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Everything you need to know about skin barrier function

Red, itchy, inflamed skin? Your skin barrier might be damaged.

Skin barriers play a huge role in protecting the skin from external aggressors, like pollution, or extremely hot showers, while ensuring no moisture or nutrients are escaping.

SEE ALSO: What’s the deal with oatmeal skincare?

Although the skin barrier is so essential, it can be confusing to understand. We spoke with Dr. Josh Zeichner, director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, to find out more about the skin barrier, how to tell it’s damaged, and how to repair it. 

What is the skin barrier? 

Your skin barrier is more than just dead skin cells. Your outer layer of skin, or stratum corneum, is a protective barrier from the environment. It will keep the skin protected while sealing moisture into the skin.

Think of it like the tile floor of your shower,” says Dr. Zeichner, “The tiles represent your skin cells and grout represents natural fats that fill in cracks between those cells. When the barrier is disrupted, the skin develops microscopic cracks, loses hydration, and becomes inflamed.”

What makes a skin barrier healthy?

The skin barrier is in a healthy state when the fluid between the cells is abundant and completely fills in the spaces between each skin cell. Damaged skin will look red and inflamed, but a healthy barrier will look more supple, soothed, and hydrated.

How to tell if your skin barrier is damaged?

When the “grout” or fluid between the cells is not completely filled within the spaces of the cells, this can lead to “leaks” or loss of moisture.

When the skin barrier is disrupted, the skin develops microscopic cracks, loses hydration, and becomes inflamed,” says Dr. Zeichner. The skin will usually look red, inflamed, and it may seem like applying any type of product will irritate the skin. 

Long exposure to extreme cold or hot temperature (yes, those long, hot showers could be doing more harm than good), over-exfoliation, sunburn, or products with a high or low pH compared to the skin can damage the skin barrier.

Can the skin barrier be repaired?

Luckily it is possible to repair the skin barrier. The timeline for full repair can vary from two weeks to one month depending on the damage done.

The first step to repairing a damaged skin barrier is to stay away from potentially irritating ingredients. Products with high alcohol content, harsh scrubs, and high concentration chemical exfoliants are just a few examples of products to set aside when repairing the barrier.

The second step is to apply a moisturizer. “Make sure to apply a bland moisturizer that contains ingredients like a little oatmeal or ceramides to help soothe the skin and fill in cracks between skin cells,” Dr. Zeichner tells Very Good Light. A  bland moisturizer will ensure moisture is locked into the skin without causing irritation.

The final step is to decrease the number of products that are being used in a single routine. When the skin barrier is in the repair process, it is important to practice “skincare minimalism” – meaning it is best to use around 3-4 essential products per day. The more products stacked onto the skin, the more prone the skin becomes to irritation and inflammation. Reducing the number of products used on a daily basis gives the skin room to breathe.

Best products to help repair a damaged skin barrier

Jordan Samuel Skin The Matinee Cream Cleanser ($28)

The key to repairing the skin barrier is to remove stripping cleansers from your routine. The Jordan Samuel Skin Cream Cleanser gently cleans the skin while delivering Omega-6 fatty acids to the skin, resulting in a healthy skin barrier.

Good Light Moon Glow Milky Toning Lotion ($22)

Oat is a great way to moisturize, calm, and reduce inflammation on the skin. This hydrating, silky toner with oat kernel extract will provide refreshing moisture to the skin while deeply hydrating with hyaluronic acid.

 

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Krave Beauty Oat So Simple Water Cream ($28)

Keep your routine and your moisturizer simple! Krave’s oat moisturizer contains less than nine ingredients, but will still provide your skin with the essential nutrients and moisture it needs.

 

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Papa Recipe Bombee Moist Sun Essence SPF50+ PA+++ ($21)

Sunburn is one of the main causes of skin barrier damage. Protect the skin with sunscreen every day (even while inside)! This Papa Recipe Sun Essence is a blendable, hydrating formulation with broad spectrum protection.

 

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