Your skin can be an amazing thing! It's your body's largest organ and acts as the first line of defense against viruses, bacteria, and other harmful microbes. Your skin is composed of several specialized layers, including the skin barrier. This outermost layer of skin can become compromised from too much sun or over-exfoliation, allowing irritants and pollutants to penetrate and irritate your skin.
Luckily, what’s done isn’t always done — a damaged skin barrier can be repaired with a little bit of TLC. Let's take some time to learn how to repair your skin barrier to help get you back on track for healthier, brighter-looking skin!
What Is the Skin Barrier?
Your skin barrier is the protective outermost layer of skin, also known as the stratum corneum. It protects your skin from external pollutants and keeps moisture locked in for hydrated, supple skin.
The skin barrier has a unique composition made up of several layers of skin cells along with lipids like fatty acids, ceramides and cholesterol. A healthy skin barrier locks in hydration, keeps skin renewal activated, and keeps skin smooth and bright so you can be worry-free throughout your day!
Causes of a Damaged Skin Barrier
Our skin is a shield, protecting us from the world around us. Unfortunately, both our lifestyle choices and environmental conditions outside of our control can weaken this barrier — leaving your skin vulnerable to damage.
Here are some of the most common causes of a damaged skin barrier:
Harsh Skincare Products
Many people are tempted to load up on skincare products that contain popular yet harsh active ingredients that actually dry out and damage your skin barrier. Using drying retinoids, alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), and beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs), rough exfoliants (to name a few) can easily overwhelm the skin and strip your skin of its natural oils. This leads to easily scratching and damaging the skin barrier.
Poor Air Quality
If you live in an area with poor air quality, you may be more susceptible to a broken skin barrier. Airborne pollutants can dry out and damage your skin, slowly chipping away at your natural skin barrier. Extreme hot or cold temperatures and dry air can also damage your skin barrier, leading to dull-looking skin. Unfortunately, some environmental factors are beyond your control, which is why skin barrier repair and maintenance are crucial for keeping your skin hydrated, smooth, bright and and glowing.
Everyone knows by now that the sun is your skin’s worst enemy, especially when not protected by a sunscreen. UV radiation from the sun's rays is known to damage skin at every level, including the skin barrier. If you frequently spend time outside without proper SPF, there's a good chance you’ll experience redness, dryness, dark spots, and other consequences of a damaged moisture barrier.
Poor Sleeping Habits
Getting enough sleep is essential for every system in your body, including your skin. That's because your body works to heal itself while in deep sleep. Have you ever noticed that your skin looks duller or drier after a bad night's sleep? That's generally because you've had trouble staying asleep or don't get enough quality rest which can take a toll and lead to a damaged skin barrier.
Also, using skincare products that do not dry up the skin or clog pores will enhance your skin cell turnover, especially while you sleep, which often guarantees the 'I woke-up-like-this' skin.
As you get older, it's normal for your skin to become thinner and drier. Age-related changes can lead to a weakened skin barrier, especially, when the skin is not hydrated and strengthened, which makes it more susceptible to damage. That's why it's important to be vigilant about nourishing your skin throughout all of life's stages. Even a simple skincare routine that boosts hydration and skin cell turnover can be skin-changing, especially for anti-aging.
Certain Skin Conditions
Certain skin conditions like eczema, atopic dermatitis and psoriasis can weaken your skin's barrier. If you have a diagnosed skin condition, speak to your dermatologist about how to properly care for your skin barrier while managing specific skin conditions.
Signs of a Damaged Skin Barrier
Before delving into how to restore skin barriers, it's important to learn how to identify damage in the first place. Luckily, this is pretty easy to do and chances are you’re reading this article because you’ve experienced some symptoms already. Keep an eye out for the following signs and follow some simple tips that will help you restore your skin barrier for brighter, smoother, healthier skin, no matter your age, skin type, or skin tone.
Dry and Flaky Skin
A telltale sign of a damaged skin barrier is dry, flaky or scaly skin. A broken skin barrier loses its ability to retain moisture, causing the skin to dry out and flake. Many people try to get rid of flaky skin by turning to exfoliation or skincare that does not contain enough moisture repair, and this can actually damage your skin barrier even more.
Red and Irritated Skin
Without a strong, protective skin layer, your skin is vulnerable to redness, irritation, and inflammation. While some inflammation is normal after an injury or infection, the chronic inflammation associated with a damaged skin barrier may lead to a range of uncomfortable symptoms, such as swelling, pain, and other lasting discomfort. In addition, a damaged skin barrier becomes prone to scarring, scabbing, and slow skin renewal.
Itchiness is another common symptom of a damaged skin barrier. Like flaky skin, itchiness is caused by a lack of moisture. Beware — while scratching itchy skin may provide temporary relief, it will most likely only exacerbate the problem even further and result in scarring, and uneven skin. Scratching can further damage the skin barrier and increase the risk of infection, inflammation and overall uneven skin. Use a moisturizer that not only protects the skin barrier, but is able to penetrate the skin, and provide pain and itch relief.
If you struggle with frequent acne breakouts, a weakened or damaged skin barrier could be to blame. A healthy skin barrier repels acne-causing bacteria and pollutants, but a compromised skin barrier that isn’t operating at its best will allow these irritants to penetrate your skin. Breakouts can be the beginning of a vicious cycle, with one bout of acne leading to another, and then another.
Restoring your skin barrier using only a hydrating exfoliant (versus a drying exfoliant) will clean your pores and remove dead skin cells, revealing more luminous, smooth skin. This is just one simple step in reducing breakouts and strengthening skin barrier.
Increased Skin Sensitivity
As skin becomes red, itchy, and irritated due to a damaged skin barrier, it can also become extremely sensitive. As the outer layer of the skin suffers damage, it becomes more susceptible to common irritants and allergens. If your skin feels tight or you experience burning sensations when applying your skincare products, you may have a damaged skin barrier.
How to Repair the Skin Barrier
Knowing how to repair the skin barrier starts with researching what steps to take to nourish and repair your skin. Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. The best way to repair a damaged skin barrier is with a multi-pronged approach, and while you may have to engage in some trial-and-error before you find what works for you,.
Below are a few easy everyday changes you can make to your daily routine to restore a healthy skin barrier.
Switch to a Gentle Cleanser
When learning how to repair the skin barrier, the first step is to switch to a gentle facial cleanser. No matter what kind of skin you have (dry, oil, combination), your daily skincare routine must start with a gentle cleanser and/or creamy exfoliator that removes impurities, cleans your pores, and primes your skin without stripping your skin of its natural oils. If your skin burns or feels tight after cleansing, this is a direct sign that your cleanser or exfoliator is too harsh and too drying.
Avoid Hot Water
Many people believe that their skin gets cleaner when they use hot water, but this is a myth, even if it feels therapeutic (in the moment). Hot water is, in fact, very harmful to your skin because it strips it of its natural oils, damaging the skin barrier and causing your skin to become dry, irritated, and even break and itch. Cool to lukewarm water is just as effective for deep cleansing, and it's simply kinder to your skin.
Avoid Irritating Ingredients
Many skincare products contain irritating ingredients such as fragrances, alcohol, harsh surfactants, and drying retinoids. Look for products with gentle ingredients and with nourishing and clinically-proven active ingredients. If you're new to hat active ingredients mean in skincare, it's important to establish familiarity and begin with a simple, yet effective skin care routine.
You should also opt for gentle, non-irritating skincare products that are designed to soothe and hydrate the skin, therefore reinforcing a bright and healthy skin barrier.
One of the best ways to replenish your skin barrier's lipids is by moisturizing regularly. But it’s also important that you choose the right moisturizer. A rich but lightweight product full of ceramides is the best choice. Look for nourishing and soothing ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, glycerin, niacinamide, and panthenol. For deeply damaged skin, you may consider using a barrier repair cream or serum specifically designed to repair and strengthen damaged skin barriers.
Don't Over Exfoliate
Many people make the mistake of over-exfoliated their skin. While exfoliation is important in removing dead-skin cells, and cleaning pore of impurities for bright and healthy skin-- too much exfoliation or using harsh exfoliants can strip your skin of its natural oils, leaving your skin barrier dry, irritated, stinging, and itching.
Limit exfoliation treatments to 2-3 times a week, and always use a gentle exfoliant that doesn’t irritate the skin, but actually nourished the skin leaving it smooth, bright and hydrated.
Use SPF Every Day
If you’ve read anything about proper skincare, you already know that daily SPF is the name of the game on an everyday basis. Opt for a sunscreen with a higher than 30 SPF and reapply every two hours if you plan to be outside for an extended period. Bonus: use a sunblock that also protects against high energy VISIBLE (HEV) light which is light that's literally visible to our eyes, produced from the sun, but it's also emitted by your smartphone, tablet and computer screen.
There are plenty of sunscreens out there that don’t give off an annoying greasy, white cast and can easily be applied underneath makeup.
Healthy, hydrated skin starts from within. That's why it's important to stay hydrated and drink plenty of water throughout the day. If your body is dehydrated, your skin will lack the moisture it needs to appear plump and healthy. When you don't drink enough water, your skin will appear dry and dull.
Achieve Your Best Skin by Dr. Simran Sethi
Now that you know how to fix a skin barrier, it's time to put it all into action! At Skin by Dr. Simran Sethi, we offer a wide variety of medical-grade skincare and skincare systems to restore and strengthen your skin barrier.
For example, we recommend starting with our Ultra Glow Moisturizer, a maximum UV/blue light (HEV) protector that recharges, repairs, and locks in hydration; then our innovative Retinol Lipid Complex combines 0.5% retinol and glycolipid for gentle long-term renewal, addressing skin concerns without unnecessary peeling. And finally, our Vita E & F Serum delivers Omega-6, Vitamin E, and superior antioxidant protection to visibly nourish, protect, and smooth the skin while minimizing signs of hyperpigmentation and reducing the appearance of fine lines.
Get the Skin Barrier Starter Kit.
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