As the body’s largest organ, our skin exists to protect us as human beings. It protects our organs; controls our body temperature; sends, through the power of touch, essential messages to our brain; it heals; and, essentially, creates a defense shield from any kind of aggression. It lives and breathes with one single, noble aim in mind: to keep us healthy.
When it comes to the skin on our face, it’s become increasingly evident that a healthy skin (or strong skin) is, in fact, a beautiful skin and that strengthening the skin’s natural barrier, including our “second skin” of microflora, is the fastest, most effective and most long-lasting way to activate the beautiful, healthy skin glow that everyone is seeking.
We spoke with our expert, Orveda’s CEO and founder Sue Y Nabi, to get the lowdown on the skin barrier: why it’s so important and how to strengthen it.
Q: What is the skin’s barrier function and what purpose does it serve?
The skin barrier is designed to protect the skin from any kind of aggression. This could be physical (for example, UV, scrubbing or severe temperature variations) or chemical aggressions (such as irritant or super-drying molecules, allergens, alkaline solutions, pollution).
The skin barrier is also essential to avoid skin’s natural loss of water or skin dehydration. For when skin is dehydrated, it looks dull and lackluster. Healthy skin glow is heavily dependent on having enough water in your skin and oils outside of your skin.
Last but not least, recent discoveries have proven that this skin barrier is also “alive”. Just like our gut, our skin has a microbiome barrier, made of “good bacteria” that is our first immune system, per se. It is our first line of defense against harmful bacteria and therefore infections, but it also plays an anti-oxidation role and helps the skin to regenerate better.
The world of dermatologists and beauty is finally waking up to the fact that the best way to fight inflammation, accelerated ageing, and multiple skin conditions is to strengthen the skin’s barriers, first and above all.
Q: What are the various ways that the barrier function can be compromised?
There are many ways, unfortunately… Anything that disturbs skin’s homeostasis (in other words, skin’s natural balance, which includes the right mix of temperature, an acidic pH, a good balance of oils, low level of inflammation, no antibiotics, etc) will compromise its barrier function.
When it comes to beauty and skincare, using cleansers that contain sulfates will strip the skin of its natural oils and change the skin’s pH. Both will lead to weakening the lipids barrier and will create an unfriendly alkaline pH environment that will disturb the skin’s microbiome.
Using aggressive molecules such as retinols and fruit acids will also create inflammation that will disturb skin’s homeostasis.
Alcohol and antibacterial molecules are “no-no’s” too, and pollution, UV, and very hot water are also elements that will weaken the skin’s natural barrier.
Q: How do we rebuild our skin barrier?
You can rebuild it quickly by using the right products that not only do not aggress the skin barrier, but additionally strengthens and activates its self healing moisture barrier. These include those that contain only botanical oils, prebiotics and molecules that are known to increase the self-healing power of the skin. This is what Orveda is all about.
Q: How and why is strengthening the skin’s barrier linked to skin glow?
A glowing skin is, first and foremost, a strong skin. Orveda is all about glow activation and therefore it was essential for us to take care of all (or both) skin barriers, first and before all else. Pioneering a new way of achieving glow, our formulations are all about strengthening these two barriers. Within our unique signature mix, our marine enzyme (that boosts the production of ceramides, an essential skin lipid or oil) works on the mechanical or superficial skin barrier, and our natural prebiotic is designed to feed, on a daily basis, the second, “alive” skin, or our skin’s healthy microflora, to allow the skin to recover its natural level of hydration/defences, and therefore bringing back essential glow and luminosity.
Q: What are some of the best practices for helping to keep the barrier intact?
Rule #1: Strengthen, never disturb.
This means: No stripping sulfates or soaps. No aggressive treatments. Nothing too alkaline, nothing too hot, nothing full of chemicals like pollution, no over-drying make-up (especially powder makeup), avoiding anything that will dry the skin or disturb its microbiome such as alcohol, and no mechanical or surface aggression such as non-soft cotton pads/sheets…
Day and nighttime routines should be adapted too.
Your nighttime routine is crucial for skin barrier support because your healthy bacteria and skin barriers are rebuilt while you sleep. This means cleansing with cleansers that are botanical-oils-based (an oil or balm that has no sulfates nor soap) and being aware not to use use super-hot water. We would recommend finishing with an intensive, Overnight Skin Recovery Masque, layered over a hydrating moisturizer/serum like The Prebiotic Emulsion, to prevent night dehydration and to help rebuild both barriers overnight. In the morning, follow a softer cleansing routine, by using a micellar water such as Orveda’s Cleansing Bamboo & Enzymatic Water, which is perfectly designed to remove night pollution without stripping the skin of its natural night oil production.
In the morning, and during the day, use skincare that will strengthen the skin barriers’ functions: Use The Healing Sap as a “glow shot” and The Prebiotic Emulsion as a “skin barrier re-builder” (FYI: It can even be used post -procedure).
Favor actives that boost production of skin lipids.
In terms of actives, favor those that will boost the production of skin lipids (like our marine enzyme), that will empower the skin’s good bacteria barrier (such as a natural prebiotic) , and choose formulations that use molecules that are “good bacteria friendly”, and are easily absorbed into the skin. Typically, these actives are produced via bio-fermentation, which cuts anything into tiny pieces, and therefore has an affinity with skin, such as our biofermented kombucha black tea.
At Orveda, our mantra is: “works with your skin, not against it.”
We achieve this by using, primarily, high concentrations of bio-fermented origin molecules (for example, the three signature actives in our unique mix: a natural prebiotic, marine enzyme and bio-fermented Kombucha black tea). We don’t use alcohol, aggressive molecules like retinol or fruit acids, and we’re vegan, which means we don’t use any animal extracts (that could bring potential disease from animals). Our formulations are free from parabens or phenoxyethanol (preservatives suspected to be hormone disruptors), as well as artificial colorants that could disturb the skin’s balance, and we replaced mineral oils (that could suffocate skin) with botanical oils. Finally, our high level of actives are even suitable for sensitive skins.
We also recommend, of course, UV protection (a mineral one: no chemical filters) and could also recommend that you, and moreover your children, are in contact with pets and animals to increase the diversity of bacteria on your skins.
Q: With this knowledge in mind, how has your skincare routine changed over the years?
My skincare routine has completely changed over the last 5 years. I used to rely heavily on retinol, peels, lasers etc. and I ended up weakening my skin, with a lot of redness, and flakiness. My skin seemed to age faster too. When I started to work on Orveda, I decided to develop formulations that were so concentrated that they would have the quick effect of retinol and fruit acids but without the side-effects: products that would “work with the skin, not against it”. This was the reason behind the choice of prebiotics and marine enzymes to strengthen rather than to weaken skin barriers, including the good bacteria barrier. The fact that we have added kombucha bio-fermented black tea (think of it as “makeup from within” for a more luminous, even skin tone and skin texture) and the best dermatologically-approved actives, all at concentrations of 15 times higher than the average in the industry, allowed us to reach a high level of visible efficiency, that could only be reached before with irritating and aggressive actives.
In a way, it was the end of the “no pain, no gain” era in skincare!”