A Healthy Barrier Function, a Healthy Skin!
Every holiday I tell myself I’m not going to think about work, but it isn’t easy… Last week our family spent a couple of days in the Ardennes in a tent. It was Autumn half term, beautiful weather and my idea was that it would be good to let our children see that all the daily luxuries they have around them really shouldn’t be taken for granted. In order not to throw them in at the deep end (and a bit of self interest too) I’d found a tent with a wood burner, bedstead for the children, oil lamps and cold running water. Sounds very romantic, but with a temperature of -4°C , 5 hot water bottles, two duvets and thermal socks, it is difficult not to freeze. The children were fine as they were all sleeping in the bedstead… slightly more insulated! Whilst I was shivering under the canvas, I thought, I’ve written almost 200 blogs, and there isn’t one yet which has been dedicated to the barrier function of the skin. Even though, in fact everything revolves around it! Compare it with a house; if your house isn’t well insulted, water comes in and warmth goes out. The house becomes damp and is unable to dry out properly, mould appears, wood rots and it is more easily accessible for pests. If this process goes on for long enough you end up with a ruin. In fact it works in the same way for skin, though people often don’t really know what the holes and drafts are caused by and how you can resolve this. The message; if you suffer from dry skin, irritation, eczema or spots think about better insulation. In my experience you quickly notice the difference!
What actually is the barrier function?
The most important function the skin has is forming a barrier between your body and the outside world. Your skin is your coat. It protects you from external influences: bacteria, viruses, moisture, rubbish, heat and cold. This barrier function is important for your health, but also your appearance.
Smooth, gleaming and youthful please!
Your skin is made up of different layers. The uppermost layer is the stratum corneum. Damage your stratum corneum and therefore your skins barrier function and you get into a vicious circle. Through water loss, all the other important functions which are in the deeper layers of your skin can no longer work. Your skin is damaged. It dries out even more and skin problems such as spots, redness, flaking and eczema arise. This can eventually lead to premature ageing of the skin. If your barrier function stays intact then your skin will look good. Smooth gleaming and youthful.
What skincare can do for you (or in fact, not do…)
It may sound mad, but skincare products are – as well as too much sunlight, an unhealthy lifestyle and stress – the main cause of skin problems. Many cosmetic products contain irritating ingredients. For example alcohol dissolves the natural oils in the uppermost part of the skin, whilst you in fact really do need these in order to prevent moisture loss. Other irritating substances such as perfume can also affect the barrier function of the skin. There are even cosmetic ingredients that “deliberately” damage the top skin layer. By damaging the barrier function active substances can penetrate deeper into the skin. That’s handy for substances that are beneficial to the skin, but not desirable if you think about the substances that are also in the product that you don’t want to go deep into your skin. Take, for example, certain preservatives…
A little help; barrier function repairing substances.
Your skin can use some help in order to carry out its protective work and luckily there are substances which can do this! But it is essential that you know what you are doing. Only use products that do not irritate and they contribute to keeping the skin barrier function intact. Good skincare products can ultimately make a difference to your skin. Some substances in your skincare products that help to ensure that the protective layer of your skin functions properly are for example:
- Niacinamide (vitamin B3): Niacinamide is responsible for manufacturing so called ceramides and free fatty acids; these substances strengthen the skin barrier function. Through this the skin loses less moisture and is better equipped against outside influences. Alongside this it is an absolute winner with its many functions (read more here about Niacinamide).
- Panthenol (vitamin B5): hydrates and repairs the protective function of the skin.
- Ceramides: naturally occurring in the skin. Also moisture retaining. Works particularly well in combination with cholesterol and free fatty acids.
- Cholesterol: naturally occurring in the skin. Also moisture retaining. Works particularly well in combination with ceramides and free fatty acids.
Barrier repairing substances are even good for healthy skin! It’s better to take them and be safe than sorry. I do; next time that bedstead is mine!!!!
(Dr. Jetske Ultee-Research Physician Cosmetic Dermatology)
You can also read the blogs: ‘What Smoking Does to Your skin; Acne‘,
‘Alcohol in Skincare Products; Rather Not‘,
‘Niacinamide in the Treatment of Melasma‘,
‘Dehydrated Skin (and Hydrating Substances}’,
‘Removal of Dead Skin Cells; An Exfoliant or Scrub?‘,
‘Luxury Ingredients for the Skin’ and
in the press ‘Rubbish on the Cosmetics Market’.