In the movie Zoolander, the eponymous main character says, “Moisture is the essence of wetness, and wetness is the essence of beauty,” and we’re inclined to agree. Dewy, hydrated, glowing complexions are generally the signs of happy and health skin, so if you’re feeling dry, sprouting fine lines or struggling with rashes and irritation, the problem could lie within the skin barrier—which is held together by good ol’ fats. In a cruel twist of fate, just like hyaluronic acid and collagen, lipids dissipate and disintegrate as we age too. Here, we delve deeper into how we might be breaking our own skin barriers, and what we can apply to reinforce it.
Lipids are the building blocks that hold skin cells together
Essentially, epidermal lipids (a type of oily wax) are the cement that holds skin cells together. The three classes of lipids that are found in the outermost layer of the dermis—ceramides, cholesterol and free fatty acids form a protective barrier at the top layer of the skin, just underneath the surface. This barrier prevents permeability, which locks moisture into the skin and prevents dryness and irritation. Cholesterol has a water-binding capacity that causes it to retain moisture, and fatty acids help maintain lipid balance, contributing to the skin’s natural repair process. Ceramides, perhaps the most well-known ingredient among these, are particularly important for skin barrier function and maintaining hydration levels.
Dermatologists say that adding ceramides, cholesterol and fatty acids to a skincare routine is ideal for fighting fine lines, dryness and irritation. A solid skin barrier acts as security by letting the ‘good ingredients’ penetrate while keeping free radicals, oxidants, dust, bacteria and pollution at bay—therefore acting as skin’s first line of defence. However, lipids degrade super quickly, so a flaky patch or mild redness can, if left unchecked, lead to inflammation, breakouts and sensitivity. When the skin barrier is compromised, skin conditions like eczema or atopic dermatitis might crop up. Furthermore, when there are gaps in the space between cells, acne- and inflammation-causing molecules can make their move.
This is how you might be harming your natural skin barrier
Environmental causes like dry heat, a lack of humidity and air pollution can deplete lipid reserves, but user error (like cranking up the heat at home or being too zealous with exfoliating) can affect skin barrier integrity. In fact, many of the skincare processes we chalk up to being good for skin may actually be breaking down the natural skin barrier. For example, dermatologists say that over-cleansing is one of the main culprits. Using too many astringents (especially on oily or acne-prone skin types) in the quest of squeaky clean skin can strip protective oil away, along with makeup and dirt. Aggressive at-home treatments like microneedling, using physical abrasive scrubs, chemical peels and strong retinols can break down the skin barrier as well. Even simple things, like bathing or washing your face with hot water, can harm the sensitive lipid barrier. When the skin barrier is not plumped up with enough fat, the hydration and moisture evaporates into the atmosphere, causing transepidermal water loss. This dehydrated skin is susceptible to flaking and peeling.
How to add hydrating and anti-ageing lipids to your skincare routine
Here’s the best thing about ceramides—it’s impossible to overdo them. Add the hydrating and skin drenching qualities of ceramides to your skincare routine with the Too Cool For School Coconut Ceramide Mask, which employs the lipid to protect skin, while the lauric acid in coconut water instantly brightens skin. If you’re looking for a serum, reach for the Drunk Elephant B Hydra Intensive Hydration Serum. The pineapple-derived ceramides improve skin luminosity and brilliance, and the sodium hyaluronate and Vitamin B5 promote firmness and better skin texture. Considering skin needs fortification as we age, the Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin Cream uses a lipid complex that deeply hydrates extremely dry skin that is susceptible to itchiness, roughness and irritation. If fighting wrinkles and fine lines is your main concern, the Elizabeth Arden Advanced Ceramide Capsules Daily Youth Restoring Serum serves your purpose. The ceramide- and cholesterol-heavy ampoule is neatly packaged in a pea-sized pod, and promises to moisturise, target fine lines and improve skin texture. When cracked open, the thick viscous fluid first coats the skin with a comforting occlusive barrier, but sinks in quickly. The Paula’s Choice Clinical Ceramide-Enriched Firming Moisturiser is formulated with retinol and ceramides to target early advanced signs of ageing, like deep wrinkles and fine lines, as well as issues with skin tone and texture. For plain simple hydration, the CeraVe Skin Renewing Gel Oil is a fool-proof ceramide-heavy gel, and is safe to use on inflamed skin for 24-hour moisture retention. If your hair and scalp could do with some TLC, the Sisley Hair Rituel Restructuring Conditioner with cotton proteins has ceramide-like actives that rebuild each follicle’s protein and lipid structures at a cellular level, leaving your mane glossy and shampoo commercial-ready.
CeraVe Skin Renewing Gel Oil
Drunk Elephant B Hydra Intensive Hydration Serum
Dr Jart Ceramidin Cream
Too Cool For School Coconut Ceramide Mask
Paula’s Choice Clinical Ceramide-Enriched Firming Moisturiser
Sisley Hair Rituel Restructuring Conditioner with Cotton Proteins
Elizabeth Arden Advanced Ceramide Capsules Daily Youth Restoring Serum