It’s complex, and there’s good reason for it - your skin is a complex organ! But when you start to breakdown what your skin’s barrier is and what it does, it’s also incredibly fascinating.
There are 5 components to your skin’s barrier. These are the epidermis, stratum corneum, the lipid barrier, acid mantle and the microbiome. They all play a vital but very different role in protecting you.
So, here’s a short summary of each component and how they work.
Just like your gut, your skin is also home to an ecosystem of healthy bacteria. This ecosystem of microflora is called your microbiome. And, just like your gut microbiome, these organisms work hard to fight off bad bacteria to avoid infection and inflammation.
Your microbiome is a strong, yet delicate thing. Just like our environment, the system can be easily compromised with too much interference or disturbance. Things like foaming cleansers and harsh chemicals can reduce the number of healthy microflora and leave you susceptible to breakouts or sensitivity. It’s important that we support and care for the microflora that we have.
The microflora in the microbiome prefer a slightly acid environment. This is where the acid mantle comes into play, which is a thin film that sits on top the skin.
Think of the acid mantle as your skin’s equivalent of the Earth’s ozone layer. It neutralises harmful bacteria and protects from harmful contaminants and pollutants penetrating and damaging the skin. A healthy acid mantle will aid nutrient absorption into the deeper layers but also help prevent moisture loss.
The acid mantle is made up of your natural oils like sebum and secretions like sweat. If you’ve ever noticed symptoms like an uncomfortable tightness after cleansing or consistent skin dryness or flakiness this can be a sign you have a damaged acid mantle.
The good news is that you can reset your acid mantle through using products that are slightly more acidic, e.g. AHA exfoliants.
The lipid layer is made up of oil molecules and fatty acids that helps protect the skin from dehydration. If you imagine what happens when you pour oil on top of water, it provides a barrier. A healthy, intact lipid layer works in a similar way, sitting on top of the skin as a waterproof layer, reducing the amount of water that is lost from cells below it.
A healthy lipid barrier also aids the skin’s healing process and is what makes your skin feel smooth, soft and plump.
The stratum corneum is the outermost physical layer of the skin. It’s often described as a brick wall. Cells called corneocytes act like bricks, mortared together by lipids, and create a barrier or shield for the skin against dehydration, toxins and bacteria.
This is the first line of defence to the actual body itself i.e. the nervous system, muscles etc.
The epidermis provides a barrier against infection from environmental factors and regulates the amount of water released from the body through transepidermal water loss. It also keeps cells healthy and regulates their production.