What is the skin barrier?
Before we look at a damaged skin barrier, lets look at what the skin barrier is, and why it’s important. Your skin barrier is a layer of skin cells and oils that helps to protect the body from the outside environment. Most people don’t realise their skin is a barrier, and also the largest organ of your body.
It has several important roles:
- Protecting the body from harmful substances: It keeps harmful substances, such as bacteria and toxins, from entering the body.
- Keeping the skin moist: It retains moisture and keeps skin hydrated. You actually produce something call ‘natural moisturising factors’ in your skin, and also the much loved hyaluronic acid.
- Regulating temperature: The skin barrier helps to regulate the body’s temperature by insulating the body and helping to prevent heat loss.
- Protecting against UV radiation: The skin barrier helps to protect the body from the damaging effects of UV radiation from the sun.
The skin barrier is an important part of the body’s defense system and helps to keep the skin healthy and protected. It keeps the good stuff in, and the bad stuff out!
Damaged skin barrier - what are the signs?
We’re hearing the phrase ‘damaged skin barrier’ a lot at the moment. Most skin practitioners have been talking about it for some time, and of course, there will always be ‘miracle’ products that claim they can help! We’ll get onto that later in this blog, but I’ll just start by telling you, there is no ‘miracle’ product!
Here’s 5 signs that you may have a damaged skin barrier;
- Dry, flaky, or rough skin: A sign that your skin may be unable to retain it’s natural moisture levels, leading to dry, flaky, or rough skin.
- Redness or inflammation: A very common sign that your skin isn’t happy, and the natural barrier is compromised. Your skin may be breaking out, constantly irritated, rosacea type symptoms and overall unhappy.
- Sensitivity to products or irritants: A damaged skin barrier may be more sensitive to products or irritants, leading to reactions such as redness, itching, or burning. A note on this, some products can actually damage the barrier function. Strong retinols, exfoliants and acids can have this effect, especially when being used without sunscreen.
- Increased susceptibility to infections: You may be more prone to infections, as it is less able to protect the body from harmful substances. Your skin keeps bacteria out, if it’s compromised, they have a direct line into your body.
- Excessive oil production or acne: A damaged skin barrier may lead to an overproduction of oil, which can lead to acne. Also, it’s very common for clients to come to me, believing they have excess oil. When, on examination, it isn’t excess oil, it’s their natural moisturising factors that are leaving their skin. Often, then has meant that clients have used incorrect products, usually in the form of harsh acids and abrasive cleansers – in a bid to get their ‘excess oil’ under control. Unfortunately, this has led to further damage to the skin’s barrier.
What causes a damaged skin barrier?
Your skin barrier can be damaged by a variety of factors, including environmental stressors, chemical irritants, and certain medical conditions or medications. It’s important to protect the skin barrier by using targeted skin care products, staying hydrated, and avoiding exposure to harsh conditions whenever possible.
It’s not just external factors that can cause a damaged skin barrier. It’s just as important to look at the ‘inside out’ too. For example, a diet high in sugar may contribute to skin barrier damage by causing inflammation, dehydration, and damage to collagen, as well as impairing immune function. The same can be said for any allergies or food intolerances, these will trigger an inflammatory response, which will eventually show up on your skin, in some form. The reality is, that whatever is going on IN your body, will show up on your skin, in one way or another.
Here are some examples of reasons you may have a damaged skin barrier;
1. How to repair your skin from within
- FRUITS AND VEGETABLES: These foods are rich in vitamins and minerals that are essential for healthy skin. Fruits and vegetables that are particularly good for your skin. My advice is always to ‘eat the rainbow’, as different colour foods contain different nutrients.
- NUTS AND SEEDS: Nuts and seeds are a good source of healthy fats and antioxidants, which can help to improve the appearance of your skin. Examples include almonds, sunflower seeds, and chia seeds.
- FISH: Fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can help to keep your skin healthy and moisturized.
- DARK CHOCOLATE: (Yay!!) Cocoa is rich in antioxidants, which can help to protect your skin from damage caused by free radicals. Choose dark chocolate with a high cocoa content (70% or higher) for the most benefits.
- WATER: I know you’ve heard it before, but that’s because it’s super important. Your body is almost 70% water and every single process in your body needs it. Aim for 2-3 litres per day, more if you’re exercising.
- LEAFY GREENS: Increase your intake of green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale broccoli and cabbage. These are super cleansing and nutritious.
- BERRY GOODNESS: Increase your intake of low sugar fruits, such as blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries. Full of antioxidants and help to balance those blood sugar levels.
- PROTEIN: Make sure you’re eating good sources of protein at every meal. Protein is important for the health of your skin and collagen production. If you’re struggling to find protein sources, then there are some great protein powders available.
- VITAMIN C: Eat foods that are rich in Vitamin C, such as berries, oranges, sweet potato, papaya, and pumpkins/squashes. Essential to produce healthy collagen, and it’s a powerful antioxidant.
- VITAMIN E: This is essential to healthy skin growth and protects your skin. Avocado, pine nuts and hazelnuts are great sources.
- SELENIUM: Great for your immune system and skin health. Find it in eggs, tomatoes, wheatgerm, shellfish, broccoli, and brazil nuts
- ZINC: Helps your skin to repair and keeps it supple. Find it in lean meat, poultry, whole grains, fish, shellfish, nuts & seeds.
- SPICES: Turmeric is a wonderful anti-inflammatory. Cinnamon is great for balancing blood sugar levels. Ginger is amazing for its ability to flush out toxins and aid blood circulation – it’s also said to increase collagen production and reduce inflammation. Add these little powerhouses to your cooking or soups!
Eliminating foods that you are intolerant to, will help you too. If you aren’t sure if you have a food intolerance, then I’d recommend keeping a skin and food diary, to see if you can notice any patterns. It can take several days for an intolerance to show up on your skin, so keeping a diary can help you see if there are any patterns developing.
2. SUNSCREEN, SUNSCREEN, SUNSCREEN!!
So important, I said it (OK, SHOUTED IT) three times!! UV exposure is the single most damaging thing for your skin, and responsible for up to 80-90% of premature ageing. Read that again.
UV exposure isn’t just about sun exposure, that’s just one element. You have UVA rays and UVB rays. Think ‘A’ is for ageing, and you’re exposed to UVA rays 365 days a year, come rain or shine. ‘B’ is for burning, and these are the rays that you’re exposed to during sun exposure – even in winter sun, not just summer. This is why it’s important to wear a broad spectrum (covering UVA and UVB) sunscreen, 365 days a year.
The ways that UV rays can damage your skin might come as a shock to you! Read on to find out more:
DNA damage: UV radiation can damage the DNA in skin cells, leading to the production of abnormal collagen. Less than ideal when our natural collagen levels start to decline from our mid-late 20’s!
Enzyme damage: UV rays can damage enzymes that help to produce collagen, leading to a decrease in collagen production. (see above comment about declining collagen levels!).
Collagen breakdown: It can cause collagen fibers to break down, leading to a loss of collagen in the skin.
These effects of UV radiation on collagen can lead to a damaged skin barrier. Collagen is a protein that helps to support the skin barrier, and a decrease in collagen can weaken the skin barrier and make it more prone to damage. And, the inflammation and DNA damage caused by UV radiation can also contribute to skin barrier damage.
The truth is, that if you’re not using sunscreen 365 days a year, then you’re pretty much wasting your time and money on skin care products, as the UV exposure will be undoing most of the good your products are doing. And, actually – if you’re using high strength active ingredients like vitamin C and retinol without using sunscreen, you could be increasing that damage even further.
If you only take one thing away from my blog on damaged skin barrier, then please let it be to start wearing sun screen every day. Choose a broad spectrum factor 30-50, face formula, and apply it to your face, neck and décolletage daily.
3. Repairing your damaged skin barrier with skin care
OK, so now we understand that your sun screen is your number ONE skin care product for a damaged skin barrier. We can move on to look at skin care products that can help too. I will refer to ‘medical grade’ skin care products for the purpose of this blog, but if you want to read more about the differences between medical grade and over the counter – click HERE.
In my aesthetics clinic in Hampshire, I prescribe AlumierMD. I love this brand, because the ingredients are high quality, bio-available (this means they are in a form that your body naturally knows what to do with), it’s adaptable and progressive, and they also source their ingredients ethically. Their products are formulated with a higher concentration of active ingredients than over-the-counter products, making them more effective, and targeted.
I’m going to give you my top THREE ingredients, for repairing a damaged skin barrier. Please be aware that not all products are created equal, so I’d recommend getting the advice of an experienced practitioner. Also, please not my earlier point on the importance of using sunscreen, especially when using active ingredients.
VITAMIN C: It’s an antioxidant and when applied topically, it can help to stimulate collagen production, which can improve the overall structure and support of the skin. This can help to repair any damage that has been caused to the skin barrier and improve its ability to protect the skin from external stressors. It’s also fantastic at reducing inflammation, which can weaken the skin barrier and make it more susceptible to damage. This little powerhouse is also an antioxidant, which means that it can help to protect the skin from damage caused by environmental stressors such as UV radiation and pollution. TOP TIP: Vitamin C serums are applied in the morning, on clear, dry skin, followed by your anti ageing/targeted serums, moisturiser and sunscreen.
RETINOL is a form of vitamin A and it strengthens your skin, by stimulating the production of collagen and increasing the turnover of skin cells. This can help to improve the overall structure and support of the skin, and can help to repair any damage that has been caused to the skin barrier. It also has exfoliating properties, which can help to remove dead skin cells and unclog pores, revealing new, healthy skin cells and improve the overall texture and appearance of the skin. Retinol also speeds up the quantity and improves the quality of collagen too, making it an anti ageing super hero. Retinol is also an antioxidant, which means that it can help to protect the skin from damage caused by environmental stressors such as UV radiation and pollution. TOP TIP: Only apply retinol in the evening on clean, dry skin – and follow with your other skin care. A word of caution, if your skin is dry and flaky, or red and irritated – it’s a sign that your retinol is too strong, or not suitable for you. Don’t be put off – not all retinols are the same, you can read more in my retinol blog HERE.
HYALURONIC ACID is a substance that is naturally found in the skin and is known for its ability to hold onto moisture, in fact, it can hold 1000 x it’s own weight in water!. When applied topically, it can help to repair the skin barrier by attracting and retaining moisture in the skin. This can help to improve the skin’s hydration levels and reduce the appearance of dry, flaky skin. It also helps to stimulate collagen production, which we all know is a good thing! And, because I love a multi-tasker, it too, is also an antioxidant. TOP TIP: Use it AM and PM, generously! You an also look for masks to use with HA in – I’m a little obsessed with the Foreo UFO2, and their Make My Day masks – for a super charged boost!
4. Lifestyle tips to support your skin
If you’ve read any of my other blogs, you’ll know how hot I am on approaching your skin from the inside out and outside in! So, here’s my top 5 lifestyle tips, to support healthy skin. You find a whole heap of extra advice and information in my blogs – there’s lots to choose from.
SLEEP IS CRUCIAL: Your skin is repairing and regenerating at night time. It’s producing new collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid. It’s also removing unwanted fluid and toxins from your skin. Making sure you get 7-9 hours of good sleep a night will really help to strengthen your skin.
REDUCE STRESS: I know this can be easier said than done. But you don’t have to go crazy and start meditating for hours a day, or doing yoga. The problem with stress is causes an increase in our stress hormone, cortisol. When this level is increased, our body goes into a fight or flight mode, as it believes we’re in danger. During this time, it supresses what it considers ‘non essential’ processes, and the health of your skin (hair, nails and gut) are not of the highest importance, when you’re in danger. Just taking a few minutes to destress will help. Try this breathing exercise: breath in for 4 seconds, hold for 4, out for 4, hold for 4. Repeat 10 times. That will help to calm your nervous system and reduce your cortisol levels naturally.
SPEND TIME OUTSIDE: Spending time outside in nature can really boost your immune system. Not only is it proven to help reduce stress, but you’re coming into contact with a diverse array of microbes, which helps to train and strengthen our immune system.
TAKE A MICROBOME SUPPLEMENT: 70% of our immune system is in out gut. Microbiome supplements can help to support immune health by promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut, which can help to strengthen the immune system and protect against illness. I recommend Advanced Nutrition Programme Clear Skin Biome or Skin Youth Biome, Rejuvenated’s Immune Complex, or Optibac – the latter is a high street brand.
EAT THE RAINBOW: As a qualified Nutritional Therapist, I can never stay away from the power of looking after your skin from within. Here are my top 10 foods for boosting your immune system (these are just 10 I’ve picked, there are so many to choose from!).
- Citrus fruits: These are high in vitamin C, which is a key nutrient for supporting immune health.
- Red bell peppers: These are also high in vitamin C, and also contain beta carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A. Vitamin A helps to support the immune system and protect against infection.
- Spinach: Rich in vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta carotene.
- Ginger: An amazing anti-inflammatory that can help to help boost the immune system.
- Turmeric: Like ginger, turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory.
- Almonds: High in vitamin E, which is important for immune health.
- Sunflower seeds: Also high in vitamin E, as well as other immune-boosting nutrients like selenium and zinc.
- Sweet potatoes & butternut squash: These are high in beta carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A, which is important for immune function.
- Garlic: Has antimicrobial properties and may help to support immune function.
- Green tea: Contains antioxidants called catechins, which may help to boost the immune system
Not only will all of these tips (and everything else in this blog on damaged skin barrier) help your skin, but also your overall health and well being. Because, the only way to support your skin fully, is from the inside out and outside in. You can cheat the largest organ of your body!
5. Treatments and Home Devices
A damaged skin barrier sometimes needs a little helping hand. There are some great clinic based treatments that can help you, and also some things you can do at home too. I’ll share my top 3 tips for At Home, and my top 3 Clinic treatment too.
- Use a targeted skin care range, that is aimed at strengthening and repairing your skin. This will usually include active ingredients such as retinol, vitamin C and hyaluronic acid, but you may benefit from targeted serums if you have specific damage, such as pigmentation. My advice is to seek the advice of a professional for this. And ALWAYS wear your sunscreen, minimum spf 30, come rain or shine. It’s not sufficient for it to be in your moisturiser or makeup.
- Help support your skin through lifestyle and diet: There’s a lot of advice you can put into practice in this blog, which will make a significant difference to your skin, and how it repairs. If you follow the advice I’ve given you, you’ll see the benefits on your within 2-3 months.
- At home treatments: Using nourishing masks that are rich in hyaluronic acid and ceramides, will help to boost your skin and restore the moisture levels. LED Light Therapy masks can also help, as they boost the collagen levels in your skin and help your skin to repair. Not all devices are created equal though, so please ask if you’d like some advice.
- Microneedling/Radiofrequency microneedling: Microneedling stimulates fresh, healthy collagen in your skin and helps to promote a healthy skin barrier. It super charges your cell turnover, and encourages your skin to produce fresh and healthy cells. The addition of radiofrequency is incredible for collagen & elastin boosting, and super charges your results. RF microneedling is the most powerful form of microneedling.
- Skin Peels: These would be a starting point if your skin is severely compromised, and not ready for clinical treatments. Skin Peels help to remove dead skin cells, boost skin cell activity and nourish your skin. Avoid harsh peels if you have a damaged skin barrier, as the ‘wrong’ peel will do more harm than good.
- LED Light Therapy: I have mentioned this in home care, but the advantage of having this treatment in a clinic, is that it will be so much more powerful. You will likely need an intense course initially. Sometimes, this treatment is combined with skin peels too. Again, not all devices are created equal and, if you’re looking for clinical treatments in the UK – I’d recommend finding a clinic with either Celluma or Dermalux – both devices are medical CE Grade and FD approved, so proven to be both safe and effective.
How long does it take to heal a damaged skin barrier?
A damaged skin barrier isn’t going to heal over night. So, patience and consistency is key.
Skin cell turnover is around 28 days, although increased to 50-60 days as we mature. How your skin repairs, will be determined by the factors that we have discussed in this blog. In addition, your over all health, medical conditions, medications etc, all play a role.
The honest answer is that the length of time it takes to repair a damaged skin barrier will vary. Realistically, you’re looking at a minimum of 3 months. However, for most, 6-12 months is often more realistic – particularly if you’re 30+ years old.
Consistency and patience are your two best friends here. Be aware that if you’re changing skin care, you’ll need to allow at least one full cell turnover cycle, before assessing any results – but the full benefits of active skin care ingredients come at 3 months +.
Clinic treatments can help to speed up the repair of a damaged skin barrier, but please make sure you consult a professional. As any treatment in the wrong hands, could make things a whole lot worse for you.
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In my experience, there are always internal and external factors affecting your skin, and skin care and treatments alone are rarely enough. Once you can identify YOUR unique factors that influence your skin, you have the power to make changes that really have an impact, and give you results you’ll love.
And that, is the end of my blog on damaged skin barrier
I hope that you’ve found my blog helpful. If you’d like help with your skin or scars, then please get in touch via the button below.
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I look forward to hearing from you. Best, Nikki