It seems everyone (in the skincare world!) these days is talking about the importance of the skin barrier, which whilst a good thing, many brands have jumped on this in terms of products which promise to repair the skin barrier. It’s a classic case of treat rather than prevent – the same conundrum seen in healthcare. A couple of years ago when I wrote the brief for my barrier support serum (a gentle multi-tasking serum designed to support skin health), skin barrier health was rarely discussed! The thing is, let’s be realistic, a single product isn’t going to save your skin barrier – you need to ensure that your entire skincare approach centres around respecting your skin barrier. And that means a gentle approach which suits YOUR skin (forget what everyone else is doing/buying!).
So what is the skin barrier and why is it important for skin health? The skin is an extremely important organ. It protects us from the outside world and regulates the degree of water loss (known as TEWL – trans epidermal water loss). Water is essential for enzymatic activity that occurs in the skin, which in turn affects the skin’s ability to shed itself regularly to reveal new skin (desquamation). If this process is disrupted in any way, a lack of desquamation can cause a build-up of skin cells on the surface and a resulting uneven texture – ironically this is often caused by over-exfoliation with skincare products! The skin barrier is complex in nature and offers several lines of defence including the acid mantle and lipid barrier among others. When these are functioning optimally, our skin is in balance and provides the ultimate protection – a waterproof barrier which regulates temperature, keeps our insides inside (!) and keeps out unwanted substances from the environment (that’s why the statement “60% of what we put on our skin is absorbed” is factually incorrect (but that’s for another post!)). However, when the skin barrier is disrupted in anyway, it leaves the skin susceptible to attack (from unwanted substances, harmful bacteria etc). Whilst the skin is resilient enough to “weather” the occasional disruption, it can take longer to recover from repeated assaults e.g. prolonged use of harsh / aggressive skincare (this includes harsh cleansers and strong exfoliators – and note, this has nothing to do with whether the products are natural or not, but rather how they’ve been formulated).
I often receive messages from people asking about my barrier support serum. They have a compromised skin barrier, usually from an overuse of exfoliants, aggressive products and/or overly complicated routines (and we’ve all been there so I don’t pass judgement!). As much as I know my barrier support serum is a fantastic, gentle formulation, I tell everyone that it isn’t a miracle worker on its own! I didn’t formulate it as a standalone, ad hoc repair product – I created it to help maintain healthy skin when used on an ongoing basis as part of a gentle routine.
It’s so easy to get into a cycle of throwing too much at our skin and upsetting its balance, especially when bombarded with new product launches, increasingly aggressive products (stronger isn’t better!) and using a product that isn’t suitable for you just because it drowns your Insta feed. Over-exfoliation through using products which are way stronger than needed, and/or using them more frequently than needed upsets that balance and opens up the skin to irritation and damage. The usual reaction is to add even more products to counteract the drying/irritating effects when really what’s needed is to stop using all these products and go back to basics.
Our skin has an amazing ability to function well if we are careful with it. That means gentle but effective cleansing (skin friendly pH or around 5, low surfactant load, additional conditioning agents), keeping it suitably hydrated (which in itself aids skin cell turnover and offers some protection), and protecting it from UV damage (sunscreen everyday!). So rather than being reactive and thinking about barrier repair after the damage has been done, we should be thinking about ongoing barrier protection – not from a single product, but in the way we approach our overall skincare routines. This means listening to and understanding your own skin, and finding the right balance that works for your skin, not someone else’s. Remember, perfect/flawless skin doesn’t exist so reset the goal to healthy skin and save the skin barrier!
By Natasha Dauncey
Founder & Owner of Apothaka®
Award-winning supportive skincare for healthy skin
Instagram & Facebook: @apothakaskincare