The skin barrier – that critical layer of defense against environmental aggressors and pollutants, comes under extra pressure over the winter. Plunging temperatures and low humidity, shorter days messing up the internal body clock, all through to limited movement over the period, with more time being spent indoors – they all affect the body, hormone production, and in turn the condition of the skin.
The skin is made of up different layers, each with their functions. The barrier is the outermost layer, and it has various components, including:
- Stratum corneum - The moisture barrier, composed of corneocytes (dead cells that are mostly made up of keratin), which are held together by lipids including fatty acids and ceramides. It works to minimize transepidermal water loss by trapping moisture.
- Skin microbiome, which is a community of friendly microbes – bacteria, fungi, and viruses – living on the skin, protecting it from harmful pathogens and inflammatory diseases.
- Acid mantle - a thin film on the skin surface composed of sebum (from oil glands) and amnio acids (from sweat).
What Damages the Skin Barrier?
Threats are both internal and external. For instance, when in an environment that is too dry, it leads to itchiness and cracking, generally decreasing the skin barrier function and making it more susceptible to mechanical stress. You end up reacting more strongly to allergens and irritants. This is also why the winter holidays see higher cases of flare-ups for those with conditions like dermatitis.
Over-exfoliating weakens the skin barrier, taking lots of hot showers strips away those protective oils, and using harsh soaps is also detrimental. Internally, issues like diet come into focus, since the skin needs a healthy supply of proteins, essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals to retain its structural integrity. Psychological distress also exacerbates skin problems, such as with cases of acne, rosacea and psoriasis being worsened by stress.
Keeping Your Skin Barrier in Shape
How do you keep your skin glowing over the Winter? For starters, you can simplify the daily skin regimen you use instead of loading it with a cocktail of products. A common concern is people working with brushes that are too harsh for their skin-type, or foaming cleansers that deplete the Natural Moisturizing Factor.
When looking through skin care product options, check for ingredients that help in minimizing the effects of the environmental stressors. For instance, antioxidants in the formulation will protect against damage from free radicals. You can find this in natural extracts with powerful antioxidant properties such as the Camellia sinensis extract in Glam 4-Step Facial's exfoliating scrub. This also applies to your diet, where you want to have rich meals that promote skin health – even topping up with supplements, such as those with ceramides to rejuvenate the skin.
Keep an eye on the pH of the soaps and detergents that come into contact with the skin, e.g., those with sodium lauryl sulfate strip away the natural oils, causing the skin barrier to become dry and irritated with prolonged exposure. For the baths and showers, have them at milder temperatures, to avoid damaging the skin further.