What is the Lipid Barrier and Why Should I Care?
One of the most commonly misunderstood functions of the skin is the lipid barrier. In fact, many of the issues I see in my treatment room stem from a compromised lipid barrier! This can be a confusing concept for some, so I've broken down what exactly the lipid barrier is, how it functions, signs of a damaged one and what kind of products help to repair it.
What is the Lipid Barrier made out of?
The skin's lipid barrier defense is made up of oil from the sebaceous glands and water from the internal environment. It is the mixture and natural emulsion of the two that creates the lipid barrier and microflora on your skin.
The Lipid Barrier provides protection from the environment and harsh products
Another term sometimes used to describe the lipid barrier is the "acid mantle" or the "microbiome". This is important for maintaining healthy skin because the lipid barrier consists of acidic properties that resist nonresident bacteria from developing while also buffering the action of certain ingredients applied to the skin.
The microflora, or acid mantle, thrives in a pH between 4.5 and 5.5.
When in this range, the lipid barrier prevents toxic matter from being absorbed by the skin. It also regulates oil production - think of it like an adaptogenic - if the skin has adequate moisture from skin oils or protective products, then it will send signals to the oil glands to stop producing more oil. A damaged barrier is when the pH levels of the skin are outside the normal 4.5 - 5.5 level (from harsh cleansers, alcohols, prolonged use of acids, etc); this sets the stage for all kinds of skin issues the longer it goes unresolved. If there is not enough of a barrier present, the skin can become dry and irritated leading to collagen breakdown, wrinkles and red or blotchy skin.
Skin Barrier Function
Having a strong and healthy skin barrier means that your skin is able to hold onto water better. There is a term in the skincare world called Transepidermal Water Loss, or TWL.
TWL usually happens when we strip the skin of its natural barrier (with regular use of OTC harsh cleansers, not having enough moisture on the surface, or using ingredients aimed at drying out the skin).
When we prevent TWL from happening, the skin fairs much better in all ways because it maintains a hydrated internal environment to prevent inflammation, bacterial build-up, or collagen breakdown.
Signs of a Compromised Skin Barrier
- Acne breakouts, and more specifically, feeling like your skin is dry and dehydrated but still breaking out
- Skin redness, rashes, blotchiness, dryness, static fine lines and wrinkles (as opposed to wrinkles that form only with expression)
- Skin that is unable to retain hydration no matter how much moisturizer you apply
- Burning or stinging sensation when you apply your products
Ingredients that Repair
The most important ingredients in REPAIRING the lipid barrier are essential fatty acids. EFA's maintain cell membrane integrity, improving the immune function and hydration levels in the skin.
They protect the vital inner components of each cell which are responsible for the energy needed in cellular respiration and metabolism. Some of the most effective types of EFA's are from natural, whole food sources like micro-algae and seaweed.
When I'm working with a client to repair their lipid barrier, we typically start with adding a cleansing oil to their cleansing routine. They also see great benefits from adding some kind of nutritious but lightweight facial oil into their moisturizing routine.
My Top Picks for Repairing the Lipid Barrier
A pre-cleanse oil would be the first step in your cleansing routine, either before using a regular face wash or used in place of one.
It moisturizes as it cleans, softens dead skin, and saturates cell membranes with anti-inflammatory EFA's.
Adding a facial oil made with omega 3 fatty acids is essential for maintaining a balanced lipid barrier throughout the day.
Omega Oils to wear on the skin for longer periods of time
Apply it to clean skin after your treatment serums or try adding a few drops into your nightly moisturizer to ease your skin into this new routine.