Your skin's barrier: why it's such a big deal

Person applying Moisture Renewal Oil Booster

What is the skin barrier?

You might be wondering what your skin’s barrier actually is. Simply put, your skin barrier is a watertight seal that keeps the outermost layers of skin smoothly together. When these outer layers are healthy, skin feels soft, supple and plump. But if these outer layers are damaged, skin may look dull and feel rough or dry. When the protective barrier becomes damaged or impaired, it loses or becomes unable to hold on to the vital substances that keep skin cells intact: ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids like linoleic acid. This leads to water loss and skin becoming more vulnerable to all external aggressors. Not surprisingly, a damaged skin barrier also makes it difficult to repair signs of ageing and post-breakout marks.

Healthy skin barrier vs. a damaged skin barrier

How to repair skin barrier?

When it comes to caring for your skin’s barrier, prevention is better than cure. So here are some tips to keep yours healthy and minimise damage:

  • Always use lukewarm water. Water that is too hot or cold can irritate skin.
  • Use a mild cleanser. Harsh cleansers can strip away the essential moisturising and nourishing substances that keep your skin barrier healthy.
  • Do not use abrasive scrubs as they can cause micro-tears to the skin’s surface. Instead, use a gentle, leave-on exfoliant.
  • Use fragrance-free skincare products. Fragrance – including essential oils – makes skin more sensitive and can rob it of the replenishing ingredients it needs to stay healthy.
  • Don’t overdo it when using active ingredients like AHA, BHA, retinol, or anti-acne treatments. Applying the highest strength of an ingredient and using multiple treatments can unnecessarily irritate your skin. Find the frequency and concentration that works for you and apply products with potent ingredients at different times of the day. For example, use your exfoliant in the morning and retinol product at night. You’ll still receive the same great benefits.
  • Protect your skin from the sun, every day. Sun exposure is one of the major causes of a damaged skin barrier. Use a sunscreen that is rich in antioxidants and has an SPF of 30 or greater.

Damaged skin barrier causes

Even if you have a flawless skincare regime, there are an array of external factors that can trigger disturbances in your skin’s protective barrier. These include:

  • Air pollution, allergens and irritants
  • Alkaline detergents or soaps
  • Too much sun exposure
  • Extremely dry or humid environments
  • Over-washing or over-exfoliating your skin
  • Harsh chemicals
  • Some medications (eg steroids)
  • Ageing
  • Psychological distress
  • Damaged skin barrier symptoms

    It’s actually pretty easy to spot that your skin barrier is not functioning properly. Some damaged skin barrier signs to look out for include:

  • Sensitive, inflamed or irritated skin
  • Itchiness
  • Very dry skin or scaly patches
  • Bacterial, viral or fungal skin infections
  • Acne
  • These damaged skin barrier symptoms can alert you to the fact that yours isn’t as efficient as it should be, so you can take some steps to try and repair it.

    How to heal skin barrier?

    Whether your skin barrier is damaged or healthy, it’s still good to nourish it with repairing ingredients such as fatty acids, cholesterol, ceramides and hyaluronic acid. Your skin can never have too many of these ingredients – especially when it comes to restoring your skin barrier – and incorporating them throughout your skincare regime will ensure your skin reaps the benefits.

    Some easy-to-integrate skincare steps that'll help:

    How long does it take for skin barrier to heal?

    The good news is: a broken skin barrier can be repaired, but it does take a little time and effort. Depending on the extent of the damage, it can take anywhere from a couple of weeks up to 6 months to get it back to its protective best.

    Following these steps will help you maintain a healthy skin barrier, which means you’ll soon see smoother, softer and younger-looking skin.


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