If you’ve ever had to deal with a home repair – a faulty foundation, an infestation of literally anything, even a broken AC unit in the middle of a hot and humid summer – you understand how even one damaged system seems to make everything else fall apart. One problem leads to, or exposes, another. This is the same thing that happens when your skin barrier is damaged.
The skin barrier is your body’s first line of defense against external aggressors (think pollution, bacteria, and other irritants). It’s also the key to glowing, healthy skin. But when your skin barrier is weakened, a domino effect of problems can begin, including acne, redness, dehydration, dark spots, and sensitive skin.
So, when you notice that your skin is ringing the alarm for some TLC, it may be your skin barrier that’s calling out for attention.
What is Your Skin Barrier?
Your skin is made up of multiple layers, but the most important three are: the epidermis (top), the dermis (middle), and the hypodermis (bottom). The skin barrier is the outermost layer of the epidermis.
To keep with the house analogy, think of your skin barrier as the bricks and mortar of your body. The bricks are your skin cells, while the mortar are the lipids that hold those cells together. Skin cells are largely made of keratin (you may be familiar with this protein from your hair care products) and Natural Moisturizing Factors (NMFs), or amino acids that keep your skin hydrated. The mortar is the glue, or in the case of skin, lipids made up of ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids. These elements work together to keep the skin moisturized by preventing water and electrolytes from escaping your body, while also keeping out environmental aggressors.
A strong skin barrier is imperative for overall skin health, helping to prevent dryness, regulating water balance, and warding off environmental aggressors. When functioning properly, your skin is healthy, smooth, plump, moisturized, and glowing. Yes, please!
Hormone Changes Can Have a Major Effect on Skin Barrier Health
It’s no secret that hormones impact your skin. From major life moments like menopause to regular fluctuations during times of high stress or your monthly period, the evidence of your hormones being in flux is often all too evident. But what is less well known is that hormones also play a big role in the state of your skin barrier during these times.
Skin Barrier + That Time of the Month
A study conducted by Estee Lauder found that the skin barrier was weakest at days 22 and 26 (aka during your period) of a women’s cycle. Because your hormones are depleted during the menstrual phase, the hormones that typically support a healthy skin barrier, like estrogen, are in low supply. This makes your skin more susceptible to external aggressors which can further break down your barrier. This broken down barrier may be the cause of some of your regular breakouts that seem to always pop up around that time of the month. The problem can get worse and cause a vicious cycle of further damage if you treat those monthly blemishes with harsh products that strip your skin.
Skin Barrier + Menopause
Glow-inducing hormones like estrogen decline in women as we age. Estrogen is the hormone that supports collagen production and keeps our skin moisturized. When these levels decline, collagen and hyaluronic acid production slows down causing skin to thin and lose moisture. This process then causes your skin barrier to break down, making it more susceptible to external aggressors and irritants.
Skin Barrier + Stress
Low cortisol, which is typically associated with adrenal fatigue which happens when you’re consistently super stressed out, can wreak havoc on your skin. Not only is too much stress bad for your mental health, immune system, and heart, studies have also shown it’s bad news for your skin. When your adrenals decrease cortisol production, your body loses water, causing transepidermal water loss (TEWL) and dehydrated skin. This also compromises your skin barrier and increases your risk of developing skin sensitivity and inflammation.
Other Things That Can Threaten Your Skin Barrier:
Aging, when lipid numbers begin to fall
Aggressive cleansing (using too hot or too cold of water, using stripping ingredients, overcleansing)
Dry skin disorders, like atopic dermatitis and psoriasis
Allergens, irritants, and pollutants
Don’t Worry – There Are Things You Can Do to Keep Your Skin Barrier Happy
While there are a lot of things, both internal and external, that can damage your skin barrier, there are also steps you can take to protect it, especially during times when you know your body is going to be dealing with moody hormones.
Lifestyle + Diet Changes That Can Keep Your Barrier Protected
Hormonal changes and environmental aggressors are impossible to avoid, but there are several ways you can support your skin barrier from the inside when something on the outside could be compromising it. Although more studies are needed, there has been growing interest in the correlation between your diet and skin barrier. A few supplements that seem promising are:
Synbiotic (Pre/Probiotics): As we are now learning, gut health is connected to everything. Maintaining a healthy gut microbiome also helps to keep your skin healthy. When the gut is balanced, it supports the production of fatty acids and keeps inflammation in check, which are both crucial for healthy skin barrier function.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: DHA from fish oil or flax and hemp seed oils supports a decrease in inflammation and creates a strong immune defense for the skin barrier.
Evening Primrose and Borage Oil: Supplementation with these oils has been shown to benefit atopic dermatitis, a common skin disease caused by skin barrier disruption.
L-Histidine: This amino acid can be taken as a supplement and has been shown to improve skin barrier function in people suffering from atopic dermatitis.
Skincare Ingredients that Support a Healthy Skin Barrier
The first step in skincare solutions to a struggling skincare barrier is to nix any harsh products that are stripping your skin of the things it needs, like balanced levels of sebum. (Yes, some oil is good for you.) The next step is to add in products that contain ingredients that will help support your skin barrier to stay strong and healthy. Some of our favorites are:
Zinc PCA: A complex of Zinc and the amino acid PCA (which is part of the natural moisturizing amino acids naturally found in the skin barrier), this ingredient will help support your skin barrier’s ability to maintain hydration.
Biomimetic Ceramides: Identical to the ceramides found in the skin barrier, this ingredient helps prevent water loss and keep your skin moisturized both on its own, and through its biomimetic powers to support the work of your body’s natural ceramides.
4D Hyaluronic Acid: This type of hyaluronic acid has molecules of different sizes that can penetrate and support all layers of the skin. Once inside, it works like a sponge to supplement and retrain the skin’s natural hyaluronic acid production ability for ultra hydrated, plump skin and a strong barrier.