Products that “restore the moisture barrier” or “prevent damage to the moisture barrier” are nothing new. Though the category has gotten a lot more crowded over the last few years. Is that because beauty brands are more capable of delivering on those promises than ever before? Or is this a case of hype blowing up demand? After all, the moisture barrier may have gone mainstream, but it still remains mostly a vague concept for many. And that’s OK. We’re going to get to the bottom of it here. And find out if those products are even effective.
What is the moisture barrier, exactly?
The moisture barrier is just what it sounds like. It helps our skin retain moisture – water and electrolytes, specifically.
To get a bit more technical, the epidermis is what we generally think of as the outer layer of our skin and our moisture barrier, but the epidermis is actually made up of five layers, the outermost being the stratum corneum. The stratum corneum is a layer of actively shedding dead skin cells. It’s fortified with a latticework of cell-to-cell connections and the contents of our oil glands that contain lipids.
While it’s not inaccurate to consider the epidermis to be our moisture barrier, it’s really the stratum corneum that does the heavy lifting.
Still with me?
Sealing in moisture is obviously a good thing. That keeps skin looking smooth and dewy. But that’s not all the moisture barrier does. It also protects the skin from dehydration and repels irritants in the air.
Is your moisture barrier healthy?
Assessing the state of your moisture barrier is fairly straightforward. Does your skin look and feel rough? Dull? Flaky? Inflamed? Itchy? If you answered yes to any of those questions, your moisture barrier may need some attention, though there can be other causes for those symptoms, too.
For the most part, the stuff that’s bad for your skin overall – not drinking enough water, drinking too much caffeine or alcohol, exposing yourself to too much sun or wind – is also bad for your moisture barrier. Not surprisingly, not moisturizing enough is also a culprit
Can you actually heal your moisture barrier?
Most products that promise to repair the moisture barrier are probably helping. Seek out the ones that include hyaluronic acid, which binds water up to 1,000 times its weight, and lactic acid, which is a humectant. That means that it increases the skin’s moisture content.
Staying hydrated on the inside is important, too.
You’ll know you’re on the right track when the above symptoms start abating.
That said, if those symptoms stem from an underlying skin disease or severe skin damage, repairing your moisture barrier on your own can be harder to do. You may need to see a board-certified dermatologist, who can analyze your barrier and, if necessary, recommend a treatment tailored to your particular needs.