Like your armor, the skin barrier protects against irritants and germs. But when it is damaged, your complexion can become dry, flaky, and scaly. Overly aggressive cleansing and exfoliation, harsh ingredients in skincare products, and aging can all damage your barrier.
The skin barrier is your first defense against harmful bacteria, toxins, and UV rays. It keeps water in and irritants out, preventing water loss that causes dryness and dehydration. However, modern living is a lot harder on our skin, and it can cause the barrier to break down. Our skincare routine is one of the most essential factors in keeping the skin barrier healthy, and there are some steps that you can take to repairing a damaged skin barrier.
Start with a gentle cleanser and avoid harsh exfoliation products, like scrubs or chemical exfoliants (AHAs and BHAs). Instead, use a physical exfoliant product, such as a konjac sponge or bamboo powder.
Next, nourish the skin barrier with hydrating and strengthening ingredients, such as ceramides and hyaluronic acid. Try products containing fatty acids, such as safflower oil, which hydrates with linoleic acid, and ingredients that increase ceramide production, such as niacinamide.
Avoid Harsh Cleansers
Our skin barrier is one of the most critical parts of our complexions. It helps keep moisture in and harmful things like toxins, pollution, and damaging UV rays out. But it can be easily damaged by bad habits or products.
Harsh cleansers, physical exfoliators, or overuse of products that can dry (like retinoids) can disrupt the skin barrier. Even bathing in hot or steamy water can strip the skin of its natural oils.
Whenever you notice any signs of a weakened skin barrier, make it your mission to repair it. For starters, use gentle cleansers (that don’t leave the skin feeling squeaky clean) and lukewarm water when showering. And if you do want to exfoliate, opt for chemical exfoliants with a low pH over physical exfoliators or scrubs. Then, replenish and strengthen the barrier with skincare formulated with ceramides, cholesterol, fatty acids (like squalane), antioxidants, and prebiotics to support healthy bacteria. A growing number of products are designed with barrier strength in mind, and some are easy to spot as they have the words “skin barrier” in their names.
When your skin barrier is damaged, it can cause an increase in transepidermal water loss (TEWL), which is the amount of water that passes through the outer layer of your skin and evaporates. This is why it is vital to moisturize throughout the day and night.
Several factors can damage your skin’s barrier, including external environmental aggressors, skincare products, and habits. For example, cleansing too frequently or with a harsh cleanser can disrupt the lipid matrix and slough off your natural oils. Using a cleanser that leaves your skin feeling squeaky clean can irritate and dry, especially when damaged.
Another common culprit is over-exfoliation, either chemical or physical exfoliation, which can cause the flakes and dry patches you see on your skin to worsen. If you notice signs of a damaged barrier, like redness, irritation, or a lack of moisture, try to reduce your exfoliation for two to three weeks. Then, slowly resume with one exfoliant a week until your skin is healed.
A properly functioning skin barrier is key to healthy, glowing, plump skin. When it is compromised, however, the skin will appear dry and flaky, leading to redness, itchiness, inflammation, and even eczema.
The barrier comprises a layer of lipids that creates a protective shield that keeps good things (moisture, healthy natural oils) in and bad things like pollution, external elements, and germs out. It is a very complex system, but you can help it repair itself using gentle skincare products designed with barrier strength in mind.
Look for cleansers, serums, and moisturizers with barrier-boosting ingredients such as ceramides, fatty acids, and antioxidants.
Think of your skin barrier as a brick wall; the cells are the bricks, and the ceramides are the mortar that seals it together to form a solid working barrier. If you use the right products and avoid harsh treatments, your skin barrier should naturally repair itself over time, but it’s always worth applying a few extra layers of protection for peace of mind.
When your skin barrier is in good condition, it seals in healthy natural oils and hydration while locking out irritants, so the skin should feel soft, smooth, and lusciously plump. But when it’s damaged, you can experience a host of frustrating symptoms like dryness, flaking, itchiness, and redness. While it’s not always easy to repair a severely compromised skin barrier, consistency and the right routine can quickly get your complexion back on track.
It’s important to remember that your skin barrier is a delicate balance of different lipids, and it’s easy to disrupt that symbiotic relationship by overwashing or using harsh products with too much acidity or drying sulfates. Choosing a gentle cleanser and avoiding scrubbing your face with rough scrubs is crucial, as this can destroy the barrier.