The term ‘skin barrier’ gets thrown around a lot these days — especially in skincare product marketing. But what is it exactly? And why does it matter?
A quick biology recap: Your skin is your largest organ. It acts as your body’s armor, moisture lock, and alert system for fun things like touch and temperature. So your skin barrier — the buffer between you and the outside world — is super important.
Let’s dive into the deets on your skin barrier, how it gets damaged, and what to do about it.
The facts: What’s your skin barrier, and what does it do?
It helps to remember that your skin has three main layers:
- epidermis (top)
- dermis (middle)
- subcutaneous tissue (also called subcutaneous fat or hypodermis)
But wait, there’s more! The epidermis itself has layers. The top layer — the stratum corneum, also known as the skin barrier — contains skin cells held together by the lipid matrix, a web of fatty acids, ceramides, and cholesterol.
This razor-thin buffer between you and the outside world is key to your survival. Without this layer, your body’s H2O. stores would evaporate in a puff. And without this barrier, germs, dirt, and UV rays would get into your skin and cause all sorts of damage.
Bottom line: Your skin barrier — the super-thin top layer of skin — protects your health by keeping the good stuff in and the bad stuff out.
So what causes a damaged skin barrier?
Your skin deals with a lot of daily ish. Think of your skin barrier as your body’s outer layer of armor. It can take a beating, but that doesn’t mean it’ll walk away dent-free. Woof.
Some external factors that can jack up your skin barrier:
- super dry environment
- super humid environment
- sun exposure
- moisture-stripping soaps or exfoliants
- any products with harsh, dehydrating chemicals
- topical steroids
- washing or scrubbing too hard or too often
And the stuff that messes with your skin barrier from the inside out:
What are the symptoms of skin barrier damage?
If your skin barrier is meant to be an impenetrable brick wall, think of the damage as a few crumbling bricks. When your skin barrier gets weak, you’re more prone to dryness and irritation.
Some signs of a compromised skin barrier:
- itchy skin
- dry skin
- skin sensitivity or inflammation
- frequent skin infections
- eczema, rosacea, or psoriasis flare-ups
SOS: Can I improve my skin barrier?
Absolutely! Here are some ways to keep your skin’s top layer in tip-top condition.
1. Simplify, simplify, simplify
Instead of reaching for the next new shiny serum, try a super gentle, super basic skincare routine:
- Cleanse. Wash your face with warm water and a gentle, fragrance-free cleanser such as Neutrogena Ultra Gentle Hydrating Daily Facial Cleanser.
- Hydrate. Moisturize with a lightweight cream or lotion designed for sensitive skin. We love CeraVe Daily Moisturizing Lotion (drugstore steal!) and La Roche-Posay Toleriane Riche Soothing Protective Moisturizer (on the pricier side).
- Exfoliate (with caution). The American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends nixing mechanical exfoliation (the scrubby kind) or intense chemical exfoliation when your skin is sensitive. Opt for gentle products like Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum or Tatcha The Rice Polish Foaming Enzyme Powder.
2. Pamper your skin with a plant oil
To use plant oil on your skin, add a drop to your face lotion or gently massage a couple of drops onto your skin.
Some plants oils to try:
3. Consider pH
Science says your skin barrier pH ranges from 4.1 to 5.8. To avoid irritation, try to stick to products within this range.
TBH, not all skincare products list their pH. But when possible, pay attention to the products that do!
4. Amp up the ceramides
Remember how your skin barrier stays intact with a web of fatty acids and ceramides? That means you can help replenish a damaged top layer with heaping doses of these substances.
Research from 2019 suggests that using products with pseudo-ceramides could relieve dryness and irritation from a damaged skin barrier. Basically, the ceramides offer strength and nourishment to your stressed skin.
A couple of ceramide-rich moisturizers to try:
5. Slasher on the humectants
Common humectants include:
Wanna give humectants a whirl? You’re in luck. Oodles of moisturizers contain ‘em.
A few options:
- CeraVe Daily Moisturizing Lotion with Hyaluronic Acid
- Neutrogena Hydro Boost
- La Roche Posay Hydraphase Moisturizer with Hyaluronic Acid and SPF
- Your skin barrier, also called the stratum corneum, is the top layer of your skin.
- A healthy skin barrier is critical for keeping hydration in and dirt and damage out.
- Super dry or hot environments can damage your skin barrier. So can stress and chronic skin conditions.
- Symptoms of a damaged skin barrier include dryness, irritation, and frequent skin infections.
- Got damage? Replenish your skin barrier with a simple skincare routine, nourishing plant oils, ceramides, humectants, and products with a skin-like pH.