Reducing Transepidermal Water Loss | How to Heal Your Moisture Barrier

by Nichole Fazekas

In colder times of the year, it can be difficult to maintain your skin’s natural moisture. Especially in winter, your skin is more vulnerable to transepidermal water loss (TEWL) and a damaged moisture barrier. You will learn why it is important to know what TEWL is and how you can prevent it.  This article explains how transepidermal water loss works, how you can maintain your moisture barrier.

transepidermal water loss causes flaky dry skin on forehead

What is Transepidermal Water Loss and Damaged Moisture Barrier

TEWL occurs when water passes through the skin’s dermis and is evaporated on the surface of the epidermis. The dermis is the layer of skin below the epidermis, which is what we are able to touch and see. TEWL is a natural process and one that can be accelerated by external factors like weather, air conditioning, and over-exfoliating the skin. Accelerated TEWL can leave your skin vulnerable to irritants, and harmful bacteria.

Layers of skin, transepidermal water loss
Image Credit: Lumen Learning

Our skin is most affected by TEWL in environments with low humidity like the dry air in winter. TEWL goes hand in hand with how our moisture barrier functions. When we exfoliate our skin, we are essentially impairing the skin’s function and speeding up the process of TEWL. 

Low levels of TEWL indicate a moisture barrier that is functioning well to support the body. A high level of TEWL indicates damage to the moisture barrier. In the next section, we’ll cover how simple factors like over-exfoliating your skin or being exposed to harsh weather conditions can alter your skin’s environment.

Why is it Important to Maintain Your Skin’s Moisture Barrier?

Recognizing the factors that affect your moisture barrier and TEWL can help you keep your skin healthy. Preventing TEWL helps your skin’s acid mantle maintain a healthy level of bacteria and pH balance. Our acid mantle helps balance the growth of good and bad bacteria on our skin that helps prevent infections.

Conditions caused by TEWL like over-exfoliation lead the way for our acid mantle to become unbalanced. Your skin is more susceptible to redness, dryness, flaking, and irritation when TEWL is high. Providing a good environment for the natural bacteria on our skin begins with how we maintain it.

Maintaining your skin’s moisture barrier is important for getting the most from any products you use. When you maintain your skin’s moisture barrier and limit TEWL you’ll notice your products work better and your skin appears healthier.

Woman looking in mirror, transepidermal water loss

Taking note of when your skin feels more irritated is a great way to note the state of your moisture barrier. Before you wash your face take note of how your skin feels, if it feels dry or irritated your skin may be reacting to your current routine. Noting this will help you prevent over-exfoliation, dryness, and acne.

How You Can Maintain Your Moisture Barrier

When looking for products that will help you maintain a healthy moisture barrier, look for the three pillars of moisture: humectants, emollients, and occlusives. Some examples to look for include: hyaluronic acid, shea butter, and aloe vera. These ingredients are known to retain moisture in the skin and prevent water loss.

Hyaluronic acid is one of our favorite humectants because it can bind 1000 times its weight in water. This means it can hold a lot of water on the surface of your skin, decreasing TEWL. Aloe vera is another favorite humectant because it’s effective in treating dry, dehydrated skin, especially TEWL. 

Shea butter falls into both of the other categories because it acts as an emollient and an occlusive. It softens and smooths dry skin, supports the lipid barrier, and helps reduce redness and swelling. Shea butter is a non-comedogenic, natural occlusive, meaning it coats the skin and blocks water from evaporating through it. ORS’s night cream, Herbe Sois Calming Moisturizer, contains all three of these ingredients.

While your skin’s barrier is recovering, you should avoid exfoliating unless it is with glycolic acid, as this promotes the skin’s production of hyaluronic acid. To avoid damaging your moisture barrier in the future, look for gentle exfoliating products that won’t irritate your skin. Use gentle exfoliators no more than twice a week to avoid over-exfoliating. Try ORS’s Lavender Cream Exfoliator for gentle exfoliation without dryness or redness.

Ultimate-Cocktail-Facial-Serum_Organic-Radiance-Skincare

It’s also important to avoid cleansing products formulated with strong surfactants, such as sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate. These ingredients are known to further irritate the skin’s barrier and increase the risk of TEWL. 

If your skin becomes irritated and you think your skin’s moisture barrier might be damaged, ORS has natural products that can help calm your skin. These products protect your skin and support its natural healing process. 

The Ultimate Cocktail Facial Serum is a great example of a product that helps maintain your moisture barrier while treating any problems that may arise from the damage. Formulated with aloe vera, hyaluronic acid, and numerous antioxidants it protects your skin from TEWL while protecting you from any skin irritation you may face.

Herbe Sois calming moisturizer for transepidermal water loss

We recommend using Herbe Sois Calming Moisturizer on top of the serum to support repair and renewal. Formulated with shea butter, our redness-reducing essential oil blend, and peptides, this product protects your skin from dehydration. Your skin will feel soothed and less irritated each time you use this product.

To read more about healing dry skin on the hands and body, read our article, 8 Tips for Preventing Dry Skin on Hands. This article is particularly useful if you get TEWL from washing your hands frequently due to the current virus.

Transepidermal water loss is a natural process, but when it occurs too quickly it can become problematic. When your skin becomes dehydrated or irritated, it’s important to know what to do to restore your skin’s moisture barrier. Now you know the types of ingredients to look for, what ingredients to avoid to prevent further irritation, and some products to protect and restore your skin.

References:

  1.  Honari, Golara Maibach, Howard. 2014 Skin Structure and Function, in Applied Dermatotoxicology. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/veterinary-science-and-veterinary-medicine/transepidermal-water-loss 
  1. van Rensburg, Sané Jansen Franken, Anja Du Plessis, Johannes Lodewykus. 05/20/2019. Measurement of transepidermal water loss, stratum corneum hydration and skin surface pH in occupational settings: A review.  https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/srt.12711
  2. Skin Better Science, What is Transepidermal Water Loss & Why is it Important? 4/10/17 https://skinbetter.com/transepidermal-water-loss-important/ 
  3. Prinzivalli, Leah. 9/22/2019. The Complete Guide to Your Skin’s Moisture Barrier and How to Protect It. https://www.allure.com/story/what-is-moisture-barrier-skin-care 
  4. Stanborough, Rebecca Joy. 9/16/2020. What to Know About Your Skin Barrier and How to Protect It. https://www.healthline.com/health/skin-barrier#signs-of-damage
  5. Bird, Katie. 05/11/2009. Moisturizing power of shea butter highlighted by scientific studies. https://www.cosmeticsdesign-europe.com/Article/2009/05/12/Moisturising-power-of-shea-butter-highlighted-by-scientific-studies
  6. How to Read an Ingredient List: Face Moisturizers. Lab Muffin. https://labmuffin.com/how-to-read-an-ingredients-list-face-moisturisers/

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