Somewhere – in some magazine or on some commercial – you’ve likely heard of or read about your skin’s barrier. Information about the skin barrier has become much more widely circulated as various skincare companies have invested more in consumer education about it. And people wanna know, so…
What Is a Skin Barrier?
Your skin’s barrier is literally what separates us from the environment. Look at your hand. The skin on it is a barrier between your internal muscles, blood vessels and bones, and the outside world in which it is almost always in use (and sometimes not in very clean ways, either).
Your Barrier: Keeping the Outside Out
Your skin is the thing that protects you from DNA damage by UV rays and pollutants that could otherwise destroy or infect your organs. Your skin’s barrier even prevents you from suffering mortal physical wounds.
Think about it: how many times have you fallen and scraped a knee, or cut a finger while dicing up vegetables in the kitchen? Probably several times at least (or fairly often if you’re as clumsy as me!). Now imagine how much more devastating those minor wounds would be if your skin wasn’t there to absorb the impact. Pretty crazy, right?
The Water Factor
But your skin barrier isn’t only shielding you from outside threats. Its most fundamental, vital and awe-inspiring job is to keep the water inside your body where it belongs. Inside.
Thanks to evolution, we (like every other mammal and most plants) developed a permeable, but waterproof skin barrier to preserve the 70-ish% of the H20 that constitutes us. Like a dam, our skin stops our bodies’ water from just leaking back into the environment (weird image, I know).
Our skin is made up of mostly a combination of dead cells and lipids, or fats. The cells are reinforced by proteins and layered with lipids to create an almost brick-and-mortar-like structure (although our skin manages to remain permeable — not solid like a brick wall). This structure keeps our bodies’ water inside while guarding us against outside pollutants.
So, safe to say, our skin barrier is essential to life. It’s both a dam and a wall (although permeable). Without it, the water that lubricates our muscles, flushes out waste and generally permits us to be alive would simply remain unformed. At the same time, our skin protects the form of our bodies from threats that would otherwise destroy it.
How’s that for jaw-dropping?