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.

Source: Rosso, James Del et al. “Understanding the Epidermal Barrier in Healthy and Compromised Skin: Clinically Relevant Information for the Dermatology Practitioner: Proceedings of an Expert Panel Roundtable Meeting.” The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology vol. 9,4 Suppl 1 (2016): S2-S8.

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.

Source: Lee, Seung Hun et al. “An update of the defensive barrier function of skin.” Yonsei medical journal vol. 47,3 (2006): 293-306.

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.

Summer finally turned into autumn. Finally? Tajka are you normal? Who doesn’t like summer? Well, weather cooling down is a good fit for me, although I am the more frozen type, summer is not my favorite part of the year. However, the skin is not too keen on the transition to the colder months, so let’s see how we make it easier for our skin to transition to the new season by tweaking our skincare a little.

How does our skin behave in the summer?

Most face more oily skin in the summer, which is seen primarily as glowing parts of the face. High temperatures stimulate the sebaceous glands to produce more sebum. When the skin is oily, the pores on the face look larger and, at the same time, they become clogged earlier, as excess sebum and dead cells on the skin surface fill the pores faster. Due to the heat, more bacteria are also present on the face, helping to make the excess sebum and dead cells infect the bacteria with pores to form pimples.

It is true, however, that most pimples are caused by inadequate skin cleansing in the summer. Silicone-based sunscreens are not so easy to remove, so proper cleansed skin requires a double cleansing technique. If the sunscreen is not completely removed, it settles into the pores as impurity and further clogs them.

For this reason, skin care is greatly simplified during the summer months. Mostly moisturizing serums and moisturizing creams are applied to the skin.

Why does the skin behave differently in the fall / winter?

After the summer heat subsides, our sebaceous glands return to normal state. However, even cold weather does not have a particularly good effect on our skin. The combination of wind and increased use of central heating dries the skin. For people with dry skin, the change can often be large enough to cause an increase in the appearance of very dry areas, cracks in the skin, flaking.

The cold air tightens the pores. This reduces the excretion of sebum onto the surface of the skin, which acts as a protective layer, providing lipid protection while preventing water from evaporating from the skin. Usually, in the colder months, the relative humidity of the air is lower than in our skin and water actually evaporates from the skin, causing the skin to dry out. This can exacerbate existing conditions that make the skin prone to cracking and flaking.

So what changes do I need to make in the transition from summer care to fall / winter?

Above we have highlighted two problems, too little moisture and too little lipid. So this together leads to dehydrated and dry skin. However, with the proper adaptation of your care products you will not face such problems.

Increase in skin moisture

I have been using the skin moisturizing serums myself in the summer, as simply excess moisture can’t hurt me. In the transition to fall / winter care, use a serum that contains humectants that increase the level of moisture in the skin, if they contain any other ingredient that soothes the skin even better. However, remember that moisture must be locked into the skin with the help of emollients or occlusives.

Use of richer cream or oils

The use of richer nourishing creams is essential especially for people who cope with dry skin in winter. The nourishing cream will lock the moisture of a moisturizing serum in the skin, while also adding lipids to the skin, whichwe have too little in the winter due to less sebum secretion. Lipid deficient skin can be identified by peeling off.

For oily skin types, this period is quite complicated as the skin is still oily, but even oily skin may lack adequate lipids in winter. The biggest problem is when you use the wrong products, because you lose moisture from your skin and thus produce dried epidermis, even though the skin is still oily. For those with oily skin, it is advisable to resort to oils that are suitable for the care of oily skin, such as black cumin, jojoba oil, squalane, and thus lock in moisture in the skin. Use the oils for the evening because you can go to bed looking like a disco ball, right? During the day you can choose a cream with added ceramides, which will nevertheless properly nourish your skin.

Now is the perfect time to start with active ingredients and make various cosmetic treatments

Autumn and winter are great for introducing cosmetically active ingredients such as retinoids and hydroxy acids. Namely, these active ingredients increase the photosensitivity of the skin and in the autumn / winter the cloudy weather does us a bit of a favor, so the UV index is not so high and consequently it is more difficult to produce photo-damage. However, having more cloudy days doesn’t mean you can escape the sunscreen now!

This period is also great if you opt for cosmetic treatments such as lasers, microneedling, acid scrubs, because as with the above mentioned assets, these treatments increase the photosensitivity of the skin as they remove a large part of the epidermis and thus our natural protective layer.

Sunscreen is a must in winter too!

Whether you use active ingredients or not, you also have to protect yourself during this time of year. Being cloudy does not mean that there is no UV rays. As much as 80% of the UV rays can pass through the clouds. When it snows, as much as 90% of all UVB rays are reflected from the snow, which means that both the sun and the rays that bounce off the snow can burn us.