The omnipresent moisture barrier. When you’re a baby that moisture barrier is insane. It’s almost perfect. The skin is soft and supple. It’s why we have the saying ‘softer than a babies bum’ and we always seem to be trying to achieve that again. That’s the one point in our life that most people have optimal moisture barrier without trying. Everyone talks about it but no one really defines what it is. The moisture barrier is the most important part of your skin and something that need to be cared for like a baby.
The moisture barrier in the simplist form acts as a seal to keep your skin hydrated and glowing. So when you hear about glowing skin or honey skin people are talking about keeping a healthy moisture barrier.
Your skin’s outer most layer is composed of dead skin cells. If that layer of dead skin cells becomes too thick you have dry flaky skin and if it becomes too thin, you risk destroying the moisture barrier. It’s why skin that’s been over exfoliated becomes red and inflamed, you’ve gone past your layer of dead skin and are low hitting living skin cells that aren’t ready to be exposed to the environment.
That outer most layer of dead skin cells is composed of cholesterol, lipids, ceramides, and resides at a slightly acidic pH (between 4.5-6 for most people). Remember a pH of 7 is neutral. This image is a cross section of your skin. It’s composed of the Epidermis, Dermis, and Hypodermis. The areas we concentrate on in skincare is the epidermis. The epidermis is further composed of 5 more layers.
From the outer most layer working deeper into the skin: stratum corneum,stratum lucidum, statrum granulosum, stratum spinous, and stratum basale. The stratum corneum is that outer layer that is composed of dead skin cells. The stratum lucidum is also dead skin cells but is incredibly thin, maybe 3 layers thick. You can’t always see this layer under a microscope its so thin. These layers of dead skin cells The major of your epidermis is composed of stratum granulosum and stratum spinosum.
Within the stratum granulosum and stratum corneum layers there are keratinocytes. Keratinocytes produce keratin precursors (hence keratinocytes, I apologize for all scientists. We go typically go nuts making up sexy sounding terms). Those keratinocytes are surrounded by a layer of lipids (read as fat, but a good kind). Keratinocytes form that protective barrier against environmental damage, bacteria and fungal infection, viruses, heat, UV radiation and water loss. Keratin is a protein most widely known because its the major construct of hair and nails. In skin, keratin protects cells from damage and stress.
So when you destroy your moisture barrier, you’ve punch through and are damaging these keratinocytes. The most common means of breaking the moisture barrier is over exfoliation. From these diagrams you can hopefully see that when you exfoliate you really don’t need to remove much skin to keep that dewy look. It’s literally only 1 or 2 layers of the statum corneum that needs to be removed. It’s a big reason why I prefer chemical exfoliants to physical exfoliants.
Physical exfoliants can rip at the skin unless they’re very small particles. I used baking soda in my cleanser for years and never had a problem because those are small particles and they’re round. Another common exfoliant used in home remedies was salt. I haven’t seen many people using that on instagram, the idea was salt would help dry out oily skin but salt are perfect squares and squares have edges and those edges rip.
How to repair the moisture barrier: It’s really very simple and doesn’t necessarily take forever to see huge improvement.
You should only exfoliate 1-3 times per week maximum. So stop exfoliating for 7 days then slowly reintroduce exfoliates into your skincare routine. If you’re primary means of exfoliation is a physical exfoliant from the drug store, stop using it. Immediately. Throw it away if it’s a so called apricot scrub or nut husk. After 7-days only exfoliate 1 time a week. If you keep yourself to a ‘pamper day’ like Sundays only exfoliate on Sunday.
Drugstore exfoliants that dermatologist like:
- Neutrogena – Pore refining exfoliating cleanser ($7)
- Aspirin Masks – my dermatologist told me about it. It’s a simple recipe that is CHEAP. And it works. It has a light chemical exfoliation from salicylic acid and very small granules. The recipe can be found Here.
- Add a little baking soda to your cleanser. By a little I mean a pinch.
- Clarisonic brushes. My dermatologist loves these for a gentle exfoliation. It’s also times so you run a minimal risk of over exfoliating.
Another exfoliate I’ve used when my skin is a bit sensitive and liked is Tatcha’s The Rice Polish. It is expensive but the smaller size is only $15. The normal to oily doesn’t have a lot of grit in it and leaves my skin clean. It’s also available for sensitive skin but I haven’t tried that one yet. There’s also a good Starter kit available for $59.
Get a good toner
Toners can help to rebalance the skin’s pH balance which is a part of the moisture barrier. Rose water works well. Acwell’s Licorice pH balancing cleansing toner is phenomenal, I’m on my third bottle. Whatever you do look at the ingredients label. Do not by anything with an astringent, the most popular is denatured alcohol. Click on the link to read by breakdown of denatured alcohol and why it’s horrible for your skin. Another great toner I love is Lancôme’s Tonique Confort Comforting Rehydrating Toner ($26).
Add an oil cleanser if you haven’t already
These will keep you from over stripping your skin and helps to protect those areas. There are a lot on the market right now and I haven’t used them all. Cleansers 101 gives a break down of cleanser including oil cleansers.
Sheet mask with those that include ceramides
You don’t need really expensive sheet masks but those that include ceramides will help keep that moisture barrier as supple as possible while your skin repairs itself.
Look at your cotton pads
Not all cotton pads are made equally. I recently started to use shiseido’s Cotton pads and they’re like little pillows. A bag of them is $5 and I needed it to get free shipping on an order. Why not right? But after using those I realized how abrasive my cheap cotton pads were that I always bought at walmart. You can also soak the Shiseido cotton pads in your essence and use it as a face mask. Just tear it into layers like you would eating a biscuit. Or am I the only one who eats my biscuits in layers like that???? But your cotton pads can also act as a physical exfoliate.
Final Thoughts: repairing the moisture barrier completely can take months, but huge improvements can be made in a week or two. When exfoliating remember you don’t need to scrub your skin for minutes. It really doesn’t take much and as I’ve shown you only need to remove a few layers of the top most layer of skin. Be gentle, your skin can handle a lot but too much and you risk damaging that moisture barrier.
Stay sexy, stay sassy, and do you!