As far as your skin is concerned, it’s a rough world out there. Everything from bright sunshine to extreme cold can stress your skin, causing it to look sallow and older than you may feel on the inside.
One way to present your best face to the world is to protect the lipid barrier, the oils in your skin’s outermost layer, by living a healthy lifestyle and by using supplemental formulations designed to help maintain skin integrity and moisture.
Skin consists of three layers, the outermost epidermis; the middle dermis, which contains connective tissue, hair follicles and sweat glands; and the deeper hypodermis, which supports the other two.
The epidermis is designed to retain moisture while repelling potentially harmful outside agents. (It also contains melanocytes, which give skin its color.) The lipid barrier is found in the stratum corneum, the outermost layer of the epidermis.
“Skin cells are layered like bricks. Dry skin causes gaps in the layers,” explains Julie Russak, MD, FAAD, founder of Russak Dermatology Clinic in NYC (russakdermatology.com). “Lipids are responsible for maintaining skin hydration and firmness.
The lipid barrier minimizes water loss and is essential for healthy, hydrated skin.”
A number of factors can damage the lipid barrier, such as “harsh products like detergents, or environmental conditions such as sun exposure, which dries out our natural oils, or harsh cold,” says Russak. “Irritants and allergens can also penetrate the epidermis and cause inflammation.”
Lifestyle factors and harsh skincare routines can also affect the lipid barrier’s integrity.
The biggest offenders are “the three Ss: soap, smoking and sunburn,” according to Sharad P. Paul, MD, a skin cancer surgeon in Auckland, New Zealand, who is the author of multiple books including The Genetics of Health (Simon and Schuster, drsharadpaul.com). Paul says that while skin is mildly acidic, with a pH of 5.5, “soap is alkaline, and that’s why soap is generally bad for skin.”
Water temperature is another crucial factor. “Cleansing with really hot water can also strip the lipids from your skin,” says Russak.
Healthy Life, Healthy Skin
Changing your skincare routine is a good first step in restoring a damaged lipid barrier; Paul recommends using pH-neutral cleansers. Russak says it helps to be “aware of what weather conditions prompt certain skincare needs, such as using a thicker moisturizer in winter.”
Skincare requirements may evolve as time goes on. “Skin needs change and if you are unsure visit your dermatologist for recommendations,” advises Russak.
Keeping skin healthy requires avoiding Paul’s other two Ss, smoking and sunburn. Smoking damages skin from the inside by impairing circulation; if you smoke, quit.
Sunlight damages skin from the outside. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen (which protects against both types of ultraviolet rays found in sunlight) with a skin protection factor of 30 or higher. Apply a half-hour before exposure and reapply at least every two hours.
Two more Ss, sleep and stress, also need to be accounted for. Russak says, “Managing stress will ensure your internal inflammation is kept at bay.”
Finally, skin needs to be fed the right way. “A diet low in processed sugar and high in antioxidant-rich fresh fruits and veggies is best for glowing skin,” says Russak. Make free use of olive oil, which has been found to reduce signs of skin aging, as well as other healthy fat sources such as avocados and oily fish.
Your best beverage bets are fresh, clean water and green tea. In one study, researchers found that EGCG, powerful polyphenols in green tea, reactivate dying skin cells to help rejuvenate complexion. In addition, Paul notes that “fish oil supplementation has been shown to reduce the effects of sun damage.”
In fact, smart supplementation can help the lipid barrier function at optimal levels by helping the skin hold onto moisture.
One of the best-known hydrators is hyaluronic acid. Often found in topical products such as serums and creams, hyaluronic acid is also “extremely beneficial as an oral supplement, as it plays a critical role in the production of collagen,” Russak explains. “Maximizing collagen levels will keep skin more hydrated, and more resistant to wrinkles and fine lines.”
Also available in supplement form are ceramides, the skin’s natural lipids. “If ceramides levels are inadequate, one has poor skin barrier function, and is more prone to developing skin diseases such as dermatitis,” says Paul.
“It’s hard not to love ceramides,” Russak says. “Think of ceramides as the glue that bonds skin cells together, that creates a protective layer to shield skin from outside damage and help retain moisture.”
In clinical trials, Ceramosides—a patented blend of ceramides along with a wheat-based lipid called DGDG—has shown significant positive results.
Hydrating agents such as hyaluronic acid and ceramides are well complemented by natural antioxidants, which fight the free radicals generated by sunlight and other harmful agents. Lutein, best known for its eye-protective benefits, has been found to protect the skin against light-induced damage, as has another carotenoid called astaxanthin. And both astaxanthin and pine bark extract may fight skin texture changes caused by aging.
A healthy lifestyle, including the right diet and appropriate supplementation, can help you look your best. As Russak puts it, “Supporting the structure from the inside is an important part of your overall skin health.”