Why Is Everyone Talking About the Skin Barrier Now?
Within the last year, if you scroll through any of your social media feeds, you'll come across a skin influencer (or two) talking about barrier repair. You'll also come across the term "skin barrier" when shopping for new skincare products, whether it appears on a moisturizer's label or in its description.
The skin barrier is having a moment, but it should always be a priority in every skincare routine. You see, it's not a beauty industry buzzword like "clean" or a trendy ingredient like niacinamide. It's a crucial part of the skin's structure, the outermost layer that protects it from external factors like pollution and prevents moisture from getting out.
To completely demystify two of the hottest words in skincare right now, we turned to a top dermatologist to break down everything you need to know about the skin barrier.
What Is the Skin Barrier?
First things first: skin is made up of different layers, each with a different, important function.
"The skin barrier is the protective layer of the skin that serves as a barrier against multiple stressors on the skin by regulating the balance of water, protection from the outside world by preventing and responding to microbial organisms like bacteria, viruses, and fungi, reducing the effects of damaging ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun, as well as minimizing the effects of oxidative stressors," says Dr. Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Entière Dermatology.
Dr. Kanchanapoomi Levin also notes that the skin barrier protects against physical aggressors by supporting cell turnover and elasticity.
How Does a Compromised Skin Barrier Affect the Look and Feel of your Skin?
Part of the skin barrier's responsibility is keeping water from getting out, so if you do have a damaged barrier, your skin may be dry, cracking, and feeling tight, painful, or burning.
Often, the overuse of harsh products, like chemical exfoliants for example, can lead to a compromised skin barrier. "In general improper skin care which includes exposure to any irritants or allergens can compromise a skin barrier," says Dr. Kanchanapoomi Levin. "Over-exfoliation, excessive sun damage, and inflammatory skin conditions such as contact dermatitis, atopic dermatitis, rosacea, and acne can also result in a disrupted skin barrier."
How Can I Tell If My Skin Barrier Is Damaged and How Can I Fix It?
The symptoms mentioned above are signs of a damaged skin barrier, but Dr. Kanchanapoomi Levin stresses it's important to keep in mind that everyone's skin is different.
"As with any medical or skin condition, it's never one size fits all," she says. "It's important to [see] by a board-certified dermatologist so that the right diagnosis can be made and therefore treatment."
Generally speaking, the dermatologist says that switching to gentle, non-irritating products, including a cleanser, moisturizer, and products labeled with "barrier repair" on them is best.
"Look for moisturizers that contain ingredients such as occlusives (such as lanolin, petrolatum) in order to lock in moisture and humectants (such as glycerin, hyaluronic acid) in order to reduce water loss and increase hydration of the stratum corneum," Dr. Kanchanapoomi Levin explains.
As for barrier repair products, these formulas usually contain ingredients found in the actual skin barrier such as ceramides, essential fatty acids, and ceramide precursors. Dr. Kanchanapoomi Levin says they'll also have ingredients that assist in repair, like multitasking niacinamide.
VIDEO: When You Apply Sunscreen in Your Skincare Routine Actually Matters A Lot
How Can I Prevent Skin Barrier Damage?
This one is pretty easy: just be gentle on your skin.
"Gentle skincare goes a long way, avoid over exfoliation or using too many products, and when in doubt, co-manage with a board-certified dermatologist," the dermatologist says.