A Damaged Skin Barrier Could Be Causing Your Skin Issues

It’s pretty common knowledge that the skin on our face is made up of two layers: the epidermis and the deeper dermis. While we tend to think a lot (or maybe just me) about what we can apply, massage in, or soak on our faces, the reality is our skin is meant to keep things out protecting us from pollutants, dirt and debris and harmful UV rays.

But the most outer, ultra thin (almost the thickness of a strand of hair) top layer of the epidermis, called the stratnum corneum, is also meant to keep things in, specifically, moisture.

This complex, thin layer has been found recently by scientists to be largely responsible for the barrier function of the skin and the associated attractive appearance. (Perhaps, what you’re concerned with…) When the barrier function is disrupted, skin can become dry, irritated, sensitive or acne prone, as the barrier is unable to keep moisture (water and lipids) in and irritants out; leading to TEWL (trans epidermal water loss; an evaporation of moisture in the skin) and inflammatory breakouts from penetrated bacteria and irritants.

If you’ve been applying acne products or moisturizers to no avail, it may be because you’re not getting to the root cause of your skin issues – a damaged skin barrier.


So, what causes a damaged skin barrier?

-Air pollution and cigarette smoke (smoke a pack a day? live in an urban area?)

-Excessive UV exposure (sun tan without SPF?)

-Poor diet and alcohol (drink enough water?)

-Hormones and stress (burning the candle on both ends?)

-Medical condition (Rosacea, Psoriasis, Eczema, Acute Dermatitis)


But the most common culprits are…

-Over exfoliating (using a harsh scrub, Clarisonic brush and regular retinol or AHA?)

-Disrupting the pH balance of skin with harsh, drying chemicals, prescription topicals or soaps

-Allergens (sensitive to fragrance in products?)


How can you tell if your barrier is damaged?

Skin might appear…

-Lackluster or dull

-Sallow  or tired

-Has no “bounce” or spring to it

-Prone to congestion in the form of closed comedones

-Feels very dry and tight

-Can have an oily appearance, but feels dry


How to repair the damage?

Avoid harsh synthetic chemical exfoliants (AHA, BHA, retinol, retin-A) for two weeks, as the lipid barrier requires 14-17 days to restore itself. (Maybe even lay off physical exfoliation, too.) Let the skin build back up again and restore a normal lipid barrier. But feel out what your skin needs – gentle, physical exfoliation 1x a week may be needed.

Avoid common irritants found in some skincare products, like alcohol, fragrance, and silicone.

Restore depleted moisture by using plant oils that mimic the natural oils found on human skin and capable of blocking 98% of water loss from skin. (Also, when applying something that resembles skin’s natural oils, the skin is less likely to over-produce it’s own pore-clogging sebum.)

Reduce inflammation with oils, serums and moisturizers that contain antioxidants and anti-inflammatory, soothing ingredients, like chamomile, oats, green tea, bamboo sap, aloe, etc. Here’s a list of our favorite skin barrier repairing products.

Drink lots of water. Staying hydrated internally can help cells function properly for repair. Read here for how water intake effects skin.

Written by Amy Chang, Image source: Nathanial Goldberg for Harper’s Bazaar 2016

For more: Thinking about getting preventative Botox? Read this guide first, followed by my personal experience with the neurotoxin. Or these top picks for lipsticks with skin benefiting properties.