Is Your Skin Barrier Compromised? Here’s How To Tell

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It’s easy to tell if your skin has hyperpigmentation, breakouts, or dryness. However, the cause may be hidden behind your most persistent skin concerns. “The skin barrier is your body’s first line of defense protecting you from the outside environment,” esthetician and founder of Black Skin Directory, Dija Ayodele tells ESSENCE. Defending against pollution, UV rays, and bacteria, a compromised skin barrier can be more of a threat to your skin’s health than you may expect.

Below, Ayodele tells us everything to know about your skin barrier and how to protect it. 

What is a skin barrier?

As the first line of defense from the environment, the epidermis (especially the upper layer, “stratum corneum”) acts as a barrier for your skin. It works to prevent our body from moisture and water loss, while also managing your temperature. “Black skin in particular is prone to higher rates of moisture loss due to lower ceramides levels, so the skin barrier takes on more significance,” Ayodele says. “It is made up of neatly arranged skin cells which are held together by a cocktail of fats, amino acids, salts, sugar, urea and lactic acid.” 

Under a microscope, the skin barrier “resembles a brick wall,” she says. “The invisible acid mantle sits on top of this, further preventing bacteria and pathogens from damaging the skin and keeping the skin in an overall state of balance.” If our barrier is compromised, the skin is more susceptible to damage which can result in visible skin issues, including fungal acne and hyperpigmentation.

Is my skin barrier compromised? 

If you’re not sure if your barrier is compromised, Ayodele says the signs are easy to spot. “Inflammation is a key driver of hyperpigmentation which can be a significant bug bear for Black skin,” she says. In addition to inflammation, other signs like irritated, dry, sensitive or flushed complexions point to damage. “Sometimes this can be accompanied by a rash and you may also be prone to more breakouts or dry skin conditions like eczema are exacerbated,” she says. “The skin will also be slow to heal and you can experience increased allergic reactions.” 

What causes a compromised barrier? 

However easy it is to tell, it may be more difficult to pinpoint a single cause. This is because it can range  from illness to incorrect use of skin care products and treatments. Additionally, aggressive or harsh ingredients can be causes as well. “The weather and environment can also play a role,” she says, citing extreme cold or heat, wind, and unprotected sun exposure. “Consistent exposure to chemicals like chlorine, acids or alkaline products like soap, [as well as] stress and aging play a big part, too.” 

What are the signs of a healthy skin barrier?

“The health of your skin barrier is super important because that is what ensures that your skin remains comfortable, balanced and flexible to cope with everyday living,” she says. “A healthy skin barrier means  the internal functions– self exfoliation, replication of skin cells, and even melanin production– of the skin to operate well,” she says. “It also helps guard against premature aging.” 

How do I repair it?

Once you pinpoint if your skin barrier is damaged, start by pulling back from the suspected cause whether a product or technique in your skincare routine. “Look for humectants; soothing and nourishing ingredients like niacinamide, ceramides, glycerine, hyaluronic acid, urea, squalane, peptides, and essential fatty acids,” Ayodele says. “These are skin building blocks and by concentrating your routine on them, you will be able to restore your skin.” 

She also recommends you use occlusive moisturizers; including ingredients like petrolatum or lanolin. And, above all, “don’t forget your SPF, it is very important,” she warns. Lastly, she says to use cool water and apply moisturizer immediately after.

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