The Skin's Barrier: The Cornerstone of our Health and Beauty

I suffered with extreme eczema in my late teens and early twenties, visiting the hospital on numerous occasions. I remember having to soak in the bath to get my clothes off sometimes and being prescribed all manner of concoctions to alleviate the symptoms. On reflection, it really wasn't until I came out of a relationship I'd been in that my skin began to reflect my inner happiness! 

So you can see why I've always been interested in skin health and what causes these different types of issues. My recent research has, however, led me down a really interesting path, opening my eyes not just to the idea that our skin truly is a reflection of what is going on inside our bodies but that our skin could also be having a direct impact on our insides!

The quest for vibrant skin has transcended mere aesthetics, emerging as a beacon of our overall health and longevity. Recent discussions in dermatological science have illuminated the profound impact skin health, particularly conditions like psoriasis and eczema, have on our wellbeing. These conditions are not mere surface-level concerns; they are profound indicators of our body's internal state, reflecting and potentially influencing systemic health issues.

According to an article written by Michael Marshall in the New Scientist, published in March this year, there is growing evidence that damage to the skin can have knock-on effects for the rest of the body, possibly driving inflammation, muscle and bone loss and even cognitive decline! But, he says ‘ There is even tentative evidence that taking better care of our skin could slow the harmful effects of ageing and improve our overall health’.

Understanding the Stratum Corneum

The stratum corneum, the outermost layer of the epidermis, functions as the ultimate defender against environmental aggressors. This semi-permeable layer comprises dead skin cells tightly bound together, creating a formidable barrier that locks in moisture and nutrients while keeping out harmful substances such as bacteria, fungi and chemicals. Its role in maintaining skin hydration is crucial for ensuring elasticity and resilience, thus reducing the likelihood of irritations and infections. Psoriasis, chronic eczema (also known as atopic dermatitis) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), a common type of skin cancer of the epidermis, are all manifestations of the breakdown of this layer of skin.

The Dynamic Skin Microbiome

Our skin hosts a diverse array of microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, and viruses. This microbiome actively participates in skin health, helping fend off pathogenic invaders, maintaining skin pH balance, and modulating the immune system. An imbalance in this delicate ecosystem can lead to skin conditions and influence systemic health, highlighting the microbiome's significant role in our overall wellbeing.  According to an article written by Bay and Ring in the Journal of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology;  ‘The profile of the microbiome in human skin is considered a predictor of an individual’s health and potential cutaneous (skin) conditions’.

Cytokines: Signalling Molecules with Systemic Impact

Our skin cells, including ones called keratinocytes, produce special proteins called cytokines that help the cells talk to each other. This communication is crucial for the skin to function as a barrier. For instance, cytokines help skin cells grow and mature properly by influencing the activity of certain genes. This leads to a complex network of signals that keeps our skin healthy and strong. However, when these cytokines aren't regulated correctly, it can mess up the skin's barrier. This is what happens in certain skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis, where the skin can't protect us as well as it should. Cytokines are crucial for immune responses and skin healing. However, in skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema, an overproduction of cytokines can lead to systemic inflammation. This reveals the interconnectedness between skin health and broader health concerns, emphasizing the importance of maintaining a robust skin barrier to regulate cytokine production and prevent systemic health issues.

Inflammatory Skin Diseases: A Window to Systemic Health

Inflammatory skin diseases like psoriasis and eczema are not just skin-deep; they are indicators and potential contributors to systemic health problems. These conditions are linked with an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and other systemic issues due to the chronic inflammation they entail. There are some findings that atopic conditions or allergic diseases are more common in functional bowel diseases, like IBS. The skin, in these instances, acts as a mirror, reflecting the health of the entire body and underscoring the critical need for holistic health management that includes proper skin care.

Fortifying the Skin's Barrier

Fortifying the skin's barrier involves a holistic approach: choosing skincare products with ceramides, fatty acids, and hyaluronic acid to repair and maintain the skin's natural defences, and adopting lifestyle choices that support overall health. This comprehensive strategy enhances the skin's resilience and contributes to our general wellbeing.  Following these tips may help:

  1. Use Gentle Cleansers: Harsh soaps can strip the skin of its natural oils, weakening the barrier. Opt for mild, pH-balanced cleansers that remove dirt without disrupting the skin's natural balance.
  2. Moisturise Regularly: Moisturisers containing ingredients like vitamin B3, lupine peptides and hyaluronic acid are beneficial as antioxidants and  for their ability to maintain moisture in the skin.
  3. Incorporate Antioxidants: Antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin B3 and green tea can protect the skin from environmental damage and help repair the barrier.
  4. Apply Sunscreen Daily: Sun damage can weaken the skin's barrier. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher every day, even when it's cloudy.
  5. Look for Skin-Repairing Ingredients: Niacinamide (vitamin B3) and peptides are known for their barrier-strengthening properties. They can improve skin texture and resilience.

Dietary Considerations:

  1. Maintain a Healthy Diet: Eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (like salmon, flaxseeds, and walnuts) and antioxidants (found in fruits and vegetables) can support skin health from the inside out.
  2. Stay Hydrated: Drinking enough water is crucial for maintaining the skin's elasticity and barrier function. Aim for at least 8 glasses a day.
  3. Manage Stress: Chronic stress can disrupt the skin barrier and aggravate skin conditions. Techniques like meditation, yoga, and regular exercise can help manage stress levels.
  4. Get Adequate Sleep: Sleep allows the skin to repair itself. Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night to support skin health.
  5. Avoid Smoking and Limit Alcohol Consumption: Smoking and excessive alcohol intake can both dehydrate the skin and impair barrier function.

Embracing a Holistic Approach to Skin Health

Understanding and caring for our skin extends beyond cosmetic concerns, encompassing a holistic exploration of our health. The emphasis on comprehensive skincare — considering both topical treatments and lifestyle impacts — is crucial. This approach not only improves our skin's health but also enriches our overall wellbeing, highlighting the skin's role as a reflection of our body's health.

In nurturing our skin's barrier and microbiome, and understanding the systemic implications of skin conditions, we engage in a health practice with far-reaching benefits. The skin, in its complexity and vitality, serves as a testament to the interconnectedness of our health and beauty, mirroring the state of our entire being.

Lots of love,



Bay, L. & Ring, H. 'Human Skin Microbiota in Health and Disease'; Journal of Pathology, Microbiology & Immunology, 17th December 2021

Dermatol, I. 'Atopic Dermatitis in Adult and Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Cross-Sectional Study; Indian Journal of Dermatology, Sep-Oct 2019

Hanel, K. Cornelissen, C. Luscher, B. Baron, J.; International Journal of Molecular Science, April 2013

Marshall, M. 'More than Skin Deep'; New Scientist, 2nd March 2024


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