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The Importance of the Skin Barrier

Don’t succumb to the dreaded ‘winter face’ this season. Take care of your epidermal barrier and your skin will do the rest.

Just when you had mastered the art of summer skincare and the minimal regime changes required by autumn, along comes winter with its freezing temperatures and biting winds. You will probably have updated your winter wardrobe already; swapping t-shirts for woolly jumpers and sandals for boots, but have you reassessed your skincare regime?

The start of winter shines a harsh light on the condition of the skin barrier, that outermost layer of the epidermis known as the stratum corneum, revealing a dry, flaky and irritated complexion that appears unrecognisable to your previously plump and sun-kissed skin. Yes, an impaired skin barrier might not look great, but its inability to function properly during the winter can open up the door to a whole host of issues that your skin could do without. We’re talking accelerated ageing, dehydration, sensitivity, redness, rough texture and even eczema – things that definitely aren’t on your wish list.

Dr Carl Thornfeldt, founder and CEO of Epionce skin care, knows just how important the skin barrier is for good skin health: “The skin barrier has a huge influence over what happens in both the dermis and epidermis. In fact, it is important for regulating all kinds of aspects of the skin. Damage to the barrier could lead to inflammation in the cells, which results in skin ageing, and the increase of bad things like pollution and UV light penetrating the skin.”

The easiest way to visualise the skin’s barrier is to think of a flattened brick wall. The bricks are corneocytes, a type of cell whose name is derived from the Latin term for armour, and the mortar filling in the gaps between these bricks are lipids. This so-called wall has two jobs; to prevent moisture and vital nutrients escaping from the skin and to keep potential irritants and bacteria out.

However, as you age the concentration of lipids within the top layers of the skin begin to decline, creating tiny openings in the skin barrier which let irritants and free radicals into the body. These openings also make moisture loss happen faster, so the skin becomes incredibly dry and tight within minutes of being outside. In winter, this moisture loss is increased even more due to the dryness of the atmosphere; basically the drier the air, the more moisture it leeches from the skin. Harsh winds also blow away any surface oils your skin may have secreted to try and protect itself from the elements, further contributing to that tingling tightness you feel when you go from the outside chill to a cosy interior.

Combating a diminished skin barrier isn’t easy, but there are ways to do it. Firstly, forget any ideas you have about thick creams being the solution to your complexion woes. “There is no direct correlation between the thickness of a cream and it being better at barrier repair,” explains Dr Carl. Instead, you need to look for moisturisers that have a high lipid content and contain barrier-supporting ingredients such as essential fatty acids, particularly Omega-6 (also known as Linoleic Acid), ceramides and cholesterol. In combination, these lipids will gradually rebuild the skin barrier, closing any gaps and strengthening any weak areas, to restore a comfortable suppleness and smoothness to the surface. The SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid Restore 2:4:2 contains each of these lipids in one of the highest concentrations currently available, along with hydrating Glycerin to protect the skin during a cold snap.

Another great product for irritated winter skin comes from Dr Carl himself, in the form of the Epionce Medical Barrier Cream. A well-trusted saviour for eczema sufferers during the colder months, this cream contains Petrolatum to temporarily seal the surface of the skin alongside natural extracts which manage to successfully close 90% of the epidermal barrier just two hours after the initial application.

As prevention is always better than cure, the sooner you can start using products with a barrier-strengthening focus, the less susceptible your skin will be to the changing seasons. No dreaded ‘winter face’ for you this year.  

Article from Skin Health Magazine

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