Perhaps the second most important thing for maintaining skin health, after SPF protection, is ensuring that the skin’s moisture barrier is healthy. The moisture barrier is responsible for keeping the skin strong and healthy, locking in essential moisture and maintaining a balance in hydration.
Think of the outermost layer of your skin as a wall of protection that keeps out harmful toxins, allergens, and bacteria. This wall is made up of keratin-filled skin cells called corneocytes, which are held together by a “mortar” of essential fatty acids, ceramides, and lipids. An optimally-functioning moisture barrier protects the dermis from environmental pollutants as well as dehydration.
One that is compromised is akin to an open wound, into which bacteria and contaminants can enter and wreak havoc. Prioritizing moisture barrier health is also of utmost importance to anyone seeking to lessen the signs of aging, as dehydrated skin, which is a consequence of a weakened barrier, speeds up the skin’s aging process.
Prioritizing moisture barrier health is important to anyone seeking to lessen the signs of aging, as a weakened barrier speeds up the skin’s aging process.
So how does the moisture barrier become compromised? This can happen for a number of reasons. Some of it is due to genetics, with some people naturally having weaker moisture barriers. If a person has a history of dermatitis in their family, they have a higher risk for eczema, which is one condition that causes a naturally weak moisture barrier. Cleansers too high on the pH scale can also weaken the moisture barrier, as well as overexfoliating, excessive sun exposure, and even stress.
You can tell that your moisture barrier has been weakened and can no longer hang onto vital moisture through symptoms such as exacerbated dryness, itchiness, rough patches, uneven tone, increased sensitivity, acne, and even skin infections like folliculitis.
The good news is if any of these is happening to you, it’s fixable. And if it hasn’t occurred yet, that’s great. Here’s how to keep your moisture barrier healthy.
Stick to the Essentials
The 10-step routine isn’t for everyone. Some skin types can get by on toner, serum, and SPF alone. And even if your skin is on the drier side and needs more, look for richer products that impart the benefits you need, rather than layering on more.
pH is key
Alkaline cleansers are so 2016. Leave them in the past where they belong and reach for a cleanser with a pH ranging between 4.5-6.0, which is closer to your skin’s natural levels. Alkaline cleansers will further strip your skin of moisture, worsening the problem.
Ceramides Are Your Friend
Ceramides are naturally present in your skin’s outermost layer in high concentrations and are depleted when your barrier is compromised. Logic follows that replenishing them will restore skin health, so look for this essential lipid in the formulations you favor.
Pack on the Moisture
In addition to ceramides, seek out hydrators like hyaluronic acid, as well as humectants to attract moisture and occlusives to seal it in. This trifecta will reduce water loss and hold in moisture, which will ultimately improve barrier function.
Catch Some Zzzs
Yes, sleep is an important factor when it comes to restoring your moisture barrier. This is because your skin naturally repairs itself while you slumber. A 2015 study found that people with better sleep quality had 30 percent less transepidermal water loss than chronically poor sleepers. So tuck yourself in tight and let the healing begin.
Grab Some H2O
Hydrate your skin from the inside while the skincare products work their magic topically. Water is essential to optimally functioning organs, of which skin is the largest. The more you drink, the better for you and your body.
Ditch the Exfoliants For Now
Your skin’s just taken a beating and needs all the TLC it can get. Cell turnover is important, but it can wait until another time, preferably after your skin has had the time to rest and recover from the trauma it’s suffered.
Eat This, Not That
Reach for food rich in essential fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals like salmon, tuna, beans, sweet potatoes, and flaxseed, which can boost collagen production and speed up the repair process.
There’s no quick fix for a weakened moisture barrier, but rest assured, with the right approach, gentle products, and a commitment to staying the course, you’ll be well on your way to healthier skin in no time.