Skin Barrier 101: What It Is, Causes & Natural Treatments

We reveal everything you need to know about what the skin barrier is and how to protect it so you’re reaping the rewards of all your natural skincare products.

Did you know that your skin is the largest organ of your body? Our skin therefore provides a good indicator of our general health. It’s telling you if something is seriously wrong with your body. If your skin barrier is damaged, your skin might experience dryness, flakiness, sensitivity, irritation, tingling, burning, and even itching. To completely demystify one of the hottest topics in skincare right now, we’re revealing everything you need to know about what the skin barrier is and how to protect it so you’re reaping the rewards of all your natural skincare products.

What Is the Skin Barrier?

The skin barrier is a term used to describe the top layer of your skin. It has three main layers: the epidermis, the outermost layer of the skin; the dermis, the middle layer of the skin that contains collagen, elastin, the skin’s nerve and blood supply; and the subcutaneous fat that forms a barrier between skin and muscle.

Why Is the Skin Barrier Important?

The skin barrier has two general jobs: It keeps the good stuff in and the bad stuff out.

The skin barrier protects the internal body from physical toxins (such as pollution and harmful chemicals) and ultraviolet radiation from sun exposure. The skin barrier also helps the body hold onto natural moisture by preventing trans-epidermal water loss. If the outermost layer of the epidermis doesn’t contain enough water, the skin will lose elasticity and appear dry, rough, and flaky. In addition, it makes the skin more vulnerable to damage from external/environmental (including sun) sources.

Signs of a Damaged Skin Barrier

  • Itchy, dry skin and roughness
  • Skin sensitivity or inflammation
  • Eczema, rosacea, or psoriasis flare-ups
  • More breakouts and severity

What Causes Skin Barrier Damage?

There are many reasons why your skin barrier gets damaged. First there are some things that are out of our control - genetics, aging, and environmental factors. Secondly, there’s our skincare and sleep routines. Here’s a list of things to be mindful of if you want to keep your skin barrier at its best.

1. Over-exfoliation

Using too many AHAs, BHAs or harsh scrubs can strip your skin of its natural oils, harming the barrier. If you’re incorrectly layering active ingredients like vitamin C, retinoids, and prescription acne treatments on top they can cause further irritation to the skin.

2. Lack of sleep

If you’ve ever woken up after a night of tossing and turning to puffy, tired-looking skin—now you know why. There’s nothing like a great night’s sleep for strengthening the skin barrier.

3. Not wearing sunscreen

It may sound like we’re constantly mentioning sun protection, but it’s for a good reason. We can’t say it enough—it is the biggest and best protector against UV rays and their skin-damaging effects.

4. Wrong water temperature

Avoid washing your face with water that’s too hot or cold. Always use lukewarm water. If it’s too cold, it may not remove the dirt and grime. If it’s too hot, you could damage your skin’s natural oils.

5. At-home skin tools

Micro needling treatments come under many guises; derma-rolling, derma stamping with PRF or PRP, and Morpheus 8, which has an exhaustive list of claims about how it can improve your skin. Micro needling tears through the epidermis which creates tiny puncture marks that play havoc with your skin’s natural defense mechanisms. As a result, your skin must work harder to repair the tiny micro-tears through collagen induction, which causes a whole host of skin conditions.

How to Treat a Damaged Skin Barrier

1. Stop exfoliating

Avoid any type of exfoliation for least for 2 weeks, then slowly reintroduce once a week and then increase again after 2 weeks.

RELATED: How to Exfoliate The Right Way

2. Simplify your skin care routine

Use a simple, short skin care routine with just a gentle cleanser, a moisturizer, and sunscreen. Once your skin has improved, introduce products with more active ingredients one-by-one. A gradual reintroduction will help your skin get used to the products and prevent causing another overload.

Opt for cleansers that don’t include high amounts of acne-fighting ingredients or alcohols. Cleansing balms provide a gentle, non-stripping clean that can also help with makeup removal. Use lukewarm water when you wash since hot water can strip away your natural oils.

3. Hydrate the skin

Getting moisture back into your skin is a priority for healing a damaged skin barrier. Ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, and fatty acids are the best to keep your skin barrier happy and healthy.

4. Avoid too much sun exposure

Sunscreens with an SPF of at least 30 will help cut down on the damage UV rays can cause to your skin barrier. Wear long clothing and brimmed hats as another means to limit too much direct sunlight.

5. Eat healthy

Beauty on the outside starts inside with a good, healthy diet including whole foods and healthy fats that can keep your skin looking its best. Diets rich in antioxidants or fish oil supplements can help with skin elasticity and keep it looking younger.

6. Destress

Stress is proven to slow down the skin healing process, including skin barrier recovery. So, daily stress or poor stress management can leave the skin barrier in a permanently weakened state. It can also throw your hormones out of whack and trigger skin problems like acne flare-ups.

The Takeaway

A strong skin barrier is not just about how it looks on the outside. Keeping your skin healthy has internal benefits, too. And with the right approach, topical products and supplements, you can help your skin repair and protect itself. Remember that less is more with a new focus on curating a gentle, effective, and enjoyable skincare routine.

Skin Barrier 101: What It Is, Causes & Natural Treatments

Featured Products