The Barrier Function- Our Very Own Coat of Armour

My focus this month is on skin health and keeping the skin youthful. I wouldn’t be the professional that I am if I don’t start this off with the Natural Barrier Function. Yes, I hear you…” here she goes again” but there’s a very good reason I talk non-stop about this incredible function of the skin.

So let me start by asking you, why when you jump into a swimming pool does your body not flood with water???

Well, that would be because of the amazing ability of our skin to protect our entire body, our vital organs, bones, muscles, everything inside! Waterproofing is just one of the many, many functions our skin is designed to do. Pretty impressive for something that is just 0.5-1.5mm thick!!

And what makes the skin have this protective ability is the barrier function.

The barrier function is made up of 3 main elements:

The lipid bilayer

The corneocyte cells in the top layer of the epidermis (stratum corneum) are flattened and hardened to give them a protective ability. Between these cells we have the epidermal lipids, if you imagine a brick wall, the cells are the bricks and the lipids are the cement. These cells also have a water-retaining mechanism called the Natural Moisturising Factor compromising of humectants enabling the cells to hold large amounts of water.

This combination of essential oil and water elements creates a complete barrier to prevent anything from getting in and also water loss from within the skin. All cellular and enzyme activity that takes place in the skin does so in solution with water so keeping the water content high is vital to skin health.

The Acid Mantle

The acid mantle is an invisible film that covers the surface of the skin. It creates the PH level, a healthy skin’s PH level is more towards the acidic end of the PH scale, normally sitting between 4.7-5.5. This acidic environment works to repel and inhibit any pathogenic bacteria or micro-organisms that may try and get into the skin. It also provides the ecosystem for the resident natural bacteria that lives on the skin.

Microbiome

Just like the gut, we have living active cultures on the surface of the skin (good bacteria) that fight off any bad bacteria, viruses or pathogens that may try to attack or invade our skin. As mentioned above this bacteria feeds off our sebaceous secretions.

As you can see there is a lot that goes into building and fortifying both the physical resistance and chemical shield. So you can imagine if one element goes out of kilter it can have a knock-on effect, not just to the other elements of the barrier but to the deeper layers of the skin that the barrier is designed to protect.

The formation of these components of the barrier function starts from within the lower layers of the skin. So the quality of the barrier ultimately relies on the quality of the cells, and the cells rely on what they receive nutritionally and topically to be at the top of their game. 

In my next blog, I will be discussing what can happen when the barrier is compromised and the ways in which we can keep it from becoming impaired.

If you do feel you have issues with your barrier function or any other aspect of your skin please get in touch, you can contact me by email here or book an appointment with me here. During lockdown, I am offering online consultations free of charge.

 

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