If you're dealing with eczema or rosacea, you're probably familiar with the concept of a skin barrier. The skin barrier is the outermost layer of skin and acts as a shield from environmental factors and bacterial infections and it also keeps your skin hydrated. However, people with eczema or rosacea tend to have a weakened skin barrier, which can leave them susceptible to inflammation and other symptoms.
But what is a skin barrier, exactly?
The skin barrier is made up of several layers of cells and lipids (fats) that work together to form a physical barrier. The outermost layer of the skin, called the stratum corneum, is made up of skin cells that are held together by a mixture of lipids. These lipids, which include ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids, form a protective layer that helps to keep the skin moisturised and prevent it from becoming dry or damaged.
The skin barrier is essential for maintaining the health and appearance of the skin, and it plays a vital role in protecting the body from the environment. It helps to prevent the loss of moisture from the skin, which can lead to dryness and irritation, and it helps to keep out irritants and allergens that can cause irritation or allergic reactions. A healthy skin barrier is able to retain moisture and keep the skin hydrated, soft, and supple, while a weakened skin barrier may be more permeable and prone to dryness and irritation.
Rosacea and a damaged skin barrier
If you have rosacea, environmental factors like hot and cold temperatures and sun exposure can trigger symptoms. A damaged skin barrier can make you more susceptible to these triggers, so improving skin barrier function can help reduce your rosacea symptoms.
Eczema and a damaged skin barrier
For people with eczema there are several factors that can contribute to a weakened skin barrier. One of the main factors is a deficiency in certain lipids, such as ceramides, that are essential for maintaining the integrity of the skin barrier. Defects in the filaggrin gene, which is involved in the production of these lipids, have also been linked to a weakened skin barrier in people with eczema. Filaggrin is essentially a protein that is found in the skin and helps to keep it moisturised and healthy. It plays a vital role in the formation of the skin barrier, which helps to protect the body from the environment and maintain proper hydration. When there isn't enough filaggrin, the skin loses moisture and gaps form between skin cells, leading to a leaky skin barrier and worsening eczema symptoms.
If your skin barrier is damaged, you may experience symptoms like stinging, itching, redness, sensitivity, rough patches, dry skin, or skin infections.
But how did your skin barrier even get damaged?
There are several factors that can damage your skin barrier, including:
- certain skincare products, especially harsh actives
- over-cleansing and over-exfoliating
- UV exposure
- dry or humid climates
- contact with allergens
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect and restore your skin barrier. You can start by being aware of your skin's pH, which should be between 4.7 and 5. Using skincare products that are gentle and free from harsh ingredients can also help protect your skin barrier. It's also important to avoid over-cleansing and over-exfoliating, and to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen to protect your skin from UV rays.
If you're struggling with eczema or rosacea, repairing and caring for the skin barrier may be an ongoing process that requires consistency.