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Dry, irritated and sensitive? Your skin barrier is likely compromised (we’re here to help)

January 1 | 3 minute read

Skin Barrier Guide Hero 16x9 1

Words by Kerri Gordon

Originally published on | May 28

Persistent redness, dry spots, texture and sensitivity (no matter how thorough your skincare routine) are tell-tale signs that your skin barrier is having performance issues.

If not strong enough, things like over-exfoliating, under-moisturising, stress, exposure to the elements or wearing a protective mask could cause your skin to show angst. We're here to help with the steps and know-how to keep your barrier strong and healthy.

What is your skin barrier?

Your skin is made up of many layers, the outermost being your skin barrier (a.k.a. your epidermis), which consists of tough skin cells bound together by lipids (oils). Although extremely thin, this powerful layer of skin helps to keep you safe, healthy and, well, alive, by blocking environmental toxins and disease-causing organisms from penetrating into your skin and body. Your skin barrier also helps to keep the water inside your body inside your body, which would otherwise evaporate and leave you dehydrated.

If you haven’t heard of the term skin barrier, you might be more familiar with the term ‘acid mantle’, which refers to the slight acidity and pH balance of your skin. When balanced, this acts as a buffer to protect from harmful bacteria and viruses that could damage your skin and lead to infection.

How can you tell if your skin barrier is compromised?

If you’ve noticed dry, scaly patches (the type that cling to your foundation and just don’t seem to disappear), itchiness or irritation that feels sensitive and/or looks inflamed, persistent breakouts outside of your hormonal cycle, or have been diagnosed with a bacterial, viral, or fungal skin infection, it is very likely that your skin barrier is damaged or compromised.

What causes a compromised or damaged skin barrier?

There are a long list of environmental and circumstantial reasons one might be prone to a skin barrier concerns.

This could come down to climate; you might live in an environment that’s very dry, be exposed to too much sun (without adequate SPF), or seasonal allergens, irritants and pollutants may wreak havoc on your skin. It might even be the humid-yet-drying micro-environment of your protective face mask.

It could relate to your skincare routine; over-cleansing can strip your skin of vital oils and nutrients, as can over-exfoliation to even greater an extent (think AHAs, BHAs and retinoids too often or at too high a strength, regular chemical peels, and harsh scrubbing). Sensitivities to alcohol or fragrance can cause damage too, as can incorrect or over-use of at-home devices like derma rollers, and a lack of moisturiser and SPF.

The causes might even by physiological or psychological; the former being genetics, ageing and side-effects of medication (likely steroids, acne medication and prescription retinoids), and the latter being stress.

How to heal a compromised skin barrier

Simplify your skin care routine with hydrating, nourishing, and strengthening skincare formulas- ones that consider your skin microbiome, too! Although you might be tempted to try and exfoliate the dryness away, this will not help. If anything, it’ll make the situation worse, so cool it on the exfoliating treatments and ingredients as soon as possible. Instead, follow these steps:

1. Cleanse gently. Splash with water only in the mornings, and melt away the day with a nourishing oil or balm cleanser at night. Cultured Biome One Cleansing Balm is our top pick.

2. Hydrate deeply. With a damaged barrier often resulting in dehydration from the skin’s deeper layers, your first step back to recovery is to replenish that hydration with lightweight essences, serums, and gels powered by humectants like hyaluronic acid and glycerin. REN Clean Skincare’s Evercalm Redness Relief Serum, Dr. Dennis Gross’ B3Adaptive SuperFoods Stress Rescue Super Serum, Cultured's Biome One Serum and Shiseido’s Ultimune Power Infusing Concentrate are great options here.

3. Strengthen with ceramides. Waxy lipids crucial for healthy barrier function, ceramides will help to strengthen the structural integrity of your skin. Look to Drunk Elephant’s F-Balm Electrolyte Waterfacial™ and Tatcha’s The Indigo Overnight Repair Serum in Cream Treatment for a gentle mega-dose of healing ceramides.

4. Lock in moisture with plant oils. Assist your skin in retaining the moisture you’ve just added back by creating a nourishing, lipid-like seal with an oil or moisturiser rich in plant oils. There are tonnes of options here, but our current favourites include MECCA COSMETICA'S Everyday Face Oil, TULA 24-7 Moisture Hydrating Day & Night Cream, Tammy Fender’s Intensive Repair Balm and Susanne Kaufmann’s Moisturising Mask.

Related topics and brand tags

Skin careSensitive skinNormal skinRosaceaRedness

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