Wellness

Three unexpected ways to balance your skin barrier

Why it's important to keep your skin barrier strong, and how your emotions play a bigger part in skin health than you thought.

Closeup on young woman with honey on back holding honey plate

Photo, Istock.

There’s more to “having a thick skin” than you may have thought. Figuratively, it helps you deal with a mean boss, but in a more literal sense, the thickness of your skin is related to your overall health.

The skin is the human body’s largest organ. It weighs about eight pounds and, according to National Geographic, the average adult has 22 square feet of it. The skin plays a key role protecting our bodies, which is why our skin barrier is so important.

Our skin is the mirror of overall health, and here’s why:
• It prevents bacteria and viruses from entering the body
• It protects our internal organs, muscles, nerves and blood vessels
• It produces melatonin to filter harmful UV
• It metabolizes and activates vitamin D3
• It regulates core body temperature
• It excretes excess salt and waste
• It retains fluids and moisture
• It impacts our psychological well-being

Every day we’re bombarded with messages promoting the latest cream designed to protect our skin. But anyone suffering from an inflammatory skin condition, such as eczema or acne, knows that not all creams can prevent the external stresses often responsible for flare-ups. When stress pumps through our system, excess hormones (like cortisol) surge. Not only can this lead to weight gain, but these hormones affect our immune system and speed the aging process.

To truly understand skin health we need to start focusing on what’s upsetting the balance of our skin barrier. Whether it’s stress or food issues, find out how to keep your skin barrier strong:

1. Reduce stress
Our skin releases chemicals called neuropeptides that protect us from infection. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) describes neuropeptides as, “the chemicals released by the skin’s nerve endings . . . the skin’s first line of defense from infection and trauma.” Dermatologist and clinical psychologist Richard G. Fried explains that stress can cause these neuropeptides to be released when they shouldn’t be and aren’t needed. This can lead to a vicious cycle where worrying about a skin issue can create more stress, thus worsening the condition.

If you get a pimple the night of a first date, stressing about it can actually cause other reactions and inflammation in your skin because of the release of neuropeptides caused by the stress.

Dr. Fried’s research explains that stress weakens the skin’s barrier. For this reason, it’s important to reduce stress and also reach for moisturizers that build up your skin’s barrier.

Bottom line: The AAD says it best: “Stress can make a person’s rosacea more red or acne lesions more inflamed and more persistent. It can worsen hives, fever blisters, psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis.” For this reason, visiting a dermatologist and understanding why your skin is irritated are paramount. A dermatologist can recommend the best topical option for you as well as figure out if there are any underlying stressors causing flare-ups. I recommend SkinFix to many of my clients as a front-line option for skin.

Tip: Take a photo of your skin condition when it flares up, and bring it to your doctor’s appointment.

2. Meditate to calm your mind and your skin
The U.S. National Library of Medicine found that a large number of skin diseases, including psoriasis, were largely affected by stress related to a specific event. Researchers focused on 27 students, and how their skin was affected in three different circumstances (two were low-stress vacations and one was the highly stressful exam time). When comparing the three time periods, it proved that under stressful circumstances the outer layer of their skin became very weak. The participants’ skin cells also reduced in size, allowing the skin to become vulnerable to harmful bacteria that could have lead to eczema or psoriasis.

Bottom line: Try using meditation to calm your nerves. I also recommend supplements like vitamin C, or adaptogenic herbs like Relora and ashwagandha, which help your body adapt to stress.

3. Watch what you eat
Most people with food sensitivities don’t realize how bad they feel (or look) until the problematic foods have been removed from their diet. Suddenly getting out of bed is easier, and their energy, mood and concentration are improved. Joint pain, headaches, skin conditions and sinus congestion often disappear too. Eight common foods – milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, soy, wheat and shellfish – cause an estimated 90 percent of all food allergies.

A study in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology confirmed a link between the skin barrier’s role and food allergies. Symptoms to food allergies are less intense, and typically appear within 12 to 48 hours after eating the offending food. In my practice, skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis are commonly connected to food intolerances and are greatly reduced when the key culprits are removed and proper topical products are used.

Bottom line: It’s no surprise that diet can play a large role in building a strong skin barrier. To get to the bottom of your symptoms, I recommend that you do a 14-day elimination diet where you remove the most common food allergens from your diet to give your body a break, alleviate stress off your immune system and detox overall. Slowly re-introducing each food after a 14-day break can allow you to connect particular symptoms with your food choices. If you don’t want to do a 14-day elimination diet you can consider IgG food-allergy testing.