Why are the new beauty buzzwords “barrier repair” and “barrier protection”? That’s because the problem aestheticians and dermatologists are seeing these days is a weakened skin barrier. The cause is using too many products that are high pH. Constantly using products that are badly formulated with drying alcohol or harsh essential oils can break down the skin’s barrier and lead to inflammation and patchy, flaky skin. Experts say focusing on the right acidity is the key to healthy skin.
Product overuse compromises the skin’s defenses and leaves you with sensitive skin, rosacea, eczema, psoriasis and acne. And it’s not just your dermatologist who’s seeing the result of too many beauty products. Epidemiological studies say these problems are increasing.
Acid mantle provides protective barrier
The protective film of natural oils, amino acids and sweat that covers your skin is known as the acid mantle. If you neutralize this barrier with alkaline washes or damage it with too much scrubbing you open the way to inflammation, allergies and breakouts.
It’s a pretty good bet that your favorite face wash lathers up into a rich foam because it’s alkaline. The ingredients that make it super-foamy are high pH, and high pH spells trouble. Alkaline cleansing products make the skin less elastic and disrupt the skin’s ability to repair itself. High pH also promotes the growth of propionibacterium acnes, a bacterium that plays an important part in many forms of acne.
Growing concern about acidity is prompting beauty product companies to list pH on their packaging. Christian Surber, a professor of dermatopharmacology at the universities of Basel and Zurich and an author of studies on the acid mantle, suggests avoiding products with a pH of more than 7.
Aging skin grows more alkaline
Problems worsen with the years since skin grows more alkaline as we age, and alkalinity activates enzymes that eat away at collagen. Losing collagen leaves us with droopy skin and wrinkles. One solution is using acidic products that can restore pH. Another is trying ceramides, which restore the barrier and help prevent skin from wrinkling and drying out. Other products that can help repair the skin barrier are those with ingredients like glycerin, petrolatum and hyaluronic acid. These ingredients also can help replenish lost moisture.
Protecting your skin barrier requires taking a giant step back from overusing too many products. Glycolic, lactic and salicylic acids are chemical exfoliants that you should use only once a week if your skin is dry or sensitive. If you have oily skin, limit their use to 2-3 times a week. Use even more caution with physical exfoliants such as microdermabrasion and scrubs that contain particles.