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Understanding the lipid barrier

It may not look like it on the surface, but your skin is constantly hard at work; the toughest job being that of the uppermost layer ‑ the lipid barrier. But what exactly is this barrier? Well, in short, its job is to keep bad things like irritants out and good things like hydration in.

It’s a vital front‑line, protecting us against the everyday stressors of the environment such as UV, pollution, pathogens, toxic impurities and more. Aside from those external stressors, your skin barrier also weakens with age. Ultimately it all ties back to moisture and hydration. Read on as we unpack some valuable information on the lipid barrier.

A Compromised Barrier

Whether or not you have sensitive skin, building up the skin’s barrier will always benefit the overall appearance and health of the skin. But it’s the increased resilience that we so desperately need. If your lipid barrier is functioning properly, its retention of water and moisture is more effective. This means the skin contains the right amount of lipids, and the right amount of natural moisturising factor (NMF).

When this isn’t the case, the skin will appear dry and dull. This means chemicals, bacteria and environmental stressors can penetrate more readily and cause higher levels of irritation and inflammation, which manifests as sensitive skin. This is where you will often experience concerns like stinging, tingling, burning, breakouts, redness, or inflammation.

Once you’ve had a reaction to a product, whether that be due to allergies or irritation from something else, your skin’s uppermost layer is compromised, potentially leading to more skin concerns. Worse still, the steroid creams that are often prescribed for severe irritations, eczema and allergic reactions cause a thinning of the skin. While they may assist in reducing inflammation, they also leave you vulnerable to further irritants.

When the lipid barrier is compromised you will often experience dull, dehydrated skin. This is because the skin is not able to hold or retain water, meaning it’s also not retaining moisture. If you have a compromised barrier, you can apply all the serums and moisturisers in the world, and they will make no difference ‑ unless you restore the lipid barrier properly first, and then maintain it.

Indicators

With a compromised lipid layer, you may experience the following:

  • Itchiness
  • Redness
  • Rosacea
  • Tightness
  • Sensitivity
  • Dehydration or extreme dryness
  • Rough texture
  • Flaking or peeling
  • Increased breakouts
  • Stinging or burning with product application
  • Visible signs of ageing / premature ageing
  • Be more prone to inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema, rosacea, contact dermatitis, etc.

Causes of a compromised barrier

  • Ageing
  • Genetics
  • Fragrance
  • Medications
  • Dry climates
  • Micro‑needling
  • Over‑cleansing
  • Over‑exfoliating
  • Over‑use of active ingredients e.g. retinoic acid (Retin A)
  • Not using a moisturiser
  • Acne medications and topical creams
  • Using the incorrect products for your skin
  • Sun exposure / not wearing sun protection
  • Using very hot water when bathing or cleansing
  • A high percentage of alcohol in your diet / routine

How to restore your lipid barrier

If you have a compromised skin barrier, we strongly recommend taking a break from actives and exfoliation. Which means ‑ stop exfoliating, stop the retinol, stop the clarifying masks, stop exfoliating toners. This is imperative to prevent further, possibly even permanent, damage.

Once your barrier has recovered (which can take anything from 2 to 4 weeks depending on the damage) then you may slowly reintroduce products one at a time as needed. But to start, we suggest cleansing your skin with a lipid-replenishing cleanser that has a low pH ‑ between 5 and 6, liberally using our GF2 formulation after cleansing (at least twice a day) and investing in a good moisturising skin serum containing hyaluronic acid and/or vitamin C

That’s it. No questions. No ifs, ands, or buts. Remember that if you continue using the same products that got you to this point, your condition will only worsen.

Top Tip: Avoid using very hot water when showering, bathing, or cleansing. Cleanse using a clean, soft cloth only or even just your hands. Avoid bamboo or anything that may still be slightly abrasive in any way, shape, or form. Washing your skin with hot water will dilate your capillaries and cause your barrier to become impaired all over again.

Signs of a healthy barrier

So how will you know if your lipid barrier is restored and working correctly? The surest sign is that your skin is plump, smooth and feels soft to the touch with a healthy glow. With some TLC and consistent care your skin will improve and recover, don't despair.

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