How to Repair the Skin Barrier

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‘Barrier repair’ is a buzzword that’s getting bigger and bigger in the skincare industry, but contrary to many trends that come and go, you best believe the hype on this one. After all, your skin barrier holds a lot of responsibility—it’s the reason your skin shines radiantly, as well as why it looks dry, dull, and lackluster. Sometimes, our skin barrier can be damaged without us even realizing. Let’s delve into the details…

What is your skin barrier?

Your skin barrier is one of many layers that make up our skin. It serves two purposes. The first is to protect the good stuff, such as healthy natural oils, moisture and hydration. The second is to prevent bad things from getting in (e.g., environmental irritants). When your skin barrier is working at its strongest, it’ll do exactly that—and your skin should feel hydrated, soft, and lusciously plump. When your skin barrier has been damaged on the other hand, that’s another story. You may notice a decrease in its ability to function and flaky, dull or dry skin.

What causes a damaged skin layer?

The breakdown of lipids (natural fats that protect our skin) can cause skin barriers to be damaged. There are many factors that can cause this. Firstly, there’s genetics, aging, and environmental factors, which, let’s face it—are largely out of our control. Secondly, however, there’s our skincare routines and sleeping regimens. These are some tips to help keep your skin barrier in tip-top shape.

  • Water that’s too hot or cold. Whenever you’re applying water to your skin, opt for lukewarm water. If it’s too cold, it may not remove the dirt and grime. If it’s too hot, you could be doing damage your skin’s natural oils.
  • Over exfoliating. If you’re a lover of the exfoliator, listen up. While exfoliating correctly can have plentiful benefits for your skin, it’s easy to go overboard. You should only exfoliate 2-3 times per semaine. If your skin becomes dry, red, or flaky, take a break.
  • Too many active ingredients.Although AHA, retinol, and acne creams are great for our skin, you can overuse them by using too many active ingredients. Because active ingredients in skincare are often very concentrated, this is why it can be dangerous to apply too many at once. If they’re causing you irritation, try reducing how often you apply them, try alternating them, or spread them out across the week. If you are unsure, schedule a visit to your dermatologist.
  • Sun damage. It may sound like we’re constantly shouting about sunscreen, but it’s for a good reason (promise!). We can’t say it enough—it is the biggest and best protector against UV rays and their skin-damaging effects.
  • Your sleep schedule. If you’ve ever woken up after a night of tossing and turning to puffy, tired-looking skin—now you know why. There’s nothing like a great night’s sleep for strengthening the skin barrier.

How to tell if your skin barrier is damaged

If your skin feels dull and irritated lately, it could be a problem with the skin’s barrier. Here are the top signs that your skin barrier is compromised:

  • Redness
  • Rosacea
  • Dry, flaky skin
  • Discolored patches
  • Irritation and tightness
  • Areas that are sensitive or inflamed
  • Viral, bacterial, and fungal infections
  • Eczema

How to Maintain Your Skin’s Barrier to Prevent Damage

If you’re experiencing a breakdown in your skin’s barrier, what you apply topically becomes more critical than ever. Here, we’ve got some tips for taking a methodical approach to restoring, nourishing and strengthening your skin with proven products.

You can heal yourself with anti-inflammatory agents

The skin barrier must be repaired. Step 1: Apply oils rich in antioxidants such as sunflower or safflower oils to replace the skin’s lost lipids. These oils also hydrate with Linoleic acid. Avoid citrus or mint oils that are heavily perfumed. They can irritate sensitive skin. Products containing panthenol—a vitamin B-5 derivative—also work as healing lubricators, as do products with niacinamide, an ingredient that increases ceramide production and restores skin barrier function.

Hydrate Continuously

A damaged epidermis requires moisture, so keeping your face and body well hydrated is critical in the fight to restore and maintain a healthy skin barrier. Creams, lotions, and serums with moisture-binding, humectants such as sorbitol or glycerin are best. This ingredient is also an anti-aging agent that locks in moisture and improves skin elasticity, helping you to keep your skin plump and youthful-looking.

Reduce Inflammation

Over-exfoliation, retinoid and chemical acne-fighting products can all cause irritation. Redness and flaky skin can be prevented by avoiding the use of acne-fighting products. Once your skin has healed, you should stop using them. Then, gradually reduce your use of anti-aging and anti-aging ingredients to once a week or every other day. Ditch cleansers and toners with astringents altogether, opting for those with calming ingredients like colloidal oatmeal—a natural anti-irritant—to help soothe redness.

Sunscreen and sunscreen supplements

Sunburn is one of the main causes of damaged skin barriers. Continued exposure to UVA/UVB rays can hinder skin-barrier repair. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher every day, and be sure to select one that’s full of antioxidants for anti-aging benefits in addition to protection. It’s also possible to nourish and soothe your skin by eating a diet high in essential fatty acid or taking an omega-3 supplement.

Take a look at our top picks for skin repair and restoration.

Dr Emmy Graber (board-certified dermatologist) has reviewed the article.

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