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It is clear that a healthy skin barrier is key to our well-being – and also helps us look our best!
At Eighteen B, we believe that healthy skin requires a healthy skin barrier. Dermatologist Dr. S. Tyler Hollmig agrees. We reached out to Dr. Hollmig, the Director of Dermatologic Surgery and Director of Laser and Cosmetic Dermatology at the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin, to ask a few questions about the skin barrier and why it matters. Here’s what he had to say.
The skin barrier can be complicated. How do you describe the skin barrier to a patient?
The skin barrier is incredibly important and enormously complicated. It helps to keep the bad stuff out and the good stuff in, and also helps us regulate temperature, feel and interact with our surroundings, and even plays an important role in our immune system. You can conceptualize the outer layer of our skin almost like the wall of a castle, with skin cells representing the stones and lipids and other natural elements between the cells as the mortar holding it all together.
There is also something called the “acid mantle,” where, to take the example even further, a natural acidic film serves almost like a moat surrounding the castle, keeping out bacteria and other potential skin contaminants. So we have a really elegant “mechanical barrier” that blocks harsh environmental factors from penetrating our skin, and also helps maintain our inner water balance, but there are so many more amazing things that our skin barrier does for us, as mentioned above! It is clear that a healthy skin barrier is key to our well-being – and also helps us look our best!
What causes the skin barrier to become compromised?
There are numerous causes of a compromised skin barrier, and this keeps dermatologists incredibly busy! Genetic factors as well as environmental stressors may all violate the skin barrier. One common cause of poor barrier function is simple: dry skin! When the skin becomes dry, due to weather changes, hereditary causes, or overuse of harsh exfoliating or other agents, the outer layer of the skin loses its ability to protect deeper layers from the environment, leading to skin irritation, dermatitis, and other problems.
How can we tell if your skin barrier is weakened?
Typical signs of a poor skin barrier include dry, scaly skin, and red, irritated skin. Itch can derive from poor skin barrier function and be more than a little annoying! Similarly, atopic dermatitis (eczema), and a host of other skin maladies are largely driven by a weakened skin barrier.
Do you believe these skin conditions are becoming more common?
More and more patients seems to experience “sensitive skin.” This term is thrown around so incredibly commonly – and this is a real problem – but it is difficult to pin down exactly what “sensitive skin” means. It manifests in so many different ways, from sensitivity to topical products to eczema to acne. I do believe that environmental changes (increased UV exposure, increased pollution, others) plus overuse of certain harsh cosmetic products or inappropriate combinations of skin products are all playing a role in the increase in sensitive and irritated skin we are seeing in our clinics.
What can we do to protect our skin barrier?
General advice here is to protect the skin from the sun every day – UV protection is key, even when we are not going to be outside as certain harmful wavelengths of light penetrate window glass. Additionally, gentle cleansing to remove makeup and pollutants before bed (avoid harsh scrubs!) is helpful, along with using a moisturizer tailored to the individual patient’s skin type and environment. In general, fewer products are better than lots of different products and fewer ingredients trump a laundry list of fragrances and preservatives.
Do you have a question for our skincare experts? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.