What Is Your Skin's Moisture Barrier & Why You Need to Protect It?
You might be damaging your skin's moisture barrier without even realizing it - the main culprit for a dull and lackluster complexion. Learn all about its role in skin health and how to keep it strong and intact.November 14, 2022 6 minutes read
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Our guess is you've been hearing a lot about the skin's moisture barrier from skincare enthusiasts, skinfluencers, and dermatologists. There's a lot of talk about the need to protect it, or certain skincare products claiming to repair and restore your skin's moisture barrier.
However, not everybody knows what the skin's moisture barrier is and what role it plays in skin health. So, the conversation around it can be a little confusing. Confused already? Welcome to moisture barrier 101!
In this article, we will be answering all the whats, hows, and whatnots surrounding the skin's moisture barrier!
To begin, what is it, and why is everyone raving about it?
What Is the Skin's Moisture Barrier?
To get a better picture of what your skin's moisture barrier is, we need to understand the skin's anatomy. The skin is the largest organ of the body and is made up of three main layers:
- Hypodermis: Also called subcutis or the subcutaneous fat, the hypodermis is the innermost layer of the skin that mostly consists of fat and blood vessels, and that connects the skin to the tissue and muscles underneath and provides heat insulation;
- Dermis: The middle layer of the skin, which comprises of both elastic and collagen fibers and provides the structural framework of the skin. Hair follicles, sebaceous (oil) glands, sweat glands, lymph vessels, and nerve endings are all located in the dermis;
- Epidermis: The outermost layer of the skin that protects it from the environment. It's the only skin layer that we can see and is thicker than you would imagine because it consists of five sublayers: stratum basale, stratum spinosum, stratum granulosum, stratum lucidum, and stratum corneum.
The skin's moisture barrier is, in fact, the stratum corneum, or the outermost layer of the epidermis, made up of lipids and proteins which act as the first line of defense against external factors, such as irritants, bacteria, microbial pathogens, and chemical compounds. Without this barrier, all of these would most likely penetrate your skin and cause harm.
It comprises of ceramides, fatty acids, and cholesterol and provides a waterproof barrier to ensure your skin is hydrated and healthy. The skin's moisture barrier is also referred to as the acid mantle, with an acidic pH of 4.5 to 5.5, which makes it hostile to micro-organic pathogens.
So, the ability of the skin to hold water is primarily due to the skin's moisture barrier, making it essential for maintaining healthy skin.
What Causes Damage to the Skin's Natural Moisture Barrier
As they say, the first step in solving a problem is spotting its root cause. To understand how you can heal and protect your skin's moisture barrier, you need to figure out the likely cause of damage and the potential triggers.
At some point in your life, you may or might have experienced damage to your skin's moisture barrier, considering it being more common without people even realizing it. It could result from one or multiple factors, whether within or beyond your control. Here's a look at some of them:
- Exposure to extremely cold or hot weather temperatures, which draws away moisture from the skin;
- Over-exfoliating with physical or chemical exfoliants;
- Over-cleansing with harsh cleansers or too frequent washing;
- Spending too much time in the sun without sun protection;
- Using too many actives like AHAs, BHAs, and retinoids, all at once;
- Lifestyle factors, such as smoking, unhealthy eating habits, etc.
How to Know if Your Skin's Moisture Barrier Is Damaged
When your skin's moisture barrier is damaged, it fails in its function of keeping harmful external factors out and maintaining moisture in the skin, thus leading to transepidermal water loss—a scenario whereby water evaporates from the skin's surface, leading to dry, irritated skin prone to inflammation and infections.
Signs of a damaged skin moisture barrier can be obvious for most people; some of them include:
- Dry and flaky skin;
- Increased skin sensitivity, certain skincare products you frequently use all of a sudden sting or burn when applied;
- Inflammations, such as acne, rosacea, and eczema;
- Tight skin feeling;
- Existing wrinkles might become more noticeable.
If you're dealing with some of these, the likelihood of you having a damaged skin moisture barrier is high. But the good news is, with proper measures, your skin can and will be back to normal in no time!
Note: However, if you are dealing with a more severe case of moisture barrier damage, it could be linked to an underlying skin disease. Therefore, it would be best for you to visit your dermatologist for more guidance.
How to Protect Your Skin's Moisture Barrier
Now that you've figured out the potential causes of a damaged skin barrier, and signs that you may be dealing with one, the question remains – how do you protect it and prevent damage?
Moving forward, here are some pointers that may help you protect and repair your skin's natural moisture barrier:
#1: Re-examine your skincare habits.
Start by asking yourself – Do I cleanse my face more often than twice daily? Do I do so with cleansers with harsh ingredients? Do I exfoliate more than I should? If yes, then pause.
All these can be a whole lot for your delicate skin to handle all at once. Instead, how about sticking to safer guidelines:
- Cleanse your face only once or twice a day, using lukewarm water. Hot water can strip your skin of its natural oils that help hold in moisture and damage its moisture barrier, so it's best to avoid it.
- When cleansing, use a calming, gentle cleanser and massage it onto your skin in a gentle circular motion.
- Using products with fragrances and essential oils is probably not the best if you have sensitive skin and an already compromised moisture barrier, so, best to dodge them.
- Avoid using harsh scrubs and brushes on your face, as it could lead to a weakened skin barrier.
- Wear sunscreen daily, including colder winter months;
- Keep skincare products minimal; as they say, sometimes less is more. With your skin's sensitivity being off the charts or not, you do not need to have a 20-step skincare routine. Using a lot of skincare products, especially ones containing too many actives, will most likely be sapping the energy out of your skin's moisture barrier.
Your best bet is tailoring your skincare regimen to one skin issue at a time and not simultaneously. When it comes to repairing a damaged moisture barrier, all you need to do is stick to the three basics – cleanse, moisturize continuously, and most importantly, use sunscreen.
#2: Use a humidifier.
Factors like extreme weather conditions can be beyond our control, but taking measures like investing in a humidifier, and combating dry indoor air due to air conditioning during summers and heating during winters, can be super beneficial for your skin.
A humidifier helps to restore lacking moisture in the air, which, in turn, helps with dry dehydrated skin, enabling your skin to hold onto the much-needed hydration, as well as keeping the moisture barrier intact.
#3: Focus on moisturizing.
When you have dry and dehydrated skin, the first solution that comes to mind is moisturizing. With that being said, occlusive moisturizers, containing ingredients that create somewhat of a physical barrier on your skin, are highly recommended to heal an impaired skin barrier.
An occlusive moisturizer helps the skin barrier in reducing moisture loss in the skin, aka transepidermal water loss, and also helps to lock in hydration.
Although oily skin types may not sit well with the idea of slugging petroleum jelly-like ingredients on their skin – totally understandable. But, it's important to know that having a damaged skin barrier can worsen conditions associated with oily skin, such as inflamed acne. So, think of it as a necessary temporary healing phase, and go for moisturizers containing dimethicone, glycerin, squalane, argan oil, castor oil, niacinamide, shea butter, ceramides, etc.
#4: Hydrate from within.
You might be tired of hearing this, but water still remains a major nutritional factor needed for keeping the skin and its moisture barrier healthy. Yes, you might be using skincare products with hydrating ingredients to supplement your damaged skin barrier – but it may not be enough.
Keep in mind that you also need to hydrate from the inside, as dehydrated skin is unable to maintain a strong skin moisture barrier, leaving the skin weak to external factors that may likely cause harm to your skin and body. So hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
Keeping your skin's moisture barrier healthy is essential for overall skin function. A strong skin barrier helps to lock in hydration and retain moisture better, making the skin more hydrated, smooth, and radiant.
However, it can easily be compromised, and when this happens, it could be a result of different factors. Although the recovery time for an impaired moisture barrier can be different for everyone, especially considering the level of damage, all you need to do is remain calm and patient.
So, take a step back, re-examine your skincare habits, take protective measures, and supplement with hydrating and moisturizing skincare products to let your delicate skin heal; and in a matter of weeks or a month, your skin will be back to its normal flourishing self!
Why is protecting the skin barrier important?
Your skin's natural moisture barrier is the outermost layer of your skin and its role is to keep all the irritants out and water in. When this barrier is damaged, your skin will get dehydrated, dry, and inflamed, leading to acne and other skin issues.
How do you keep the moisture barrier healthy?
To keep your skin's moisture barrier healthy, you must protect it from harsh weather, wear moisturizer and sunscreen daily, and introduce healthy lifestyle habits. It's also important to be gentle to your skin and avoid harsh scrubs, over-exfoliation, and over-washing.
What happens if you damage the skin barrier?
A damaged skin barrier won't be able to keep germs and irritants out, leading to dry, flakey, and tight skin, redness, increased sensitivity, acne, rosacea, and eczema. In addition, your complexion will look dull and wrinkles more prominent.
How do you know if the moisture barrier is damaged?
If you notice that skincare products you've used for a longer period of time suddenly start to irritate your skin, your skin's moisture barrier is likely damaged. Also, it's likely damaged if you don't usually have acne, or flakey and dry skin but start to experience those all at once.
What destroys the skin barrier?
There are many factors that may compromise your skin's moisture barrier, such as extreme weather conditions, not wearing sunscreen, showering with hot water, using aggressive scrubs, over-cleansing, over-exfoliating, and using too many active skincare ingredients at once.