At Mokosh we talk a lot about how our products support your skin’s barrier function in a way that most skin care does not. You may wonder why we place so much emphasis on a healthy skin barrier - shouldn’t we be focusing on delivering anti-ageing ingredients?
Here we hope to convince you that keeping your skin’s barrier healthy is in fact your key to young-looking skin, and that without it, all those expensive anti-ageing actives could be money down the drain! What’s more, you may be interested to know that some scientists believe that keeping your skin’s barrier at its healthiest could slow down ageing in the rest of your body. We’ll explain why, but first, let’s understand why the skin’s barrier is so important.
What is the skin’s barrier made of?
The physical part of our skin’s barrier is made from layers of tightly packed epidermal cells called ‘corneocytes’ embedded in specialised lipids (fats). They form the physical ‘water-proof’ part of our skin’s barrier.
Our barrier also has important chemical components. Firstly, it relies on an acidic pH of between 4.5-5.5, known as the ‘acid mantle’, and contains anti-microbial lipids which make it more difficult for harmful microbes to survive.
Finally, it includes the skin's microbiome itself - a mixed population of micro-organisms that communicate with our skin’s immune system. When the balance is right, 'helpful' microbes prevent harmful ones from thriving in our skin (read more here).
When all parts of our skin’s barrier are intact, our skin is healthy and glowing. However, a change in just one aspect can result in dryness, irritation, redness or acne. We have now set up the conditions for inflammation - and ageing.
How does our barrier become damaged and what are the signs?
The most common cause of damage to our skin’s barrier is detergent cleansers which remove the water-proofing lipids from our skin. Another is the over-use of exfoliants - both physical and chemical - which damage the tightly packed cells that form the physical barrier. Applying products that are too acidic or too alkaline will upset our skin’s acid mantle, and applying products that kill our 'helpful' skin’s microbes could allow harmful microbes to multiply on our skin.
In most cases, the first signs of a disturbed barrier are dry, tight skin, which can then lead to redness and irritation - the cardinal signs of inflammation. However, oily skin can have a defective skin barrier too, resulting in the inflammation we see in acne (see our blog on understanding acne here).
Most people don’t realise that everyday cleansers, toners and moisturisers include ingredients that could harm your skin’s barrier.
You may be surprised to know that water-based skin care contains some of the elements that can harm our skin’s barrier function:
- Water-based cleansers contain detergents that can extract lipids from the skin’s water proofing barrier.
- Soaps are also detergents that can deplete the skin's water-proofing lipids, and they are alkaline which means they can disturb the skin’s acid mantle.
- Alcohol-based toners can also remove lipids from the skin, and because alcohol can kill microbes on our skin, can disturb the microbiome.
- Water-based moisturisers contain emulsifiers. Emulsifiers are detergent-like molecules that can disturb the skin’s lipid barrier (read more here). They also contain preservatives - powerful anti-microbials that can disturb our skin’s microbiome.
Why is inflammation in the skin such a bad thing?
Inflammation in the skin can result in the destruction of the elements that keep it looking young: collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid can all be depleted as a result of the inflammatory process. Irregular pigmentation is another consequence of inflammation (summarised in 1).
This is why keeping the skin’s barrier intact in all three aspects - pH, lipids and microbiome - is so important. A resilient acid mantle, a good water-proof barrier made from the right lipids, and a stable microbiome will improve your chances of maintaining young looking skin for longer.
How can we slow down ageing in our bodies by taking care of our skin’s barrier?
It is well known that as we age, our bodies experience increased levels of inflammation, which is linked to the development of chronic diseases like diabetes, Alzheimers disease, and cardiovascular disease. Some scientists call this process 'inflamm-aging'. A recent study (2) found that when emollient moisturisers were applied to the skin of the whole body of aged individuals, not only did their skin’s barrier function improve, the blood levels of inflammatory molecules dropped to levels normally seen in 30 year olds. More studies are needed, but this suggests that keeping our skin’s barrier well protected will reduce the inflammation that is linked to the ageing of our whole bodies. This is a real-life example of how our skin, our body’s largest organ, is more important to our health than many of us realise.
Mokosh skin care products are formulated to build and protect your skin’s barrier function
Unlike water-containing skin care products, Mokosh products are formulated without the detergents, emulsifiers, alcohol and preservatives that can subtly harm our skin's barrier.
Instead, they are enriched for essential fatty acids, in particular linoleic acid, which can be incorporated into the skin’s lipid barrier, and therefore they will fortify the skin’s waterproof barrier.
They also contain a broad range of antioxidants, which can protect the skin from the ageing effects of free radicals caused by inflammation and ultraviolet light. Antioxidants also reduce inflammation in the skin, which we now know is key to slowing down the ageing process.
We feel that we cannot overstate the importance of understanding the function of all the ingredients in your skin care products, particularly the ones that have the potential to disturb your skin’s barrier function. We believe understanding exactly what you are applying to your skin is as important as understanding what is in your food. Both are important first steps towards taking charge of your long term health and the health of your family.
1. Fuller, B. (2019) "Role of PGE-2 and other inflammatory mediators in skin aging and their inhibition by Topical Natural Anti-Inflammatories" Cosmetics 6 (1) 6.
2. Ye, L. et al (2019) "Topical applications of an emollient reduce circulating pro-inflammatory cytokine levels in chronically aged humans: a pilot clinical study." Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology. Published 05 March 19.