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The Secret To Flawless Skin? Learn To Protect Your Skin's Natural Barrier

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From sun to wind to freezing cold, our faces are exposed to the most extreme of elements on a daily basis. To safeguard against this brutal treatment, our bodies developed a powerful first line of defense. We call it our skin's "barrier."

This so-called barrier is made up of corneocytes (also known as dead skin cells) and a lipid bilayer that holds those cells together. This lipid bilayer works to envelop the corneocytes, keeping water and nutrients inside the skin and harmful bacteria and irritants out.

These days, there are a handful of products out there, from sunscreens to face mists, which will claim to create a barrier around your skin, blocking everything from dust to car exhaust to pollen from disrupting your complexion. But the truth is, our skin's natural barrier is far more effective than any product at fending off those environmental irritants. You just need to know how to care for it.

Take, for example, a child. Most of the time, their skin is bright, clear and blemish-free. Fast-forward a decade or two and suddenly that same person suffers from breakouts, dermatitis, dry skin or rosacea. But it's not just a result of unbalanced hormones. Those conditions are clear signs of a weakened barrier.

When you have a healthy, functioning barrier, your skin will look plump, smooth and hydrated. But, when skin starts to look dry, dull or slack, your barrier has likely been compromised.

The bad news: it's pretty easy to damage your skin's natural barrier. Some of the most common ways to do so include rinsing your face with very hot water, washing with harsh cleansers or products that contain irritating ingredients (like alcohol or sodium lauryl sulfate) and over-exfoliation (in other words, put down that Clarisonic). Daily life -- the sun, air pollution and even plain old dust -- contributes to barrier breakdown too.

The good news, though, is that with the right tools, you can return what your skin has lost in the day-to-day aging process, and bring it back to equilibrium. And you can do it naturally.

One of the best ways to repair barrier function is to maintain and improve moisture in the upper layers of the skin. When high-quality natural oils are applied to the face, they are absorbed directly into the top layers of the epidermis and can instantly go to work to improve the lipid barrier function. Studies have shown that oils high in linoleic acid are particularly beneficial in helping to rebuild the skin's natural barrier.

Here are a few key oils to seek out in support of a healthy barrier:

Chia Seed Oil -- chia seeds are the best natural source of Omega-3 fatty acids, which help to strengthen the barriers of cell membranes. In fact, a study found that topical chia seed oil significantly improves skin hydration and reduces trans-epidermal water loss, improving overall barrier function.

Kiwi Seed Oil -- similar to chia seed oil, kiwi seed oil is high in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the form of linoleic acid, which can be incredibly healing and soothing for damaged skin cells.

Hemp Seed Oil -- a natural humectant, hemp seed oil replenishes essential fatty acids and helps to skin to hold in water.

Pumpkin Seed Oil -- high in both fatty acids and Vitamin E, pumpkin seed oil is another great regulator to help promote healthy barrier function.

Grape Seed Oil -- rich in antioxidants and naturally anti-inflammatory, grape seed oil not only delivers essential fatty acids that help the skin to retain moisture but also soothes and heals damaged skin and prevents further damage from free radicals.

Sunflower Seed Oil -- with antioxidants like sesamol and vitamin E to help minimize sun damage and essential fatty acids and phytosterols to plump the skin, this is a great healing and protective moisturizer.

So, put away those astringent cleansers and harsh exfoliating scrubs. It's time to give your skin a break. Because when it comes to barrier function, less really is more.