The stratum corneum is the outermost layer of the skin and forms the main barrier of the skin. It holds in water to keep the skin hydrated, soft and plump. The stratum corneum also helps to prevent pathogens such as bacteria , viruses and fungi infecting the skin. It helps to prevent pollutants entering the skin and protects against the sun (UV). There are several functions that occur within this layer of the skin, including vitamin D production (which is essential to overall health) as well as different enzyme reactions. Without a good skin barrier, the skin looks dull and feels rough, itchy and dry. You may also find you are more prone to infections.
The cells of the stratum corneum (called corneocytes) are held together by ceramides, fatty acids and cholesterol. Therefore, lots of moisturisers, cleansers and other skin products contain these substances to help with skin barrier.
Causes of poor skin barrier function
There are a number of different reasons for the barrier to not be as effective as it should. These include:
- Pollution and irritants
- Very dry or humid environments
- Over-exfoliating the skin
- Using alkaline soaps or detergents
- Too much sun exposure
- Aging – especially around menopause
- Some medications such as corticosteroids
- Harsh chemicals
How to heal and nourish the skin barrier
There are several tips to help heal or prevent damage to the skin barrier:
- Do not use abrasive scrubs – these strip the skin of oil and can cause microdamage to the skin structure. Use mild cleansers so that the skin isn’t stripped of its normal oils. When cleansing, use lukewarm water – using too hot or cold water can irritate the skin.
- Protect the skin from the sun at all times!! Yes we are nagging again with the SPF thing, but it is so critically important for your skin’s health. Sun exposure if one of the major causes of problems with the skin barrier. Many sunscreens contain nourishing ingredients such as antioxidants now, and it is important to use an SPF of 30 or more. Paler skins SPF50 is recommended.
- Do not overdo active ingredients such as retinols, AHA or BHAs. Everyone is different so it is important to find which regime works for you. More sensitive skins will not tolerate multiple different actives in the same way as normal skin types. Applying them at different times of the day can help.
- Fragrances can irritate the skin, especially in sensitive types. Even essential oils can do this even through they are natural. Again, not everyone reacts so see how your skin behaves to a certain product.
- The skin is slightly acidic (pH around 4.7) so using very alkaline products on the skin can cause damage. So be aware of the pH of the products you are using – it is recommended to use something around pH4.0-5.0. Soap is generally alkaline which is why we don’t recommend using soap on the face.
How long does it take to recover?
The length of time the skin takes to recover is dependent on several factors, such as age, degree of damage and the quality of the products you are using to help the skin. So, it can range form a few weeks to 6 months. It is important to be patient with skin as nothing happens over night!
Products we would recommend are;
Clinicare Pure Range – specifically designed to repair skin barrier, contains squalene and low molecular weight hyaluronic acid as well as many other botanicals that help to soothe the skin.
Obagi cleanser, hydrate/hydrate luxe/daily hydro drops – contain glycerine, B-vitamins, various oils to protect the skin along with peptides.
SPF wise Obagi and Clinicare have excellent SPFs for a range of different skin types and concerns. All are Factor 30+.