The Skin Barrier: What is it and Have You Destroyed it?

Posted by Joyleeh Bueta on

If your skin is feeling dry, tight and irritated, there is one underlying cause to all of this. Your skin’s protective moisture barrier is damaged, and simply layering on a rich moisturizer isn’t going to fix it. Chances are, you are doing something day in and day out that is causing your skin to get damaged, and the moment you take out the culprit, your skin’s barrier can naturally repair itself.

What is a moisture barrier in the skin?

The skin barrier is essentially the outermost layer of skin cells (or in accurate terminology the  “stratum corneum”). A healthy skin barrier consists of three components — ceramides, cholesterol and fatty acids (lipids).

Think of it as your skin’s frontline of defence. It protects your skin against environmental stressors such as UV rays, pollutants and dirt. They are also the ones responsible for keeping your skin hydrated and soft.

What happens when a moisture barrier gets damaged?

When the skin’s protective barrier gets damaged, it creates small, invisible cracks in the skin. Through these cracks, moisture can easily escape and irritants can enter more easily. Essentially, your skin lost its protective bodyguard and can get tight, dry and sensitive.

What Damages My Skin Barrier?
Before we move on to how to repair your skin barrier, let’s first weed out the villain that has been damaging it. Unfortunately for some of us (me included!), we might have been keeping the enemy close thinking it was a friend: stripping cleansers.

Most of us know cleansers are supposed to remove the dirt and oils from our face. So when our face experiences a tight, clean feeling after cleansing, it means the product has done its job right? Not quite — cleansers are supposed to rid our skin of pollutants, but they are not supposed to leave our skin taut.

This “squeaky clean” sensation is actually our skin barrier being stripped of its moisture. Prolonged use of such cleansers can even cause damage to it. This is also the reason why it is recommended to exfoliate only two to three times a week — any more, and you would be taking away essential moisture from your skin barrier.  

How Do I Protect and Repair My Skin Barrier?
The key to keeping your skin barrier healthy and functional is to follow the “less is more” concept. I suggest limiting the number of products and active ingredients in your routine. These ingredients, due to their potency, might stress out your barrier and worsen its condition. Instead, focus on supplying it with hydration to replenish your skin’s reservoir.

If you suspect a cleanser has been drying out your skin, switch to gentler formulas that help moisturise the skin. Gel cleansers are good alternatives to foam cleansers, which are typically more stripping due to the foaming agents used. Opt out of witch hazel toners, and instead, look for formulations intended to hydrate the skin. They should ideally have humectants such as hyaluronic acid and glycerin. And as always, moisturise twice a day.

Facial oils and serums are also great ways to give an extra moisture boost to the skin barrier, especially if they contain ceramides or fatty acids. However, oils and serums may be too heavy for those with extra-sensitive skin, and are thus not necessary!

The most important rule is to be in tune with what your skin is telling you. If there are small bumps, it could be due to too-heavy creams. If your pores are getting clogged from your makeup, perhaps a double-cleanse method would be more effective.

How can I fix a damaged moisture barrier?
  • Treat your skin like you would a baby’s skin.
  • Cut back on your exfoliation.
  • Avoid washing your skin with hot water.
  • Wear sunscreen.
  • Use a gentle cleanser to wash your face.
  • Avoid skincare products that are highly fragranced and use synthetic fragrances.
  • Choose your moisturizer carefully.
  • Start using a moisturizing skin oil, but make sure to use it the right way.
  • Listen to your skin.

The journey towards a clearer complexion is never easy, but it certainly begins with having a healthy, uncompromised skin barrier ready to fight off irritants. So let’s help out this delicate warrior by incorporating products that hydrate rather than strip.

Do you need additional help with your skin? Schedule a virtual consultation with our dedicated skin professionals who can help get your skin back on track and recommend the perfect skincare routine. 

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