Five years ago, barely anyone outside of the medical community was talking about the skin barrier. The average person didn’t know what it was, and it certainly wasn’t a term that frequented beauty brand marketing. Today, #skinbarrier has more than 1.1 billion views on TikTok, and I get asked to speak about it on massive national TV shows like Good Morning America. The skin barrier is not just having a moment, it surpassed being a viral hashtag and has cemented itself into the mainstream of skincare.
First, skin barrier 101.
Our skin barrier is a smart, protective shield made up of living and non-living cells. Its main function is to serve as an interface with the outside world. When our skin barrier is healthy, it acts like a biodynamic membrane, constantly making decisions about what is allowed to enter the skin and what is blocked.
A compromised skin barrier is what I call “leaky skin”, which means that it’s chronically inflamed and prone to irritation and inflammation. When your skin barrier is compromised, the skin is no longer able to trap moisture as effectively, leaving it dehydrated and also less able to protect against penetration of environmental allergens, irritants, and pollutants.
When your skin barrier is intact, your skin can redirect its energy towards repairing your healthy collagen and elastic fibers, rather than fighting inflammation. Your skin is able to shift from defense mode to repair mode, which is where you need to be to optimize your skin’s health.
Common signs of a compromised barrier:
Breakouts: The skin barrier plays a critical role in preventing acne and inflammation in the skin.
Accentuated Fine Lines: Dehydrated skin can also be a sign of a damaged barrier. As mentioned above, when the barrier isn’t intact, moisture evaporates out, making fine lines around the eyes and mouth look more pronounced.
Hyperpigmentation: When your skin barrier is compromised, your skin is slightly inflamed, and sometimes your pigment producing cells respond to that inflammation by pumping out more pigment, leading to dark spots.
So what exactly makes up a healthy skin barrier? It has four key components.
1. Lipids: A healthy skin barrier has ceramides, free fatty acids, and
cholesterol. These work together to help trap and seal moisture in the skin.
2. A Healthy pH: pH is really important, which is why the skin is often referred to as having an acid mantle. Our skin’s pH should be slightly acidic. As we mature, the pH of our skin naturally creeps up. If we over-cleanse, we can shift the pH into a more alkaline zone that can further accelerate aging and inflammation. We need to use skincare products that are going to bring it back down into that healthy range.
3. Balanced Immune System: Our skin has its own immune system called the skin-associated lymphoid tissue (“SALT”). So many skin issues result from an overzealous immune system—one that is too revved up and causing unnecessary inflammation. It’s all about having a smart, balanced immune system—one that is strong enough to prevent infection, but isn’t over-responsive and hyperreactive.
4. The Skin Microbiome. You have trillions of microorganisms living in, and on, the surface of your skin. When they are rich, diverse, and in balance, they work hard to keep your skin barrier healthy. When they are off-balance, that’s when the skin barrier suffers.
Five key ingredients I recommend to nourish and restore your skin barrier.
Sunflower Seed Oil
You can learn more about each ingredient on our DWB Skindex. You can also find all of them in our Bowe Glowe™ Nourishing Microbiome Cream, which I specifically formulated to help strengthen the skin barrier.
While platforms like TikTok helped propel the skin barrier into the forefront of skincare, I don’t expect this to be another social media trend that comes and goes. Because once you understand how essential the skin barrier is for your skin’s vitality and health—how it’s a powerful protective guardian of our skin’s healthiest glow—it’s not something you really want to forget.