What is the skin barrier?
The epidermal barrier protects our skin against stressful, health-threatening influences from the outside world. It is the outermost cell layer of our skin, the stratum corneum. This protective layer consists of horn cells - small skin platelets without a cell nucleus, held together by the skin's own lipids. The skin barrier’s structure is often compared to a brick wall: the horn cells corresponding to the bricks, the skin lipids in betweeen corresponding to the binding mortar.
The protective acid mantle
In addition, our skin forms a protective hydro-lipid film on the surface of the skin. This layer of sweat, lipids, amino acids and horny cell scales is also called acid protective layer. Depending on the region of our body, the protective acid mantle naturally has a slightly acidic pH-value between 4.1 and 5.8. Most microorganisms such as viruses, bacteria or yeasts need a neutral or basic pH for their undisturbed growth. A slightly acidic pH-value consequently protects our skin from pathogens and environmental pollutants, causing irritation, itching and impurities.
What are the tasks of our skin barrier?
An intact barrier layer ensures that our skin can store enough moisture. This protective layer minimizes water loss, improves protection against UV radiation, heat, cold, mechanical and chemical stimuli. Our skin barrier also protects from damaging environmental influences such as air pollution and penetrating microorganisms - preventing bacteria or viruses from penetrating the skin and causing pimples or skin diseases. A strong skin barrier is the essential prerequisite for healthy skin.
Don‘ts for the skin barrier
As so often, prevention is better than cure. The best way to keep your protective skin barrier intact is protecting from damaging factors:
- Creams with skin-weakening emulsifiers
Emulsifiers have the task of holding together lipid and water components of a cream. Classic emulsifiers, however, have an unpleasant side effect: they continue emulsifying in the barrier layer of our skin. In doing so, they remove important skin-specific protective substances from the lipid layer, which are washed out the next time they come into contact with water. The ability of our skin to store moisture is weakened and the skin becomes more permeable to pollutants. It then tends to chronic dryness, hypersensitivity, pimples and blemishes. The more we apply creams with emulsifier-containing creams, the worse it gets - a vicious cycle to break.
- Ingredients from mineral oil
Avoid cosmetics with ingredients from synthetic oils, i.e. from mineral oils. Silicones and paraffins are free from allergens, but they weaken the skin barrier. They close our skin pores, thus preventing water loss. However, our skin does not get,what it really needs. Their frequent use means that our skin no longer produces its own important lipids, natural skin breathing is impeded.
- Scrubs and exfoliating ingredients
A no-go for sensitive skin are scrubs with rough grains like sand or salt. They damage the protective barrier, drying out the skin consequently. The risk of irritation, redness, itching and inflammation increases. Be as well cautious with barrier-weakened skin using exfoliating products containing fruit acids, retinol (vitamin A) or vitamin C! Particularly in case of sensitive skin types, these praised beauty boosters in higher concentrations tend to damage the skin barrier, increasing hypersensitivity - not only to UV radiation.
- Cosmetics with basic pH-value
The pH-value of basic cosmetics is above 7.0 - well above the pH of our naturally slightly acidic skin surface. Solid hair soaps also have a basic pH. Alkaline cleansers weaken the skin's own acid protection, drying out your scalp in the long term, making our skin susceptible to harmful penetrating microorganisms. Therefore, you should better prefer skin-neutral organic shampoos with mild surfactants,have a slightly acidic pH-value. They strengthen the skin's own protective acid mantle, keeping the skin barrier intact.
Many face creams contain alcohol. Especially with sensitive, irritated skin, alcohol worsens the skin problems. Alcohol removes the skin's own lipids from our protective barrier. Alcohol thus weakens the skin's natural protective layer enabling free radical damage. Alcohol never is a recommended ingredient, even if your facial skin tends to excessively quickly regrease. Degreasing the skin ba alcohol stimulates your sebum production even more. Our skin tries to replace what it has lost. This makes oily skin even more oily, though being dehydrated and prone to redness, inflammation and blemishes.
Do’s for strengthening your skin barrier
- Emulsifier-free skin carewith hydrogenated lecithin (INCI: Hydrogenated Lecithin)
The saving solution is face care without skin-weakening emulsifiers. Instead of synthetic or esterified emulsifiers your face cream should contain skin-analogous active ingredients such as hydrogenated lecithin. Lecithin is rich in cosmetically effective phosphatidylcholine, resembling the skin's own membrane structure and making the horny layer water-repellent. Lecithin stabilizes our cell membranes, stimulating cell metabolism and minimizing trans-epidermal moisture loss (TEWL). Such creams help to rebuild your skin barrier. According to the EU Cosmetics Regulation, they can be advertised as "emulsifier-free".
The natural active ingredient beta-glucan powerful ly strengthens your skin barrier. As an essential component of all myrto face creams and serums, beta-glucan soothes irritated and inflamed skin. Beta-glucan improves the immune protection of the cells, providing abundant and long-lasting moisture..
- Omega fatty acids
For the regeneration of a damaged protective barrier, skin-identical unsaturated fatty acids (omega fatty acids) from cold-pressed plant oils have also proven their worth:
- Linoleic acid (Omega 6) - high levels are contained in grape seed, black cumin or argan oil,
- Gamma-linolenic acid (Omega 3) - abundant in rose hip, pomegranate, hemp and evening primrose oil,
- Palmitoleic acid (Omega 9) – to be found in avellana, macadamia and sea buckthorn oil.
If you follow this approach of skin-identical natural cosmetics – free from emulsifiers, alcohol, perfume and unnecessary fillers, you will soon notice a significant improvement in your skin condition towards a smoother, softer and healthier skin.