The Natural Barrier Function

The skin is a clever self-regulating organ with an inbuilt protection mechanism. In skincare, enhancing this natural protection is key to ensuring greater skin health. So all treatments and products should be geared towards progressively building and supporting your skin’s natural barrier function.

What is the Natural Barrier Function (NBF)?

The Natural Barrier Function is your skins first line of defence and its integrity is vital to good skin health. Without it, skin becomes susceptible to environmental irritation, disease and infection.

On the flip side, the Natural Barrier Function also prevents the skin from losing moisture through Trans Epidermal Water Loss (TEWL) and prevents the skin from further dysfunctions.

What makes up the Natural Barrier Function?

There are two elements to the NBF –

1.     The physical barrier consisting of skin fats (aka epidermal lipids), skin cells, water and amino acids. The arrangement is like a wall – with the cells being the bricks and fats, water and amino acid being the mortar that holds it all together.

This physical element is impermeable and provides the deeper layers of the skin with a defence mechanism by forming a waterproof barrier to prevent TEWL and environment aggressors from penetrating the skin.

The mortar element of the physical barrier function; which consists mainly of ceramides, cholesterol, free fatty acids and waxes; also provides lubrication and suppleness to the skin allowing for ease of movement and preventing your skin from drying out by trapping water in the lower layers of skin.

2.     The chemical barrier consisting of lipids, water, sugar, friendly bacteria and amino acids. Together this all forms the acid mantle, which regulates the skin at an ideal pH of 5.5 to 5.6.

This acidic environment protects the skin from harmful pathogenic bacteria and other micro-organisms.

What happens if the Natural Barrier Function breaks down?

Simply, skin health suffers – the skin becomes prone to bacterial infections, which can lead to frequent breakouts and the development of Acne.

The skin is unable to shed skin cells properly and a build up occurs, clogging pores and creating a rough texture. Your skin can appear dry, dull and flaky. For old skin cells to naturally shed of effectively, the skin must be able to retain moisture throughout all the layers. Water is one of the prerequisites for optimal exfoliation.

Dry & flaky skin resulting from poor barrier function.

Dry & flaky skin resulting from poor barrier function.

Additionally, the physical barrier, which provides the first line of defence, will malfunction giving way for environment irritants, toxins and pollution to affect the skin. Consequently, skin develops increased sensitivities leaving it vulnerable to common items like make up, sunscreen and cosmeceutical ingredients.

How do you protect the Natural Barrier Function?

Good diet – Seeing as natural fats in the skin are integral to the functioning of the Natural Barrier Function, it is important to eat a wholesome diet that feeds the skin the nutrients and essential fats it requires.

Avoid aggressive skin treatments – e.g overzealous microdermabrasion, peel off charcoal rubber masks - these erode both the physical and chemical natural barrier, breaking it down quickly and leaving skin open to irritation.

Avoid harsh ingredients – e.g. SLS’s found in soap - these could alter the acid balance of the skin giving pathogenic bacteria an increased chance of assaulting the skin.

Avoid over loading the skin – too many products, especially oil based, layered on the skin can stop the skin from performing its excretory functions like shedding old skin cells. If this cannot happen the barrier function becomes comprised.

Use the correct skincare – Use skincare containing the correct balance of actives, peptide, vitamins, antioxidants and ceramides that progressively nurtures, develops and supports the skin in performing its vital functions.

Use SPF – this protect skin cells from UV induced damage and allows them to function properly throughout all the layers of the skin, thus playing a vital defensive role in the bricks and mortar formation.

Consult an Aesthetician (or qualified skincare professional) – we can quickly spot imbalances of the Natural Barrier Function set a programme of treatments and cosmeceuticals that will heal and restore the skin back to health.

In conclusion, always remember, your Natural Barrier Function is akin the doors and windows of your house. You want to ensure they are safely closed to protect your personal possessions inside.  Leave it wide open and you are vulnerable to all and sundry walking in with dirty shoes and upsetting your peace and tranquillity!

Dija Ayodele