I’m generally not one to eavesdrop. But, you know how sometimes your ear catches something interesting and then you can’t not listen? That’s what happened to me the other day.
I was standing at the bottom of the mountain getting ready to ski the other day, and overheard a conversation that went like this:
Woman: I’m not sure how long I’m going to ski today.
Her friend: Why? What’s wrong?
Woman: My face is absolutely burning. It was red after skiing yesterday, but today it just hurts.
Her friend: Didn’t you use sun lotion?
Woman: Yeah. It’s not sunburn. I have no clue what’s wrong.
Of course, I had to steal a peek. Her face wasn’t the beet red of a high altitude sunburn. It had the pinkish, dull, dry look of a wind burn that’s damaged the skin barrier.
I’ve had it before and know how uncomfortable it can be. Plus even when the hurt is gone, there’s a good chance that the dry flakiness is going to stick around.
It’s not that suddenly your skin isn’t producing enough oil (although oil production does diminish as we get older) but damage to your skin’s protective outer layer, the skin barrier, has allowed your skin to become dehydrated.
How does the skin barrier work?
Your skin barrier is the outer most layer of your skin. It‘s what you see when you look in the mirror. It’s only a few millimeters thick but has the uber important jobs of:
- Controlling water balance so your body doesn’t dry up
- Guarding against invasion by microbes and foreign matter
- Shedding old skin cells
- Maintaining the skin’s elasticity, which lets your skin bounce rather than tear (ouch!)
But, it’s also permeable and allows certain molecules to penetrate into the deeper layers.
I like to think about the skin barrier as a protective wall. The bricks are the skin cells. Skin cells start off deeper in the epidermis and migrate their way towards the outer layer over the course of a month or so (longer as we age). As they move upward, they change shape (becoming more flattened) and die off and are eventually shed.
The mortar in between the skin cells is called the lipid matrix-a mixture of natural fats and oils. The layers under the epidermis (called dermis and hypodermis), produce a natural moisturizer of fats, water, sugar, minerals, and amino acids. This cocktail forms a nice, intact barrier on our skin.
Together the bricks and mortar of your skin barrier help keep your skin hydrated and soft by holding moisture in.
As you age, this mortar can become less efficient at holding everything together. This is part of what contributes to more dryness as you get past your early 30’s.
The skin barrier is tough
But it’s also easily damaged.
Something as simple as a strong soap can cause damage to your skin barrier.
In fact, your skin barrier can be damaged by a whole host of things including:
- Harsh soaps and alkalis
- Environmental stressors such as pollution, cold, and wind, especially when combined with damp weather
- UV damage from the sun
- Certain skin diseases like psoriasis and eczema
- Aggressive skin treatment like dermabrasion
- Chemotherapy and radiation
If your skin barrier is damaged, your skin gets dry and flaky because the natural moisturizers are disturbed and there are gaps in the wall. Water can more easily evaporate across the barrier, which is known as transdermal moisture loss.
Hello, chapped, cracked, flaking, red skin
Just like the woman I overheard at the ski area, once your skin barrier is damaged, it can be uncomfortable, and it doesn’t look great either.
Luckily, there’s a lot you can do to restore your skin barrier and keep it in great shape.
Obviously, it’s important to stay well hydrated and drink plenty of water as well as eliminate the outside sources of damage:
- Use a humidifier at night to help with dry indoor heat
- Try to take shorter and/or less hot showers and baths
- Eliminate harsh soaps especially ones that are perfumed or anti bacterial
- Cover as much as your skin as you can if you’re going to be out in the elements
- Be sure to use sun protection every day
- Moisturize your skin
One of the most important things you can do to protect and restore your skin barrier and fight against dry and dehydrated skin is to use a moisturizer.
Study after study shows that using a moisturizer can protect the skin barrier and allow it restore itself.
You can protect and restore your skin’s barrier by using skin care that includes hydrating and moisturizing ingredients
Hydrating ingredients draw water to your skin cells. Hyaluronic acid is naturally produced by your bodies. It can attract and hold 1000x its weight in water. This powerhouse keeps skin moisturized, facilitates skin repair, helps in transportation of blood and nutrients to skin layers, and helps plump up skin cells to provide cushioning and lubrication (and make them look great too).
As we grow in years, our bodies make less hyaluronic acid. Thankfully, we can add it to our skincare.
Moisturizing butters and oils help support and protect the skin’s barrier and provide nutrients such as essential fatty acids, lipids, minerals, and vitamins. Using a nourishing moisturizer twice a day has been shown to improve the skin barrier and reduce inflammation.*
A cream moisturizer delivers both hydrating and moisturizing ingredients to our skin. Which is why they are more effective against dry skin than a thin lotion or facial oil.
However, if your skin is very or chapped, using a facial oil over your moisturizer can really speed up healing. Let your moisturizer mostly absorb, then pat a drop or two of facial oil on top. The results can be miraculous.
You need to be more careful over time
Dry and dehydrated skin can happen at any age. But as you age, starting in your 30's, your skin starts to get drier and thinner. Your skin barrier is more susceptible to damage.
So you need to protect your barrier even more.
If you’re over 40 and especially if you’re over 50, your skin is going to become drier and thinner no matter what your skin “skin type” has been before.
Add in some naturally skin-dehydrating weather (in winter especially) and you’ve got a recipe for dry, flaky, uncomfortable skin that doesn’t look so hot.
And when your skin barrier is damaged, you’re more susceptible to other skin problems like infections, eczema, and rashes.
But, not to worry. With a few lifestyle changes and twice a day (at least) moisturizing plus sun protection (and a scarf or neck gaiter if it’s windy) your skin can keep it’s healthy glow year around.
SunWindSnow products that can help:
In the morning use AlpenGlo or SunUp (after your serum if you use one). Both will protect your skin barrier from dehydration. AlpenGlo has peptides, royal jelly, and bee propolis plus other anti-oxidants. SunUp is loaded with antioxidants that help to protect your skin again oxidative stress (and the free radical damage caused by environmental insults.)
All Weather Defense SPF 30 sunstick is an organic all mineral sunscreen that’s thick enough to help protect your skin from wind and weather as well as the sun’s UV rays. The inspiration for this product came after I got a nasty windburn just like the woman at the ski area.
At night, while your skin is naturally working to restore itself, AlpenGlo or SunDown (or if you’re like me both) will work wonders to smooth, moisturize, hydrate and nourish your skin with peptide, vitamins and minerals that your skin craves.
If your skin is really dry, flaky, or chapped, a few drops of RainDrops Nourishing Facial Oil patted on after your moisturizer has absorbed can make a nearly miraculous change in your skin. Use this as the last step in your regimen (but before sunscreen if it's daytime).