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5 ways to strengthen your skin barrier

Dry, sore, reactive skin? It may be because your skin's barrier is compromised – here's how to strengthen it

Do you have dry, sore or irritable skin? Sensitivity? Constant breakouts? If your skin is feeling out-of-sorts, the chances are you have compromised your skin barrier. But what exactly is the skin barrier and how do we protect it?

Simply put, the skin barrier is like a coat of armour that surrounds the skin, giving it a watertight seal and protecting it from outside aggressors such as UV light, irritants and infections, while locking in essential hydration.

Made from a blend of lipids (fatty acids) including ceramides and cholesterol, it can become damaged when the tight arrangement of the cells is disrupted. This results in skin that's red, itchy, dry yet oily, sensitive and uncomfortable, so it pays to be vigilant and take measures to protect it. Remember – prevention is better than cure.

Cleanse with care

Despite the popularity of the double cleanse in the media where we’ve all been encouraged to cleanse our faces twice at night to get our skin squeaky clean, super-scrupulous cleansing can be the very thing that is damaging our delicate skin barrier by stripping away the natural lipids. It’s worth paring back facial washes which can be drying and switching to creamier products or cleansing balms that keep moisture in, such as ZO Skin Health Hydrating Cleanser.

Pare back your regime

We all love the immediate results that scrubs, exfoliators and acids can give our skin, but over zealous use of these products can remove or ‘melt’ the ceramides that bind our skin together. Ceramides are lipids (fat molecules) that occur naturally in the skin and ‘cement’ the cells together. They help hold the skin together by forming a protective layer that stops moisture escaping while stopping aggressors entering. Manual cleansing tools such as brushes and sponges are worth ditching too, in favour of your fingers or a flannel.

Look at your lifestyle 

The same lifestyle factors that can affect our skin's overall health can also impact the barrier and its ability to heal itself. Not drinking enough water or getting enough sleep, stress or drinking too much alcohol or caffeine are bad news for our general health and skin. It’s definitely worth taking a look at your lifestyle and making changes where possible. Sun exposure too is majorly damaging, so it’s very important to never skip applying an SPF daily: choose a factor of at least 30 regardless of whether it’s cloudy or sunny. We rate Skinceuticals Mineral Radiance UV Defence 50.

Embrace water retention

Keeping skin nourished with repairing ingredients is essential, especially if your skin barrier is already showing signs of damage. Because your skin is losing more water than usual, you need to focus on boosting its water levels for as long as possible. Look for ingredients such as fatty acids, cholesterol, ceramides, niacinamide and hyaluronic acid which binds water up to 1000 times its weight. Try Medik8 Ultimate Recovery Intense, or Dr Sam’s Flawless Moisturiser.

Let there be light

For an extra boost to help heal and protect your skin barrier, invest in a course of red LED light therapy at an aesthetic clinic – skin absorbs light and uses it as a source of energy to stimulate a healing response. Painless and gentle, LED treatments use specific colour wavelengths of light to penetrate the skin at varying depths to help healing, lower inflammation and generate new collagen. If your skin barrier is noticeably damaged, you may need three to five treatments a week for the first few weeks, followed by a maintenance programme of one a week for a couple of months.

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