composition changes completely or becomes smaller over time, and the skin loses its elasticity due to lack of moisture. So, first, the barrier is damaged, causing the skin to become irritated, but if we do not act for a long time, the skin generally becomes more sensitive.
Why does pH affect the integrity of the skin barrier?
The most common cause of a damaged barrier is the use of cosmetics with inadequate pH. Skin pH is an essential regulator of the skin barrier. Skin pH varies between 4.5 and 6 for people with normal barrier function. Frequent and prolonged pH increases will cause the mortar and bricks to no longer stick together, causing the skin problems listed above.
How do I determine if my skin barrier is damaged?
- The skin is dry – the skin is dry when it lacks lipids, which is seen primarily as flaking and redness, and is the result of a changed composition or lack of lipids.
- Skin is dehydrated – skin is dehydrated when moisture content drops below 13%. Due to lack of moisture, the skin tightens, looks more lean, itchy. Dehydrated skin is the result of increased transepidermal water loss.
- Skin is peeling – I mentioned it as a consequence of dry skin, but the appearance of skin peeling is associated with a change in pH. In our skin, there are enzymes involved in skin regeneration that work at a specific pH. A change in pH can lead to abnormal peeling of the skin and the formation of scaly skin.
- Pimples or acne breakouts can occur – the acidic pH of our skin limits colonization of pathogenic bacteria and promotes the existence of normal microflora. In the event of pH lifting, colonization of bacteria that “sleep” at normal skin pH and can create a mess in the form of acne formation.
Can a damaged barrier be cured?
Of course, we just have to choose the right products and give ourselves time. The skin barrier will not recover immediately. Barrier recovery time depends on the extent of the injury and on the persistence of the correct products.
Because the skin is exposed to a number of external factors that can lead to impaired barrier function, the stratum corneum is constantly active in maintaining normal physiological state using various self-repair mechanisms. Based on the mechanisms used by the skin to restore the barrier, we also see when the skin’s own mechanism fails and the barrier needs to be cured with topical agents.