While we may associate the saying 'grow a thick skin' with being resilient and becoming hardier to the outside world, it can also be taken literally. Caring for and strengthening our skin's natural barrier function is a key element to stave off sensitivity and irritation, retain hydration and possess an overall even and radiant complexion. Who doesn't want that?
So, what do we mean when we're talking about our skin barrier? We're talking about the stratum corneum; the top layer of our skin - literally the skin you can see. it's the first line of defence against UV, pollution, bacteria and irritants. If your skin's barrier becomes weak, it allows more irritants and bacteria to penetrate which can cause redness, spots, dryness, sensitivity and so on, or eventually lead to skin conditions such as eczema and rosacea.
Although our skin typically thins with age as more moisture is lost (it depletes considerably after the age of 40), there are lots of common culprits that can accelerate the process. Possible causes include pollution, UV damage, blue light from technology, genetics and harsh skincare ingredients that can strip away the natural lipid barrier on our skin, leaving it thin, weak and vulnerable. Alcohol-based skincare, not wearing sunscreen, fragrances in skincare, chemical peels (performed more often than needed), not using a moisturiser and at-home skin tools used incorrectly can all be contributing factors.
If left, the dermal layers will become dehydrated, which not only causes dry skin conditions but on the flipside can also lead to an overproduction of oil from our sebaceous glands. As a result, pores swell, trapping dead skin cells and bacteria inside which can lead to acne breakouts and dermatitis.
If you're unsure whether your skin barrier is compromised, there are plenty of tell-tale signs. Redness, flakiness, tightness, itchiness, rough to the touch, increased breakouts and rashes are all hints that you need to strengthen your skin's barrier function.
Luckily, there are plenty of solutions to strengthen your skin's barrier and the damage can help to be reversed over time.
Whether your skin type is dry or oily, maintaining moisture is key for protecting your skin's barrier. Look for products with ceramides or hyaluronic acid, as they allow skin cells to hold on to more water.
Think anti-inflammatories like vitamins A, C and E to not only support the skin's barrier but to also prevent free radical damage.
3. Don't over-exfoliate
As tempting as it is to be scrub-happy in the quest for smooth skin, too much exfoliating can be incredibly damaging to your skin barrier. Opt for gentle fruit enzyme liquid exfoliators, or for a gentle daily approach use a flannel to take off your cleanser, which will slough away dead skin cells.
4. Wear SPF
Wearing SPF is a non-negotiable when outside; not just during summer but all year round. Opt for a separate sunscreen rather than relying on an SPF within your moisturiser, otherwise you might not have the necessary coverage that your skin needs.
5. Keep calm
As important as good skincare is, much of what we see on the outside is due to what's going on inside. Boosting your immune system and looking after your gut is just as important for your skin barrier. Stress is the number one culprit for slowing down the healing process of our skin so make sure you go for walks, practice breathing exercises or journal to keep stress levels down.
Article by Jessica Harris
Willowberry is 'Nutritious Natural' skincare for grown-ups for your best skin. Launched in 2017, Willowberry is an award-winning independent British brand that has gained a cult following. Loved by top make-up artists, the streamlined, highly effective range protects skin’s natural barrier function to nourish and transform grown-up skin, with indulgent formulas that feed the skin and soul.