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Swimming and Skin Care – Repairing the Skin Barrier
Often, pool swimmers complain of water-related skin problems. Chlorine has a corrosive effect, causing the stratum corneum (the outermost layer of the epidermis) to break down the skin barrier. This skin barrier was invented by Dr. Peter M. Elias of the University of California, San Francisco, an expert in skin barrier and epidermal biology.
The stratum corneum functions as a barrier to protect the underlying tissue from infection, dehydration, chemicals and mechanical stress. This level of the skin consists of dead cells (corneocytes) composed of 15-20 layers of flattened cells without nuclei and cell organelles. These corneocytes are embedded in a lipid matrix composed of ceramides, cholesterol and fatty acids.
This barrier is produced by a process called desquamation, shedding cells from the surface of the stratum corneum and balancing the proliferating keratinocytes (cells that produce keratin, a useful protein for the body). These cells then migrate through the epidermis to the surface in a journey that takes approximately fourteen days.
In other words, we are born with a healthy skin barrier that is able to naturally keep the skin moist and hydrated. Unfortunately, over time, this layer of skin is damaged by things like cold weather, excessive sun exposure, prolonged immersion in water, windy conditions, and other environmental factors. These causes break down the components of this layer of our skin and leave it unprotected, susceptible to cuts, wrinkled skin, inflammation, bacteria, dryness, itching and allergens – damage.
Can drinking water help hydrate the skin?
We are made of water (the average adult human body is 50-65% water). Every day, our body releases large amounts of water. So drinking water is important because it replaces our reserves. According to the FDA, we should drink 8-10 glasses of water a day to maintain what we lose. The myth is that this way our skin is sufficiently hydrated. For skin purposes, unfortunately, water consumption doesn’t help all that much. In fact, the water we drink has to do a lot before it even reaches the skin. Think about the long and winding path that water takes in our bodies and you’ll notice how many stops at other organs etc. before it even appears on the surface of the skin, for example:
1. Freeing the body from toxins,
2. Supporting our digestive system,
3. Helping our organs function properly, etc.
Therefore, in theory, we should apply water to the skin topically and somehow keep it there to keep the skin moist, hydrated and wrinkle-free. Humidifiers aim to accomplish just this task.
Moisturizers and skin barrier
Despite what some advertisers tell us, many moisturizers available today do very little to lock moisture into the skin. This is because very few can penetrate the stratum corneum. With this truth, can the skin barrier even be restored? The good news is that yes it can. Since this cell layer is made up of ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids, it stands to reason that if these elements are depleted, causing damaged skin, then adding them back to the skin will improve its texture. We achieve this by combining the missing ingredients of ceramides, cholesterol and fatty acids together in correct measurements (formulas) so that they work homogeneously to improve the skin. The mix is key because just as we originally had them in our bodies, we need to replace them in a similar way.
Which moisturizers even work on the dermis?
1. Shea butter – contains stearic and palmitic fatty acids
2. Dermalogica Barrier Repair – Shea Butter, Evening Primrose Oil
3. Zerafite – sold by dermatologists as a barrier-repairing face cream and body cream. http://lesliebaumannmd.com/dr-baumann-recommends-barrier-repair-moisturizers-heres/
4. CeraVe Hydrating Cream 16 oz Daily face and body moisturizer for dry skin – formulated technology allows ceramides to penetrate the skin
5. Water – drench your skin in fresh water before swimming
How about working from the inside out?
1. Supplements – such as borage seed, fish oil or evening primrose oil
2. Hyaluronic acid – despite some claims, many dermatologists say it cannot penetrate the dermis when applied topically https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4110621/
3. Water – drinking 8-10 glasses a day really improves the quality of the skin, but it takes time to reach the skin as mentioned earlier
Swimmers have special needs related to moisturizing and protecting our skin. Addressing these needs in logical, well-informed, and consistent ways can allow swimmers to enjoy the water for a lifetime. The information above does not cover all that is known on this subject. There are many more products and treatments that have been proven to work on swimmer’s skin. This post is an overview that generally provides insight into how swimmers should approach their skin care needs.
Try the moisturizers and supplements above after talking to your dermatologists and doctors to see if they’re right for you. If they are not, we hope the information above will guide you to the right combination of internal and external protections designed for your needs.
As swimmers, we need to design and implement a routine to protect our skin. Inactivity can only help break down our skin barrier over time.
If you found this post helpful, please leave a comment below.
Thank you and go swimming!
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