Your skin barrier is the lipid matrix found in the outermost layer of your skin, the stratum corneum, and essentially sits on top of this layer. When healthy, the skin barrier helps keep moisture in and external irritants out (e.g. UV, free radicals, bacteria) - acting as your skin’s bodyguard.
What is the skin barrier?
The skin barrier, or moisture barrier, is mainly composed of three lipids: ceramides, cholesterol, and free (AKA essential) fatty acids. These lipids work together to prevent water loss and to protect your skin from the environment. Damage to the skin barrier occurs in the form of miniscule cracks through which moisture can easily escape and irritants can enter more easily.
Signs your skin barrier is damaged:
When your skin barrier is healthy, your skin generally looks plump and smooth and feels soft to the touch. If you have oily skin that’s also dehydrated, that’s a common sign that you may have a damaged skin barrier. (Wait... Your skin can be both oily AND dehydrated? Read more about the difference between dryness and dehydration here.)
Some other damaged skin barrier symptoms:
- Flakiness & Peeling
- Rough to the touch
- Stinging or burning sensation when products are applied
- Crepiness and fine lines
- Rashes like eczema (atopic dermatitis)
- Increased breakouts
When you read over this list of these symptoms, you might notice that a whole range of skin issues can be traced back to a damaged skin barrier. That’s why caring for your skin barrier is so important.
My skin barrier is rekt. Can I repair it?
The good news is that you can repair your skin barrier, no matter how much damage has been done. Of course, if the skin barrier has been damaged or compromised for a long time, it will also take a longer time to heal. There’s no hard-and-set rule for how long it will take to repair your skin barrier. Ideally, with consistent care, your skin barrier should restore itself within two to four weeks.
What ingredients to avoid?
For effective skin barrier repair, you should take a multi-pronged approach. First, you need to protect your skin by reducing your skin’s exposure to external irritants. This means wearing sunscreen daily, avoiding using hot water in the shower, and cutting down on exfoliation. It also is advisable to cut back on (or eliminate) drinking alcohol and smoking.
Using gentle products is critical for your skin. Here are some ingredients to avoid:
- Daily use of acidic ingredients like ascorbic acid and L-ascorbic acid (Vitamin C)
- Overly-drying, harsh cleansing products
- Essential oils
- Harsh topical prescription acne medications (like benzoyl peroxide)
- Drying alcohols
What are the best skin barrier repair ingredients?
And then, you should aim to hydrate and replenish your skin with moisture-rich ingredients. Here are some skin barrier repair ingredients:
- Hyaluronic acid
- High-quality SPF to protect against damaging UV rays
- Botanical oils high in EFAs (essential fatty acids) like algae or kiwi seed oil
Your skin is able to repair itself quickly and effectively as long as you care for it properly. Show your skin barrier a little TLC and you’ll be happy with how soon you notice an improvement.