You might have noticed a lot of discussion on social media lately about strengthening your skin barrier.
Why now? Well, it’s never not a good time to show your stratum corneum (the technical term for your skin moisture barrier) some love. But, then, I’m also a board-certified dermatologist, and skincare is my life. The more likely explanation is that your skin barrier is more irritated than usual right now, making it harder to ignore.
The friction from wearing a mask every day is probably triggering more frequent breakouts. Compound that with cold, dry winter air, and suddenly the skin barrier is top of mind for a lot of people.
What exactly is the skin barrier?
Before I get into how you can repair a damaged skin barrier, let me explain what exactly it is and what it does. Your skin is comprised of several different layers, and your skin barrier, which is also sometimes referred to as the moisture barrier, is the outermost one. Its job, basically, is to seal in hydration and keep irritants out.
Keeping water in your skin is important not just for dewy, resilient skin, but also for overall healthy skin. A strong skin barrier slows down transcutaneous evaporative water loss, which can lead to skin conditions like atopic dermatitis and eczema.
What causes skin-barrier damage?
When your skin barrier becomes damaged, which can happen easily, your skin can become dehydrated and irritated. Most barrier damage is a result of stripping your skin of its natural oils with acne medication, acids, and harsh cleansers.
Scrubbing too hard, waxing, and on some skin types, alcohol and fragrance are also common culprits. It’s worth noting that internal factors, like stress and hormones, can also lead to an impaired barrier. But one of the most common reasons barrier damage occurs is as a result of exfoliating way too often.
The good news: It’s pretty easy to tell if your skin barrier’s been compromised. Your skin will look and feel irritated overall. Think redness, itching, scaly texture, and inflammation. You can even experience rashes or acne.
How to repair a damaged skin barrier
Also on the encouraging side, reversing the damage is pretty straightforward—as long as you ignore your instincts. You’re probably going to want to double down on your skincare regimen. Resist that urge. Instead, simplify your skincare. Use Vaseline or Aquaphor and leave it at that.
Try to avoid all active products and ingredients like exfoliants, retinol, and even vitamin C for two to three weeks. It’s a good idea to stop using all makeup as well. I know that could be a terrifying prospect given the circumstances, but the brief intermission will pay off in the form of clear, smooth skin.
Once your skin barrier’s restored, reconsider your skincare regimen. Rather than constantly adding new products, take the time to understand your skin issues so that you can address them one by one, not all at once.