The skin’s barrier function is the first line of defense against various microorganisms like the ubiquitous Sars-CoV-2. To put things technically, the skin barrier is a complex lipid coating of the uppermost layer of the skin, the stratum corneum, which acts as an impenetrable protective coating against germs, allergens, and chemicals. It is one of the most important and powerful protective systems of the human body and it is often overlooked.
Daily activities, such as washing your hands, body, and face with soap, using cleaning products, air conditioning and even wearing protective gloves and masks for prolonged periods of time can strip the skin of the natural lipids it contains, which can easily disrupt the skin barrier function, lowering your protection against harmful microorganisms and pollutants. In this article, we’ll explain how to strengthen your skin barrier and share other tips to consider while you’re spending so much time at home these days.
There's a reason why moisturizing is number one on this list, and that reason is that it's is the single best way to strengthen your skin barrier. As we mentioned previously, your skin’s barrier consists of the lipids (aka fats) your skin produces known as sebum. Both biological and environmental factors can affect your sebum production. For example, older adults tend to produce less sebum than teenagers and young adults, which makes their skin drier and harms their skin barrier.
Similarly, air conditioning and washing your skin with soap more often can strip the skin of the protective lipids and damage the skin barrier function as well. Thus, to protect your skin all over your body, not only your hands, it’s not enough to just wash your hands. You have to apply an occlusive moisturizer (any thick cream or lotion will do) to your skin daily.
This will replenish your skin barrier and won’t let any germs penetrate your skin. When moisturizing, focus on areas that are the driest and the most exposed to dry air and constant washing, such as your hands (especially the knuckles and back of hands), face, neck, and elbows. You can reapply the moisturizer several times a day, especially if you’re washing your hands very often and this dries out your skin.
2. Cleansing Your Face
It's not just your hands that take the hardest hit from germs, your face is exposed to the elements and sneezes. That's why it's essential to cleanse your face twice a day, even when you're lazing about the house all day in your PJs and washing your face is the last thing you want to do.
No need to wash your face more often, though, as the skin on the face is much thinner and more sensitive than the rest of your body, and hence - more prone to over-drying. Needless to say, the same goes for the rest of the body, and it's ill-advised to skip showers just because you don't have to leave your house. Do we also need to stress the importance of washing your hands?
At this point, it's pretty much common sense, but just in case you want to learn how to do it correctly, here is a link to a step-by-step tutorial: How to Wash Your Hands Correctly.
3. Do You Still Need Sunscreen?
The short answer is 'yes', and not only because you need to stay protected from the sun. UV exposure is known to affect the barrier function of the skin, and wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen will be able to protect your skin barrier from the sun's UVA and UVB rays since this is exactly what sunscreens are formulated for.
In addition to that, it's also advised to apply sunscreen every morning to protect yourself from skin cancer and skin aging, since it's a well-known fact that UVA rays especially - the kind that causes cancer and wrinkles - can penetrate through glass windows and doors. This is especially important for those who have a history of skin cancer in the family, as well as everyone who lives in warm climates.
4. De-Stress With Skincare
At challenging times of self-isolation and suffering a barrage of bad news, stress and anxiety don't go anywhere, even if you stay at home all day. Unfortunately, stress can affect the immune system and experiencing frequent colds and flu symptoms are one of the signs of chronic stress. Luckily, when you're spending the entire day at home, it's easier to invest 10-15 minutes of your time in de-stressing with self-care.
You can take your time to use one of the face masks you already have, or make your own DIY face mask like this calming oatmeal mask, or you can also indulge in a relaxing foot soak with aroma oils and watch the stress melt away. Spending time on yourself and indulging in activities you rarely have time for ordinarily is so important to cope with the anxiety and stress we're all facing on a daily basis these days.
5. Don't Touch Your Face
Touching your face with dirty hands is a common way of catching the cold, flu, and likely the coronavirus, too. Surprising statistics from a 2008 study reveal that the average person touches their face 16 times an hour! That being said, it is possible to reduce the number of times you touch your face and train yourself not to do so, so there's hope.
Here are some ways to stop touching your face with your hands:
- Keep your hands busy: fold laundry or hold a pillow when watching TV, teach yourself to interlock your fingers when your hands are unoccupied.
- Use hand sanitizer or soap with a strong (and maybe even unpleasant) scent so that you notice when you're about to touch your face and stop yourself in the act.
- Wearing gloves can serve as a physical reminder that you shouldn't touch your face because you're more aware of what you're hands are doing when they're in gloves.
6. Nourish Your Skin
What's the best way to boost your immune system and the skin barrier function all at the same time? The answer is healthy nutrition! It's a well-known fact that eating healthy foods decreases the level of inflammation in the body, which means a stronger immune system and healthy, glowing skin. Yes, it's true, unhealthy eating habits, especially indulging in fried foods, processed products, and sweets are known to cause rosacea, acne and other skin conditions, all of which destroy the barrier function of the skin.
If you're self-isolating and staying at home for long periods, you finally have time to cook healthy meals and invest in your nutrition. So, make the most of this stressful period in our lives and nourish your skin and entire body!