What is the skin barrier?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Our skin barrier is part of our skin's top layer called the stratum corneum. It is made up of corneocytes (skin cells) and a lipid interface that glued them together. It is also called the “brick-mortar” structure—corneocytes as the brick and lipid interface as the mortar. The lipid interface comprises free fatty acids, cholesterol and ceramides. In their best state, the skin barrier will shed off their top layer, where our skin naturally exfoliates itself, keep our skin’s moisture intact and protect allergens from getting inside and causing irritation.

Causes of Skin Barrier Damage

Our skin barrier can be disrupted due to many possible reasons. When it’s damaged, the tight arrangement between the skin cells is lost. This allows external irritants to get in our skin a lot easier and lead to more water leaving our skin. Damaged skin barrier is characterised by easily irritated, dehydrated and flaky skin. Your skin is red, irritated, tight, yet very oily.

Does this sound familiar to you? When these happen out of the blue, your skin barrier has probably been damaged. Before we learned how to deal with it, it is better to track down their root cause since some might be caused by our own skincare mistakes that we can prevent in the future. Here are some of the most common causes of a damaged skin barrier:

Common external causes of damaged skin barrier can vary from our basic routine up to environmental factors, such as:

1. Overwashing

Overexposure to water and a harsh cleanser could cause a damaged skin barrier. It can strip away the natural lipid barrier on our skin. Instead of protecting your skin from dirt and impurities, it could damage the skin's first protective layer, which provides most of the protection.

2. Over-exfoliating

With more varieties of exfoliating products on the market and the tendency for instant gratification in your skincare routine, over-exfoliating is more of a common thing recently. When you over-exfoliate your skin, you’re not only taking away the unwanted dead skin cells on the top layer of your skin but also the functional “skin barrier” that are present to protect you in the first place. Always be mindful while using your exfoliating products and look out for any differences on your skin; this allows you to STOP doing it when needed.

3. Pollution, bad or dry air quality

Research has shown that pollution and dry air can affect our skin barrier layer. Thus, it is very common for people to experience sensitive and itchy skin when the air quality is poor. Therefore, it is best to limit outdoor activities during pollution, wear protective masks and clothing outdoors and use an air purifier in your living space to keep the air clean. This won’t only benefit your skin but also your general health in general.

4. Stress and lack of sleep

Have you ever experienced a “bad skin” day when you lack rest and sleep? Yes, research shows research that lack of sleep or rest can damage your skin barrier and lead to increased transepidermal water loss. Get more rest, sleep and protect your skin barrier!

Some internal factors that are out of our control in general are:

1. Genetics

While this is much beyond our control, some people have a genetically impaired skin barrier component. They lack the production of any components linked to one another needed for healthy skin barrier function. We commonly see this in people with atopic dermatitis or eczema. However, we can totally practice safe and healthy skin care habits to prevent them from getting even worse.

2. Ageing

Unfortunately, as we age, our skin barrier get weaker. This is why it’s not uncommon for people to experience drier and more sensitive skin as they age.

How to repair a damaged skin barrier?

(Before and 1 week after using the AXIS-Y Artichoke Intensive Skin Barrier Ampoule)

So once it happened, what should you do next? Here we compile some tips on each step and what to do when your skin barrier is damaged.

1. Find the root cause

Yes, it’s not as easy as it sounds, but once you narrow down any possible causes (especially if it’s due to your own skincare habit) it’s a lot easier to tackle and prevent from happening in the future. Check on each of the causes point that we’ve mentioned above. Have you been over washing or over-exfoliating? How’s the air quality or your sleep quality?

2. Limit frequency and time for face washing

While water is necessary to keep our skin function normally and hydrated, it can dry out our skin even more and lead to more damage. Therefore, wash your face just once or at maximum twice a day with lukewarm water, and gentle and low pH cleansers that won’t exacerbate the loss of lipid barrier on your skin.

3. Stop exfoliating for a while

With a compromised skin barrier, stop exfoliating! This will allow your skin to regenerate it’s skin barrier. Once all the symptoms have resolved, you can slowly start incorporating exfoliation into your routine.

4. Moisturize your skin

The most essential step in your skincare routine, especially during this time point. Putting back just hydration won’t do as much as it will quickly evaporate through the damaged skin moisture barrier. Therefore, it is essential to seal it with your moisturiser; while your skin is losing more water than usual, all you want to do is keep water in your skin for as long as possible. Ingredients such as Ceramide, Niacinamide, Panthenol and Fatty Acids are the best to keep your skin barrier happy and healthy.

5. Don’t test out new skincare products

While your skin is not at its prime, it’s not the best idea to try new products since your skin is prone to irritation and may react to the new product. Ingredients have a greater chance of irritating your skin and exacerbates the inflammation; therefore, avoid trying out new products during this period.

6. Keep your skincare routine simple

Yes, always go with the basics. This reduces the chance of irritation on your already irritated skin. The steps to maintaining a healthy skin barrier when it is at its’ lowest are: Cleanse, Moisturise, and Protect. These three steps are the essential steps while your barrier is recovering. Any additional hydration from toner and/or serum is a bonus but make sure that you are familiar with the serum you’re currently using.

Skin Barrier Repairing Ingredients

  • Hyaluronic Acid
  • Glycerin
  • Panthenol
  • Aloe Extract
  • Centella Asiatica
  • Calendula Extract

Here, we will also guide you on picking the right skincare products to help accelerate your skin repair, desensitise skin, and keep your skin barrier healthy anytime. There are several ingredients that you would want to look out for to treat your irritated skin. Ingredients that help with skin barrier restoration are Ceramides, Free Fatty Acids, Natural Moisturising Factors and Niacinamide. While water-retaining ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, glycerin and panthenol will support your skin’s ability to retain moisture. Last but not least, various skin-soothing ingredients from natural plant extracts such as Aloe, Centella Asiatica, Calendula and many more can help to tone down any redness and irritation on your skin.

Products to repair skin barrier

Here are some of our skincare top pick to keep your skin barrier intact:

1. Benton Honest Cleansing Foam

Containing Lauric Acid (Free Fatty Acid), Glycerin and Centella Asiatica extract this pH-balanced and gentle cleansing foam will not strip off your skin natural lipid and allow for skin barrier repair.

What our customers thinks...

[11/05/2020 | SOPHIE] Amazing product for the skin! ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

This cleansing foam is good in that it doesn't leave your skin feeling very tight after washing your face (as many face wash does). My skin is a combination type, yet after using this cleansing foam for the past 2-3 weeks, it has left my face very nourished even before applying moisturiser and toner. I would recommend this for those who have combination and sensitive skin.

2. Axis-Y Artichoke Intensive Skin Barrier Ampoule

A nourishing ampoule infused with Centella Asiatica, Glycerin and Aloe extract to soothe the skin and promote skin healing, strengthening the skin barrier.

What our customers thinks...

[25/01/21 | CHARLOTTE H] Artichoke Intensive Ampoule ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Excellent product. Purchased because I had damaged my skin barrier by overdoing the chemical exfoliants and was experiencing severe dry patches and acne. Skin cleared up drastically within 1 week of use and continues to make my skin feel healthy and hydrated. Now onto my second bottle!

3. Benton Goodbye Redness Centella Mask Pack

Contains concentrated Centella Asiatica extract as well as Hyaluronic Acid, this sheet mask will help to tone down any irritation while at the same time providing moisture that your skin has been craving.

What our customers thinks...

[24/02/2021 | LEE T.] Maskne ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Love this face mask! Maskne has been the bain of my life and this sheet mask has helped reduced my redness and soothed my poor skin. Delivery is also fantastic! Thank you

4. Keep Cool and Soothe Phyto Greenpair Cream

Their Panthenol, Glycerin, Centella Asiatica and Phytogreen repair complex will help your skin healing process.

What our customers thinks...

[07/09/2020 | Samairah R.] Fantastic Product!!! ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

This cream is so soothing for my spot prone skin!! It’s not too thick and it absorbs into the skin very nicely. It’s also fragrance free!! I would definitely recommend this product for those who have inflamed skin and need something soothing and refreshing.

5. Some by Mi AHA-BHA-PHA 30 Days Miracle Cream

This cream is enriched with Niacinamide and Ceramide that will help your skin repair and restore the skin lipid barrier.

What our customers thinks...

[30/4/2020 | VALERIA A.] Perfect ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I love the product, I love how it works on my acne prone skin. Red spots are fading, and it doesn't seem that it's making my skin oily. I started using it only ten days ago, but I can't really complain about anything so far : 3

6. AXIS-Y Cera-Heart My Type Duo Cream

Takeaway: Our skin barrier is an important component of our skin and an essential part of healthy skin. It protects us from external stressors that can damage our skin. It is made out of a lipid interface, including Ceramide, fatty acids, cholesterol, and skin cells. It works as a protective shield for our skin against external irritants. It is essential to know what causes them to take the most appropriate action to deal with it. We also included our most favourite skin-barrier friendly product for you to pick from!

https: //www.ceradan311.com/the-science-of-eczema/the-skin-barrier/

https: //lionesse.org/protecting-your-skins-natural-barrier/

4 comments

Which of your products can i use for redness on my face. Tks

My skin has gotten extremely dry for the past few days I have been washing my face twice daily I usually do only once cause my face can get really dry(like to the point I have to put on moisturisers three times after only one wash) and I started using adalferin gen for my acne I used it for 3 days and now my skin is so dry and damaged that I can’t even put on a moisturizer because it burns a lotany idea what could help rn

Hi Zintle. I’ve been on a heck of a journey to repair my skin barrier after using retinol. It led to endless cystic acne breakouts that have been tormenting me and I thank Covid that I don’t have to put on makeup frequently. I’ve been doing so much research trying to sort this out. This is one of the articles I’ve read (that are available) that gets down to it – simplify the routine – cleanse, moisturize, protect. I’ve recently started using products by Innis free – most helpful has been the cica balm for moisturizing. Holy crap! Within 24 hours of using it, cystic acne that was developing started fast forwarding all the way to white heads. For the first time in 2 months I don’t have 4 new cysts a day. I’m still breaking out (it’s that time of the month too) but the cica balm really is working and I know I’m finally moving in the right direction towards clearer skin. I’ve just purchased an emulsifier sunscreen that’s also produced by Innis free to lock in that moisturize for when I have to leave the house without getting the ghost face that comes with using sunscreen made with zinc oxide and it’s also non-comodogenic. My skin isn’t in the clear yet, but it feels the most amazing that it’s felt in YEARS. I highly recommend it. Get away from antibiotics and prescription meds. They’re stripping away the natural defenses that are skin has to produce a result that isn’t even guaranteed to last, let alone work.

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