The Skin Barrier

It all starts with the skin barrier. This is the outermost layer of the skin and the first line of defence.

The skin barrier functions to keep pollutants and bacteria out while keeping moisture in. Helping it to do this are naturally occurring fats, known as lipids. These lipids are made up of 50% ceramides, 25% cholesterol and 10-25% fatty acids.

Over time, the depletion of ceramides and fatty acids in the skin can result in moisture loss, dryness and cracking. This can also cause inflammation, which is linked to premature skin ageing, and irritation from the allergens and environmental toxins your skin comes in contact with on a daily basis.

Good skin care preserves and protects the skin barrier, maintains the right pH and keeps it functioning optimally.  This should be the first step in any good skin care routine — making sure you are replenishing your skin’s ceramides and fatty acids.

Ceramides and the skin barrier

Skin that is well moisturised and nourished, and has a good water-to-oil balance, is a more resilient skin.

Forming part of the protective function of our topmost layer of skin are ceramides. Just like cholesterol and essential fatty acids, they are part of our skin’s naturally occurring lipids. They are essential in supporting the skin barrier function and retaining moisture. Without ceramides, skin can become dry, itchy, irritated or dull.

Ceramides make up about 50% of the skin barrier. As well as keeping moisture in and irritants out, they also play an important role in the repair of the skin barrier.

Over time, though, ceramides can become depleted. To maintain your optimal skin barrier function and keep it looking healthy, you need to ensure the right balance of ceramides and fatty acids. If your skin lacks adequate ceramides, it can lead to a number of skin concerns that go beyond dryness or dullness, such as psoriasis or eczema. When ceramide levels are low, your protective skin barrier is weakened, allowing moisture to escape.

Many people with acne or oily skin find their skin becomes more sensitive and more easily irritated when using skin care products designed to reduce the oils in  their skin. In trying to treat their acne, they also may be unintentionally stripping away the skin’s natural defence and making their skin  even more vulnerable.

By applying ceramides to your skin through your skin care routine, you can help restore the skin’s barrier and retain more moisture. This will help strengthen your skin and make it less reactive.

Fatty acids and the skin barrier

Fatty acids also form part of the skin barrier and ensure the healthy function of our skin.

Most of us are more familiar with the important role essential fatty acids play in our diet than the role they play in our skin barrier. Just like our bodies need essential fatty acids, such as Omega-3 and Omega-6, our skin needs a good supply of fatty acids.

Omega-3 is an oil rich in α-Linolenic Acid while Omega-6 is rich in Linoleic Acid, and both are essential nutrients in our diet as they cannot be synthesised by the body.

Even though we may have a nutrient-rich diet and are getting enough essential fatty acids, this may not be enough for our skin. Essential Fatty Acids that are ingested can become oxidised in the liver before being able to deliver their benefits to the skin, so direct topical application can be beneficial.

Fatty acids help protect skin from cellular damage when exposed UV light and thereby play a role in reducing photo-ageing. This is why at SKIN CLINICA we like to see ceramides in moisturisers and support the inclusion of appropriate skin oils in skin care routines for dry and compromised skin types.

Skin care oils have different ratios of fatty acids, and some are more suited to dry skin while others are more suited to oily skin. See our page on Acne.

Some of the most popular and versatile oils used in skin care include Almond, Apricot, Argan, Avocado, Borage Seed, Camellia Seed, Carrot Seed, Grape Seed, Jojoba, Macadamia, Marula, Moringa, Meadowfoam Seed, Pomegranate, Prickly Pear, Safflower, Seabuckthorn, Shea Butter, Squalane, Sunflower, Tamanu and Watermelon Seed.

So next time you see lipids, such as ceramides or fatty acids, listed on a skin care product, do not be too quick to dismiss them or rule them out. They are fats that naturally occur in the skin and are necessary for a properly functioning skin barrier and healthy skin.