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What exactly is the skin barrier?

By Fiona Embleton

Photo: Getty

Spoiler alert: It has nothing to do with the barrier reef but it may just be the secret to dewy, bouncy skin

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Right now it’s enjoying a moment in the skincare spotlight but few beauty phrases are more popular – or shrouded in mystery – than the skin barrier. Some experts espouse the need for it to be strengthened. Others have persuaded us to swap our heavenly-scented lotions for unsexy skincare that excels at the most basic job of protecting and nourishing. So what do you really need to know about the skin barrier?

Technically speaking, the skin barrier refers to the stratum corneum, or the outermost layer of skin. Think of it as a brick wall: skin cells are the bricks and ceramides, cholesterol and amino acids are the mortar in between that holds everything in place. Metaphors aside, the skin barrier plays a vital role in sealing water and electrolytes into the skin to keep it looking dewy, while keeping irritants and pathogens out.

What can damage the skin barrier?