Skin Barrier function: 3 crucial factors to address

As therapists we anticipate our clients asking for thicker creams, hydrating serums and masks as the colder temperatures start creeping up on us. Generally we focus on supplementing their routine with heavy creams, and alternating their cleansers and serums with richer formulations. Why not take a different approach this winter by really understanding how the skin’s barrier function works and what is needed to combat that horrible, uncomfortable dry feeling.

By improving your client’s skin barrier function with the correct skincare ingredients and treatment approach, you will not only assist in treating the symptoms but at the same time assist the skin to function better and stronger on its own. Our barrier function relates specifically to the stratum corneum in the epidermis, but is influenced by underlying layers in the skin. Let’s take a look at some of the systems that ensure a healthy barrier function:


  • Acid mantle
  • Epidermal Lipids
  • Natural Moisturising factors
  • Trans epidermal water loss
  • Sebaceous secretions
  • Suderiferous secretions
  • Glycosaminoglycans
  • Lymphatic system

In the next few weeks we will be exploring a series of blog posts which focus on these factors Today we will look at how the Acid mantle, our skin’s epidermal lipids and Natural moisturising factors affect the Skin’s barrier function.

The keratinocyte maturation cycle, or KMC, determines how wel the barrier is protected against external elements. If we understand this maturation cycle we can adapt our homecare recommendations to respect this natural process. As the keratinocyte moves into the stratum granulosum, its structure, which consists mostly of Phospholipids, change into a combination of cholesterol, free fatty acids and ceramides. It is in this layer of our skin that lamellar bodies are secreted by the keratinocyte. These lamellar bodies are responsible for forming our lipid bi-layer which prevents transepidermal water loss. Using incorrect products will disturb the natural composition of epidermal lipids and prevent them from performing their vital role in slowing down water loss in the skin. Clients who have been diagnosed with an oily skin, will often use harsh products to strip the oil from their skin and will in the process disturb barrier function which will worsen their skin condition significantly. Certain procedures will also disturb our barrier function and could result in sensitivity, irritation, dryness and in certain cases post inflammatory hyperpigmentation. If we want to restore epidermal lipids we have to make sure that we not only supplement their skin routine from the outside, but also from the inside. We can do this by looking at their diet and water intake. It can take between 6 and 12 weeks to restore epidermal lipids as we have to wait for the natural KMC to run its course first.

Our Acid mantle plays a vital role in creating a barrier on the outside of our stratum corneum so that external factors like cold air, low humidity levels, bacteria and allergens do not destroy the epidermal lipids. Our Acid mantle functions at a slightly acidic pH and will become impaired if it becomes even slightly alkaline. Toners can seem like an insignificant part of a client’s routine, but will be crucial in restoring proper barrier function. It is also dangerous to perform procedures on a disturbed acid mantle as it will cause a poor healing rate in the skin.

Natural moisturising factors cannot be addressed from the outside with conventional skincare products. Glycosaminoglycans are made up of mostly hyaluronic acid, and are produced by the fibroblast in the dermis. It is critical that our lymphatic system and water intake is correct so that we can improve the formation of hyaluronic acid. Monitor the client’s water intake and make sure that they understand the importance of hydrating from within. If we maintain a healthy acid mantle and good supply of epidermal lipids, we will naturally ensure a slow epidermal water loss and thus protect the formation of Natural moisturising factors in the dermis.

These factors should be addressed first before we can begin to treat our clients with procedures and aggressive home care routines. Make sure you understand which of your products in your clinic provide you with the best options for maintaining a healthy acid mantle, preserving and supplementing epidermal lipids and encourage good lifestyle habits with your clients.


6 Replies to “Skin Barrier function: 3 crucial factors to address”

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