have you been...
feeling as if your skin has been looking a bit more tired, dull + honestly, just down right exhausted lately? Me too.
Since being in quarantine my skin has been dehydrated + in need of some serious routine adjustment to keep my skin smooth like a baby. While we are inside, this can wreak havoc on not only our mental health, but also our skin. We've been trained to avoid sun exposure + that it is harmful for our skin (this is true) but it can also be incredibly beneficial when exposed using the right protective measures.
In this blog post I am going to breakdown our skin's moisture barrier (Acid Mantle) in our skin's anatomy, the benefits of a strong moisture barrier, the signs of a broken one + tips on repairing yours!
So what are you waiting for? Let's get glowing + healthy skin.
I am not a medical professional, licensed dermatologist, or a medical aesthetician (YET, hehe) so my intent is to share the knowledge I have gained through my own personal research + experience with my own skincare journey.
WHY BEING STUCK INSIDE CAN BE DAMAGING FOR SKIN
Being inside not only wreaks havoc on our mental health but can vastly effect our skin function. When we are inside or in urban areas, our skin is exposed to less diverse microbiomes + yes, even though there are certain factors with the outdoors we want to take preventative measures against, the extra bacteria exposure is actually good for our skin. There are bacterias we get from the outdoors that HELP our skin that we cannot get indoors such as, Ammonia-Oxidizing Bacteria that is literally from dirt lol. Environmental factors can be damaging but they also help our skin adapt + properly function.
We are also receiving less oxygen which directly affects the function of our cells metabolizing. When this is functioning at its best we shed dead skin cells but with lack of oxygen this is disrupted. Oxygen naturally stimulates collagen production + anti inflammatory benefits. Aka, hello dull, tired skin. P.s. your skin can also lack oxygen through clogged pores!
UNDERSTANDING PH IN SKINCARE
I'll start with something noteworthy before we dive right in. Technically, we don't have skin 'types' + instead its based on the level of oil production/oiliness in our skin however, these types are six subcategories based on the Fitzpatrick scale. For me, I have very little oil production, fair, etc. so I need products that will help balance this + provide me with more uv protection. I will do a post on the Fitzpatrick scale but ultimately its based on these factors: skin type, eye color, natural air color + sun reaction.
PH RANGES + SKINS IDEAL PH LEVEL
pH (potential of hydrogen) is the activity of hydrogen ions in a water-based solution + this is measured on a scale ranging from 1-14 (this is a big range, I know). So how do we know what our skins optimal pH is + when is nearing the 'broken' zones?
WATER - 7 (too alkaline for our skin)
ACIDIC- below 7
ALKALINE - above 7
SKIN HAPPY pH ZONE - 4.4 - 6
Ideally, we WANT acidity in our skin as this reacts with certain enzymes, etc. + keeps our skin functions working properly + our skin permeability at the right level. Our skin has an ideal pH level for optimal happiness. This lies between the skin- neutral zone of 4.4-6 ish. It's when we start creeping outside this happy level that our barrier 'breaks' and we typically notice a fluctuation of skin problems. Our skin needs a balanced pH. When our skin starts going into the more alkaline range 6.5-11, this is when issues arise because certain enzymes activity can react with our natural shedding process (about 28 days) so this can be problematic if it is straying from this schedule.
Our goal with skincare is to use products that when reacting, still holds us in this safe barrier range. How this is done, varies person by person. Changing our skins pH too frequently can absolutely cause a damaged barrier, but i'll discuss this further below. pH is also logarithmic vs. linear, meaning it is multiplied by 10 on the scale. This is similar to the richter scale in that higher level is more powerful + damaging.
Lucky for us a lot of those chemist in skincare know about this scale of course + formulate products to work with this but changing your products too frequently can be a huge contributor to a broken barrier and is another reason why keeping a consistent routine for AT LEAST 2 weeks is really beneficial for skin.
EXAMPLES IN SKINCARE
sunscreen (alkaline) pH usually 7 ish
AHA's (acidic) pH usually below 4
ADDITIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL NOTES
With that said, I will also add that if you have a pimple + are using sun to 'zap' the zit. Stop please. You are in turn further irritating it by stripping + drying your skin of the essential oils to help take care of that pesky friend.
What is our moisture barrier?
Our skin is made of layers. There are 3 main layers that you have most likely heard at some point or another! The epidermis (outermost/first barrier protection/movement of water/electrolytes), dermis (connective tissue) + hypodermis/subcutaneous tissue (fat connective tissue, nerves/blood vessels). Our moisture barrier lies in the epidermis of our skin + is directly related to skin function, health + protection; the scientific name is, Acid Mantle. Frequently referred to as moisture barrier, protective barrier, hydro-lipid film, etcetera, our acid mantle is a very fine film the outermost layer , the stratum corneum aka the horny layer (YES this is real terminology!). Fatty lipids are so, so important in having a strong protective barrier.
THE EPIDERMAL BARRIER
First, we need to quickly understand why this layer of skin is so important + its overall function.
Our epidermal barrier related directly to the maintenance of our permeability barrier (water content/balance), antimicrobial + immune barrier (defense, protection + response to foreign, photoprotection barrier (UV/light response) + antioxidant barrier (oxidative stress).
Now, if you re-read those I bet you might have stopped + said, wow ok now I can understand
THE ACID MANTLE
The acid mantle is a very thin film made of natural oils, sweat, amino acids that is literally a protective layer against bacteria, viruses, and the harmful sh*t we just don't want in or on our skin! This layer is made of free fatty acids + is happiest with a neutral pH of 4.4 to 6 ish. A reduction in the chain length can affect its permeability, decreasing our protective barrier function. Our acid mantle also helps prevent water loss and without water we lose that elastic, supple, healthy look to our skin.
Epidermal lipid metabolism is important with skin health and specifically relates to the horny layer by relating directly to skin permeability through linking together fatty lipids, proteins, and more scientific things I don't 100% understand. I do understand that this process helps the structure + permeability of our barrier! What happens when this is broken is that our skin doesn't have the structure + essential skin health to function the way it's supposed to therefore we have more oil + dead skin build up. The way our skins molecules, building blocks, electrolytes, etc. respond + interact with one another becomes disrupted + this can disrupt our natural shedding process (typically 28 days) - resulting in over shedding, weakening our barrier.
WHY WATER WON'T JUST DO THE TRICK
This may be incorrect, but how I see it based on what I know about water absorption in the body, is that when we drink water our small intestine absorbs water into the cells, membrane, and bloodstream. This is a process and water is an essential for our body so, it is dispersed all over for multiple purposes, meaning that water you just drank may absolutely help your skin but it's a fraction of the initial amount. Even then, a lot of it is flushed out literally down the toilet. Using skincare products that immediately penetrate the skin + have moisture binding ingredients will get you a repaired moisture barrier much faster + in a more beneficial way. Our epidermal barrier helps the movement of water so topically applying products that benefit water retention in skin will additionally help this water retention.
EVERYONE has a different pH level based on your skin, age, gender, environmental factors, stressors, etc. so what one person is using may be a great product - but it may not be best for you. Drinking water + eating acidic foods can be helpful but ultimately, the epidermis contributes to the movement of water + electrolytes so we need to be using product that can be directly absorbed + penetrate the moisture barrier.
SKIN 'TYPES' | WHY IT'S A TRICKY BALANCE + UNIQUE PERSON TO PERSON
Remember me chatting about our oil production earlier? Well it directly relates to pH in skincare.
For those with 'oily skin types' this can be tricky because most people are drawn to products that will stop the oil when in turn, you can actually be stripping your skin of the essential oils it NEEDS + ultimately tricking your skin into OVER producing oil. This is why understanding skin pH level is SO important. The oils in our skin naturally are acidic, therefore if you are prone to more oil production + you may lean on the more acidic end of the scale therefore using products to keep you from dropping below the 5 pH range will keep your barrier happier. The opposite for those with less oil production, like myself.
I have little oil production so I am very prone to redness/irritation/dryness when my barrier is teetering on being damaged. I use active enzymes + exfoliants but its a careful balance with implementing oils as well. Skincare is literally science. You have to try different products (give at least 2 weeks) + see how your skin reacts. When my skin is extremely supple, hydrated + happy I know its a safe time for me to use an active or exfoliating product because skin is pH balanced enough to handle it.
Excess oil, clogged pores, lack of oxygen.... they all go hand in hand.
SIGNS OF A BROKEN MOISTURE BARRIER
IF YOUR MOISTURE BARRIER IS BROKEN YOU MAY NOTICE
+product not fully absorbing and/or skin left dry after
+hot to the touch
+dehydration/dry to the touch
+overly tight feeling
SOME OF THE CONTRIBUTING FACTORS TO A DAMAGED MOISTURE BARRIER
+ water loss: can be related to dehydration, drop in humidity (winter), environmental stressors
+ Harsh products/too acidic(low pH) or alkaline (high pH): can relate to stripping skin of natural oils/irritation typically through the use of harsh cleansers/peels/exfoliants.
+ hot water in shower (hot water strip natural oils from your skin)
+lack of oxygen to skin/less exposure to diverse microbiome (being indoors)
TIPS FOR REPAIRING
So you have determined your moisture barrier is in fact compromised, now what? Unfortunately, it isn't a completely easy fix but you CAN REPAIR IT with time, patience, correct products + love. It typically takes 14-28 days to fully repair so I recommend this action plan to get started. Here's the deal, everyone's skin is so different + unique, so finding products that work for YOU is key.
About 3 years ago, I had VERY dry, red, irritated skin. My chin area specifically was breaking out + frequent, painful just downright awful cystic pimples were reoccurring. Although there were other factors as well to my skin journey, I do believe I had a severely damaged barrier from using products that were incorrect for me by being harsh + stripping. I went to a dermatologist + she gave me spironolactone (acne medication) as well as a few products that after 2 weeks had my skin inflamed + sooo unhappy. I started my skincare research to answer my own questions + i'm so glad I did since I was absolutely using products that were too harsh resulting in the intense redness, acne and irritation I was seeing. I started using Frank Body again, which is very gentle + clean. I instantly saw an improvement, these are products that work really well for my skin. I kept a detailed skin care journal throughout my skin journey - this was a game changer and something I highly recommend.
This is what I personally do when I need to reassess:
1. answer this question: do you typically have more or less oil production in your skin when its at its happiest/most balanced? (this can give you insight on the routine + products you should implement in your daily routine plus where you may be on the pH scale).
2. write down all products you have been using, what they do, key ingredients, how long you have been using.
3. record the status of your skin (what does it feel + look like? what's 'normal' what is 'abnormal')
4. For quarantine purposes, how long have you been inside?
5. Use a moisture barrier reader (see products at the end of post)
6. STOP using any products that are giving even slight redness
7. Increase ceramides, glycerin, hyaluronic acid + oils
8. record step 2/3 weekly + take photos of your skin to track improvement
9. If you notice your skin reacting poorly to any products... stop use until your barrier is healed
I am not a dermatologist or medical esthetician (yet) so I recommend going to your trusted esthetician or dermatologist if your moisture barrier is severely damaged and/or you are at a complete loss on how to fix. They can safely guide you + explain the products that may benefit your skin through actively assessing, seeing + feeling your skin. They also have advanced tools that can give you an accurate reading of your moisture levels.
TIPS FOR PROTECTING + AVOIDING A DAMAGED BARRIER
For those with 'oily skin types' this can be tricky because most people are drawn to products that will stop the oil when in turn, you can actually be stripping your skin of the essential oils it NEEDS + ultimately tricking your skin into OVER producing oil. This is why understanding your oiliness + skin pH level can be really beneficial to understanding your own skin. Your skin may in fact be lacking oil so maybe try freezing your exfoliants for 2 weeks to see how your skin reacts.
+ give your skin a rest from aha's/exfoliants/peels
+ceramides (fat binding lipids that repair) is your bestie
+ Lymphatic Drainage massages (may help with increased circulation, immune system + fighting infection)
+ Use moisture binding ingredients like hyaluronic acid/glycerin
+ avoid chemicals/fragrance - strips the skin and typically in soaps, cleansers, face wash
+ understanding your oil production + products to help balance - ingredients are key
+ check the ingredients of your hair + body products (even detergent!)
+ up your water intake + water rich veggies, citrus
+fatty fish oils/omega 3's (I use this fish oil + these vitamin e capsules! Poke a small hole and disperse)
+ collagen powder (I love this one in my morning coffee!)
+ ease up on the excessive coffee + teas
+ try stress reducing activities like taking a walk, meditation, reading a book
INGREDIENTS TO BUILD YOUR BARRIER
+omega 3/fatty acid/vitamin E (I use these:
INGREDIENTS YOU SHOULD RUN THE OTHER WAY
+The Dirty Dozen
+ fragrance/perfume/harsh chemicals + detergents
+Beauty Counters 'Never List'
PRODUCTS to keep your barrier in check
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