The skin barrier is a crucial protector against harsh chemicals and environmental pollutants. But various factors can disrupt its integrity and lead to dry, irritated and itchy skin.
Thankfully, simple steps make repairing and maintaining a healthy skin barrier easy. Here are four expert-approved strategies: hydrate, nourish with barrier-building ingredients (like ceramides and niacinamide), avoid harsh products, and get a good night’s sleep.
The barrier is the first line of defense against irritants and environmental stressors, but it can become damaged by common habits like over-cleansing or using harsh skin products. These can strip the barrier of its protective lipids, leaving it dehydrated and susceptible to irritation and aggravating conditions like breakouts, eczema or psoriasis.
Water enters the skin as the barrier breaks down, irritating the epidermis’s outer layers. This can cause redness, itchiness and flakiness. If the barrier continues to be stressed, it can begin to crack, allowing free radicals that can oxidize healthy cells.
Keeping the skin barrier in good condition can help protect it from this damage, but this requires the right ingredients and an appropriate regimen.
To help repair a damaged skin barrier, moisturizers that include hydrating oils can work as healing lubricants and protect against the elements. Look for formulas containing shea butter, hyaluronic acid, jojoba oil, and ceramides.
If you’re dealing with a severely damaged barrier, opt for serums that contain active ingredients that boost the skin’s natural lipid production to help strengthen and heal it. Using a barrier repair hydrator when you step out of the shower while your skin is still damp so it can ‘drink’ in the moisture is recommended.
Nourish the Skin:
The skin barrier is like a brick wall; it keeps harmful bacteria, toxins and other pathogens from entering the body while keeping moisture inside. When your barrier is damaged, it can leave your skin feeling dry and dull. Fortunately, there are ways to restore and nourish it.
Start using lukewarm water when cleansing your face, as cold or hot water can damage the skin’s surface and strip the necessary lipids that help maintain a healthy skin barrier. It would help to avoid abrasive scrubs, as they can create tiny micro-tears and weaken the wall.
Next, look for skincare products designed with the skin barrier in mind. This includes skincare formulated with ingredients like ceramides, fatty acids (including squalane), niacinamide and cholesterol to mimic the lipids in your skin’s outermost layer, known as the stratum corneum.
Avoid products that contain alcohol, as it can irritate the skin and cause it to become dehydrated and sensitive. It’s also best to temporarily stop exfoliation (both physical and chemical) while your barrier is healing so that you don’t damage the skin further.
Once the skin has healed, you can reintroduce exfoliation, but only with gentle and safe products for your skin type. Lastly, include fermented ingredients in your routine that can boost the skin’s natural microbiota, which helps protect the barrier from environmental stressors.
Avoid Harsh Chemicals:
A damaged skin barrier isn’t easy to fix. It’s constantly under attack by various environmental stressors, from temperature changes (hot and cold weather are common culprits) to chemical irritants like soaps, facial cleansers, and even certain active ingredients like AHAs or retinol.
It’s also susceptible to internal factors, including certain health conditions like diabetes and incontinence, over-exfoliation, and a diet high in fats or sugars (both of which can contribute to dry skin).
The good news is that the barrier can be repaired and strengthened using the right skincare products, which include ingredients known for helping restore the lipid balance.
Look for ceramides, glycerin, and shea butter to keep your barrier strong, as well as antioxidants that help protect against free radical damage and humectants that bind moisture to the skin’s surface. Scrub only a little hard or often; that can also disrupt the barrier.
It’s important to note that no one-size-fits-all approach exists when it comes to skincare, so try to avoid scrubbing too hard or using exfoliants too often, and always be careful when adding new ingredients to your routine.
It’s best to start slowly and work your way up to avoid any potential sensitivity issues and to use only a small amount of a new product to allow your skin time to adjust.
Maintain a Healthy Diet:
The skin barrier works around the clock to keep environmental toxins, pathogens and pollutants out of your body while keeping water in. It also helps fight off free radicals and maintain healthy cell structures. Unfortunately, our natural shield is subjected to harsh chemicals and daily stressors that can damage it. The result can be dry, irritated or sensitive skin.
The best way to protect your barrier is to drink plenty of water and stay hydrated. Avoid dehydrating beverages like coffee and alcohol, and get enough sleep to avoid cortisol production (a stress hormone that can weaken the barrier).
Many dermatologists recommend incorporating more plant-based fats into your diet to support the skin’s barrier. Omega-3 fatty acids are particularly beneficial and can be found in fish, flax seeds or walnuts. Adding these nutrients to your meals can help strengthen the skin’s protective layer and improve skin texture and appearance.
Another way to support the skin’s barrier is to avoid harsh exfoliation techniques. Using scrubs or physical exfoliants can damage the skin barrier, so limit these treatments to no more than twice per week. Finally, always wear sunscreen. UVA and UVB rays damage the skin and lipid barrier, so you must wear a broad-spectrum SPF daily.