What is the "skin barrier" and what should you do to keep it intact?

Our skin is an amazing part of our body. It’s the largest organ because it covers us from head to toe. The skin on the face is delicate and is usually more sensitive than other parts. Fortunately, skin has a layer of protection that's called the skin barrier. This is basically the topmost layer of the skin that protects from bacteria, viruses, and other harmful substances. A healthy skin barrier on our faces keeps it hydrated and acne-free so if you're experiencing skin trouble, it's possible that your skin's barrier is not at its best state.

As the name suggests, skincare should help maintain a healthy skin barrier but the sad truth is that some skincare products and habits are actually bad for our skin! We've tackled many topics that discuss bad skin, destructive habits, ingredients to avoid, sketchy DIYs, and even acne products that actually worsen your breakout. So this time, let's focus on what you should be doing to protect and strengthen your skin barrier, leading to an overall improvement in your skin!

The first requirement for keeping skin healthy is maintaining the acid mantle. Believe it or not, everyone actually has acidic skin! The face is naturally acidic with a pH of 4.2 to 5.6. As such, studies show that it’s safest to use a cleanser with a pH of around 5.5.

Not too long ago, it was popular to use soaps containing kojic and papaya on the face, as many believed that these ingredients helped to fight acne and fade away marks. While it's true that these soaps can make the skin lighter, the reality is that the pH of soaps is very high. Having a basic pH or a level above the natural pH of skin damages the acid mantle. If your skin feels dry and tight after cleansing, chances are you've been using a high pH facial cleanser.

Thankfully, there are now a handful of low pH washes to choose from. These are usually in the form of gels as very foamy cleansers can also be a sign of high pH. You can measure the pH level of a product by using pH strips, which can be purchased from medical supply stores. Some PV faves include the CosRX Good Morning Cleanser, In Her Element Low pH Rose Gel Cleanser, and CeraVe Foaming/Hydrating Facial Cleanser. And if you are double cleansing, you may want to start on makeup remover first! For fast and easy removal, we like to use Garnier Micellar Water with a cotton pad, but for a deep and thorough cleaning, we use gentle oil makeup removers like the ones from Burt’s Bee’s or Sulwhasoo.

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After cleansing, exfoliation is an important step in skincare as it helps remove the dead skin layers. Overdoing your exfoliation, however, isn't just painful but also harmful to your skin barrier. You can do either physical exfoliation (using scrubs or tools) or chemical exfoliation (using acids) at least once a week to remove the dead skin and also provide a deeper cleaning. Exfoliation encourages the turnover of new cells, which studies say leads to healthier skin that has less inflammation and risk of wrinkles.

We love the CosRX AHA and BHA liquids, The Ordinary AHA + BHA Peeling Solution, and of course, In Her Element’s Glow Job, which contains 5% glycolic acid. For physical exfoliation that doesn't leave your skin feeling raw, nothing beats Cure Aqua Gel!

Finally, you should never skip moisturizers. We've already debunked the myth that oily skin doesn't need moisturizers, because everyone does - no exceptions! The skin depends on lipids to stay soft, supple, hydrated, and protected against irritants. To keep lipids at healthy levels, regularly moisturizing skin is a must.

Good moisturizers can be humectants, emollients, or occlusives. Humectants draw moisture from surrounding areas, and will help add moisture the skin. An example of this is hyaluronic acid, which you can find in products like Hada Labo’s hyaluronic acid lotion. Emollient agents, on the other hand, are products that soften and soothe dry skin. An example of this are ceramides. My personal favorite is the CeraVe Daily Moisturizing Lotion, which contains three essential ceramides as well as hyaluronic acid, or try Dr. Jart’s ceramides line. Finally, occlusives are products that form a film barrier on the skin to prevent the moisture from evaporating from the skin. Examples of occlusives are cocoa butter and squalane, which you can get as pure oil from our homegrown brand In Her Element.

It's not enough to use skincare - you have to make sure that you're using the right products that will actually be good for your skin! Have you been taking care of your skin properly? What are your favorite products to use?