Your Skin Barrier: What It Is and Why It Matters
What is the Skin Barrier?
Our skin is divided into three primary layers: the outer, thinnest layer known as the epidermis, the thick middle layer called the dermis, and the bottom subcutaneous fatty layer. The upper most layer of the epidermis—the stratum corneum—is what our body uses as its primary defense against pollution, UV rays, toxins, water loss, inflammation, irritation, and infection, making it our skin barrier.
Our skin barrier is made of tightly bound cells that bond together thanks to skin-friendly fats from ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids, as well as the protein filaggrin that helps skin stay moisturized. Think of the skin barrier as a sturdy brick wall, that when it’s functioning and held together, ensures the good stuff stays in (aka hydration and moisture) and the bad stuff stays out (like bacteria and toxins).
What Causes a Damaged Skin Barrier?
There are many factors that contribute to a damaged skin barrier. For some people, it’s a result of genetic conditions like eczema that leave the skin barrier weakened and more prone to inflammation. Weakened skin barrier function can also be from external factors like getting too much sunlight and exposing your skin to free radicals and harsh UV rays, or dry air in the wintertime (both indoor and outdoor) that leaves skin super dehydrated.
A damaged skin barrier can also be the result of—ourselves. Yep, you heard that right. Partaking in a skincare routine that’s too abrasive (aka over washing and over exfoliating your skin) or using products that are too irritating for you can also lead to a weakened skin barrier.
Signs of a Damaged Skin Barrier
The skin barrier is responsible for keeping skin healthy and well-functioning, so when the barrier is disrupted or weakened, we’re likely to get the hint that something is wrong. A basic tell-tale sign that your skin barrier might be damaged is if your skin looks and feels differently than it normally does. It could feel dry, flaky, itchy, or you might experience sensitivity, redness, and inflammation. Which is bad enough, but on top of that, a weakened skin barrier function also means you’re more prone to infections or rashes.
How to Repair Your Skin Barrier
The good news is that a weakened or damaged skin barrier isn’t irreversible. Though it will take some time to rebuild and restrengthen, with a solid skincare routine, your skin barrier should start to feel like its normal self within two to four weeks.
So how can you improve your skin barrier? Moisture! Including moisturizing ingredients and products into your routine is essential. You’ll want to look for products that contain humectants (like hyaluronic acid and glycerin) to draw water into the skin, emollients (like shea butter and plant-based oils) to seal in hydration, and ceramides to help rebuild the stratum corneum.
You’ll also want to stay clear of the exfoliants and stronger actives like retinoids for a couple of weeks, and focus instead on gentle facial cleansers, hydrating serums, and nourishing moisturizers.
Here are some of our favorite products for soothing and repairing a damaged skin barrier:
La Roche-Posay Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Cleanser A super gentle formula that cleanses skin while reinforcing the skin barrier and keeping skin hydrated and pH-balanced.
VMV HYPOALLERGENICS Moisture Rich Creammmy Cleansing Milk for Dry Skin This gentle, moisturizing cream facial cleanser is full of nourishing, hypoallergenic ingredients that prevent flaking and alleviate discomfort, tightness, and other symptoms of a damaged skin barrier.
ClarityRx Feel Better Hyaluronic Acid Moisturizing Cream Filled with hydrating, conditioning ingredients like hyaluronic acid, squalene, jojoba seed oil, and apricot kernel oil, this face cream keeps skin feeling moisturized and soothed.
Osmosis Skincare Barrier Repair Mask is a face mask that will hydrate, aid in repairing the lipid barrier, calm, and soothe the skin.