Skin barrier health is a term that gets thrown around a lot these days and it seems that in 2023, a healthy skin barrier is #trending. The truth is, having a healthy skin barrier is paramount if you want healthy looking skin, but what does that REALLY mean—and can you really trust what you see on Tiktok? We asked askbella’s founder Elaine Yang to explain everything you need to know when it comes to repairing a damaged skin barrier—and how to avoid it in the first place.
What is your skin barrier?
Basically, your skin is comprised of several different layers and your skin barrier is the outermost layer. If you want to get technical, it’s called the Stratum Corneum and is responsible for protecting your skin and body from external threats like the environment, bacteria or pollution. Made up of sweat, oils and dead skin cells, it's the skin’s first line of defence when it comes to keeping irritants out and keeping all the good stuff in (like hydration)—at least until you damage it.
How does your skin barrier get damaged?
Annoyingly, damaging your skin barrier is easy to do. Over cleansing, scrubbing your skin, exfoliating too much (guilty) or using harsh scrubs, waxing, using DIY ingredients, or using products formulated with alcohol or fragrances can all be triggers. Using the same ingredients over again in different steps of your routine will also do it, for example, a salicylic acid cleanser followed by a salicylic acid serum which combined can cause dehydration. Even stress and hormones can contribute—see why it’s so easy to do?
How do you know when you have a damaged skin barrier?
It’s usually pretty obvious when a skin barrier is damaged—your skin will be red, itchy, flaky, rashy, scaly and inflamed. It may also sting or burn when you apply products or can start breaking out more with blemishes or acne.
How do you repair a damaged skin barrier?
Keep your skincare routine simple: 10-step routines and layering products are one of the worst culprits for skin barrier damage, especially if you introduce too many products or use products that your skin might not be used to. Some ingredients can even react with each other and cause harsh reactions—so maybe quit playing home chemist. Keeping your skincare regime simple allows you to understand what products are actually working for you, or alternatively which ones your skin doesn’t ‘like’. Plus, you minimise the chance of any harmful reactions caused by layering skincare acids or ingredients that don’t gel well together.
Avoid over-cleansing: Keeping your skin super clean seems like the right thing to do—but it can actually mess up your skin barrier. Over cleansing can strip your skin of that protective layer which can lead to skin issues like oil overproduction (hello acne) or dryness. Worse, it can lead to skin sensitivities which can be really hard to manage. In the morning, a light cleanse with water and a wash cloth should be enough (we’re sure we don’t need to tell you not to sleep in your makeup). Otherwise, a gentle cleanser (Yang recommends Skinstitut’s Gentle Cleanser) can help remove any overnight residue but repeat after us: no harsh cleanser or scrubs in the morning. At night you can double cleanse to remove any makeup, dirt and residue from the day, but always just assess what your skin truly needs.
Avoid exfoliating too much: Similar to over-cleansing, exfoliating the skin too much or with harsh scrubs can damage the skin barrier, ridding it of those protective natural oils and making it susceptible to skin issues or sensitivities. You also risk environmental damage such as sun exposure—so just put the exfoliator down.
Put away all the skincare actives: While skincare actives can have amazing results, when the skin barrier is damaged, they often do more harm than good. Give your skin some a break and avoid products like retinol or vitamin C. Instead go back to basics and start thinking ‘less is more’.
Avoid make up if you can: Some beauty aficionados will shudder at this thought, but avoiding makeup can help repair a damaged skin barrier. Make up can sometimes be formulated with ingredients that can further irritate the skin barrier and unfortunately stall the healing process. If you can’t avoid it altogether, try to give your skin some make up free days when you can.
Don't put hot water on your face: Overly hot showers, baths or even saunas can further damage a defective skin barrier by stripping the skin of sebum and any healthy fats and oils which are necessary for healthy skin. What’s more, it can further dehydrate the skin, often exacerbating any skin issues or sensitivities. Hot tip: Wash your face in cool water as it can also help soothe any redness or irritation.
Use healing and hydrating products: A little bit of TLC is just what your skin needs right now. Try to use healing, soothing and hydrating products like Embryolisse Filaderme Emulsion Mask. Hydrating formulas will cool exhausted, worn-out skin, while helping to repair any damaged skin, prevent breakouts and soften the skin.
Know your skin type: The main skin types are typically dry skin, oily skin, sensitive skin or combination skin—not to be confused with skin concerns like acne or ageing. Knowing your skin type can help you determine just what you skin needs, including the types of products your skin ‘likes’ and what ingredients or practices might be best avoided. Find out your skin type with askbella’s Skinalyser® which harnesses AI to help you to determine both your skin concerns and skin type to find the best skincare routine for you.
Get some extra ZZZs: We’ll take this one: staying in bed for a little while longer could help your skin. While you sleep, your skin can focus on repairing itself for a happier, healthier and brighter complexion. Plus, the extra blood flow while you sleep can contribute to a range of benefits, not only for damaged skin, sensitive skin but also to fight the signs of ageing.
Protect your skin for the future: While repairing your skin barrier is the first step, once that happens, you’ll want to protect it from any future damage. Keep your routine simple, avoid too many active or overly drying products and add nourishing and hydrating products into your routine.
If you can't bear to give up ALL your skincare products, you could try skin cycling.
Image credit: Urban List archives