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Leighton Wainohu - Apr 06, 2024

Guide to the Skin's Lipid Barrier

Image of the Epidermis Skin Barrier

The skin barrier, often referred to as the lipid barrier, is an important topic frequently discussed in skincare, and quite rightly so, because it serves as the body's first line of defence against external stressors such as pollutants, UV radiation, pathogens, and chemicals. Most people roughly know what it is...BUT! Do you really know what it is?

I think it is important to know because once you do, it will help become more informed about skincare selection, and help problem solve specific skincare issues.

Let's delve into what the skin barrier is and why it's a cornerstone of healthy, glowing skin.

  • What is the Skin Barrier?
  • How Skin Surface Lipids & Hydrolipids Create the Barrier
  • Skin Surface Lipids (Sebum)
  • Hydrolipids
  • Together Working in Synergy
  • Why the Skin Barrier Matters
  • What Can Make a Skin Barrier Weak
  • What to Look For in Skincare Products
  • Why We Love Lipid Based Skincare

What is the Skin Barrier?

The skin we see in the mirror is the outermost layer of the epidermis, known as the stratum corneum. It is a dynamic structure composed of dead skin cells called corneocytes, which are held together by hydrolipids. This amalgamation forms the lipid barrier, an essential element for skin health. Alongside hydrolipids, the skin also produces surface lipids, or sebum, secreted from the sebaceous glands. This amalgamation forms the lipid barrier, an essential element for skin health.

Image of the Epidermis

How Skin Surface Lipids and Hydrolipids Create the Barrier

Skin surface lipids (sebum) and hydrolipids work in tandem to create the skin's barrier, vital for maintaining skin health and integrity. Here's how they collaborate to form and uphold this crucial barrier:

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Skin Surface Lipids (Sebum)

Sebum is produced by the sebaceous glands, which are microscopic glands found within the skin. Sebaceous glands are connected to hair follicles, and they release sebum directly into the hair follicle, which then carries it to the skin's surface. Sebum, with its multifaceted benefits, is instrumental in maintaining skin health.

Sebum, originating from the sebaceous glands, is a blend of lipids, including triglycerides, wax esters, squalene, and cholesterol.

These lipids form a protective film on the skin's surface, lubricating and moisturising the skin while preventing water loss.

Sebum's antimicrobial fatty acids protect against harmful pathogens, pollutants, and environmental stressors.

Read More: Skin Surface Lipids (Sebum) in detail

Hydrolipids

Hydrolipids, comprising both hydrophilic and lipophilic molecules, serve as the adhesive binding the corneocytes cells of the stratum corneum. They play a pivotal role in maintaining the barrier's integrity, preventing moisture loss, and shielding against external aggressors.

Hydrolipids are produced by the cells located in the stratum granulosum, situated beneath the stratum corneum. This crucial layer includes essential components such as ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids. Together, these compounds amalgamate to create the lipid matrix forming the skin barrier. This barrier acts as a protective shield, shielding the skin from moisture loss and external threats.

Hydrolipids comprise hydrophilic and lipophilic molecules found within the stratum corneum.

Components such as ceramides, cholesterol, and free fatty acids create the intercellular matrix, fortifying the barrier against water loss and external aggressors.

Ceramides, in particular, maintain the structural integrity of the skin barrier.

Read More: Hydrolipids in detail

Together Working in Synergy

Retains Moisture: Prevents water loss and maintains skin hydration.

Shields Against Environmental Stressors: Acts as a protective shield against pollutants, UV radiation, and pathogens.

Regulates Skin pH: Maintains an acidic environment unfavorable to harmful microorganisms.

Supports Skin Health: Prevents dryness, sensitivity, and inflammation, promoting overall skin well-being.

Why The Skin Barrier Matters

Your skin is as unique as you are, and taking the time to understand how it responds to your environment and personal circumstances is key to finding the right skincare solutions.

Skin is a dynamic organ that constantly adapts to changes in our environment, whether it's due to climate, seasons, stress, or hormonal fluctuations. These factors influence how our skin produces essential lipids.

Regardless of our individual differences, skin health relies on producing lipids in the right ratios. While some may produce too much (resulting in oily skin) and others too little, it's important to note that even those with oily skin still benefit from lipid-based skincare. In fact, lipid-based skincare can help regulate the body's excess lipid production.Think of the skin barrier like a brick wall, where the bricks are held together by mortar for protection. Similarly, the skin barrier consists of cells bound together by hydrolipids. It acts as a shield against external elements, regulates hydration levels, and ensures optimal skin health.

So, the next time you hear discussions about the skin barrier or lipid barrier, remember—they're referring to the stratum corneum and the hydrolipids that bind it together. Understanding this crucial barrier empowers you to make informed skincare choices, ultimately safeguarding your skin's health and radiance.

What Can Make a Skin Barrier Weak

A well-functioning skin barrier lies in its optimal hydration and the presence of a robust and resilient lipid barrier.

Various environmental stressors, such as UV radiation, pollution, pathogens, and chemicals, can strain your lipid barrier. To mitigate these effects, it's essential to select an appropriate skincare routine and incorporate SPF to shield against such factors.

Lifestyle elements like medication, sleep deprivation, hydration levels, and hormonal shifts can all influence fluctuations in hydration levels and lipid production. Keeping a skin log can aid in understanding how your skin responds to different lifestyle events and whether your current skincare regimen adequately addresses your skin's needs.

Apart from these considerations, using harsh skincare products, taking excessively hot showers, or using products incompatible with your skin type can further compromise the barrier.

Ultimately, maintaining a healthy skin barrier hinges on both topical and internal hydration. It's crucial to ensure that your skincare products contribute to restoring the natural lipids your body produces, thereby reinforcing the skin barrier.

Read More: Protecting Your Skin Barrier

What to Look For in Skincare Products

Triglycerides & Fatty Acids: Skincare products enriched with plant oils or butters offer abundant reserves of Triglycerides and Fatty Acids, including Omega 3, Omega 6, and Omega 9. While the ratios may vary between different oils, they collectively provide a wealth of Fatty Acids and Triglycerides, promoting skin health and nourishment.

Wax Esters: Search for items that include plant-derived waxes like Carnauba Wax, Rice Wax, and Sunflower Seed Wax, as these waxes boast significant concentrations of Wax Esters.

Squalene: Look for products containing Squalene or Squalane. Squalene tends to oxidize easily, prompting the creation of a more stable form known as Squalane through a hydrogenation process.

Cholesterol/Phytosterols: Creams containing cholesterol are commonly derived from animal sources, particularly sheep wool or lanolin. Cholesterol is a natural component of animal cell membranes, and it can be extracted and incorporated into skincare formulations for its moisturizing and barrier-strengthening properties.

A plant-based alternative to cholesterol in skincare products is phytosterols. Phytosterols are naturally occurring compounds found in the cell membranes of plants and have similar properties to cholesterol.

Ceramides: Naturally occurring in plant oils and butters like Wheat Germ Oil, Jojoba Oil, Rice Bran Oil, Almond Oil, Sunflower Oil, and Shea Butter, ceramides are vital for skin health. For additional ceramide sources, consider products containing Phytoceramides, naturally derived lipids.

Synthetically derived ceramides are commonly found in oil-free formulations. Examples include Ceramide EOS, Ceramide NS, Ceramide NP, Ceramide EOP, Ceramide AS, and Ceramide AP.

Why We Love Lipid Based Skincare

To repair and rejuvenate the lipid barrier, it's essential to replenish it with a comprehensive blend of lipids, many of which are naturally found in deeply nourishing plant oils. These oils serve as rich sources of triglycerides, fatty acids, and ceramides, forming the basis of our facial hydrator and water bomb cream.

Traditional oil-based skincare has often been criticized for its perceived greasiness and tendency to clog pores, leading to acne. It's worth noting that oil-based skincare formulations and understanding have significantly evolved in recent years.

At the core of our lipid-based skincare lies the restoration of a healthy lipid barrier. Many skin issues stem from neglecting to support this barrier with products containing essential ingredients. By prioritizing the inclusion of these key elements, we can help fortify the skin barrier, promoting its health and resilience.

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