A damaged skin barrier is caused by a variety of external and internal stressors. Some of the common symptoms of a damaged skin barrier involves burning sensations after you wash your face, itching, peeling skin, and dehydration lines.
Since acne is an inflammatory condition, a damaged skin barrier can facilitate infections and cause inflammation to be more prominent, and therefore, can contribute to additional acne breakouts.
While the skin is tough and does a great job of creating a barrier to the outside world, it can be damaged from pollution, UV rays, harsh skincare products, and poor nutrition.
These stressors inevitably decrease the health and wellness of your skin, causing it to become dull and less likely to fight against inflammation.
Acne is a chronic inflammatory condition in which its main contributing factor is hyperproliferation (also known as fast growth) of Propionibacterium acnes bacteria. When the skin is damaged, it may overproduce oil and disrupt the integrity of the skin’s structural network, allowing this bacteria to multiply rapidly and cause acne breakouts.
Let’s dive into the symptoms of a damaged skin barrier, how acne treatments affect your skin barrier, and how to treat acne without causing further damage to the barrier.
How Do You Know If You Destroyed Your Skin Barrier?
You don’t have to know a whole lot about the way skin works to know you have a damaged skin barrier.
One of the simplest ways to tell you have a damaged barrier is to look at your skin under bright lighting. If you notice small, wrinkle-like fine lines across the cheeks or around the eyes, chances are your skin is dehydrated. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have a damaged barrier. However, you also need to take into account how your skin feels after washing it.
Once you rinse off your cleaner, does your skin feel tight? Itchy? Do you ever experience burning sensations after washing your face? Perhaps you may have felt irritation or immediate burning from skincare products. Many people have claimed to feel a burning sensation after applying moisturizers. These are all tell-tale signs of a damaged moisture barrier.
You may also find that your skin becomes easily inflamed and irritated after applying products.
Habits That Destroy The Skin Barrier and Cause Acne
Now that you have an idea of what symptoms to look for when it comes to a damaged skin barrier, it is equally important to review your skincare and nutrition habits.
If you have poor nutrition – rich in processed foods and high sugar – these can contribute to a damaged barrier.
When it comes to skincare, you have to ensure you are using proper skincare products suited to your specific skin needs so that it does not cause more inflammation and irritation.
Using drying skincare products, such as toners that contain high amounts of alcohol, can significantly dry out your skin and cause irritation and redness.
Skipping pertinent steps in your skincare routine can also dehydrate the skin, such as skipping out on moisturizer.
Using skincare products improperly can also contribute to a damaged skin barrier. For example, using hyaluronic acid incorrectly can actually pull water out of your skin and cause further dehydration.
I recently talked about how hylauronic acid can repair your skin barrier if you follow a few steps correctly.
Cleansing your skin should not be neglected. Although a cleanser makes contact with the skin for only a couple of minutes, using a drying cleanser with harsh surfactants (cleansing agents) can severely damage the skin, and make it prone to dryness and inflammation.
Opt for cleansers with gentle ingredients like sodium isethionate or cocamidopropyl betaine. These do not damage the proteins on the outer layer of your skin as much as some other surfactants will.
Does Salicylic Acid and Other Acne Treatments Destroy The Skin Barrier?
When you are experiencing frequent breakouts, it is common to incorporate acne treatments.
Salicylic acid is one such treatment. It is a desmolytic agent, meaning it separates the “rivets” that hold skin cells together. In doing so, it acts as a chemical exfoliant. Exfoliators increase cell turnover.
This means that they help facilitate the breakdown and shedding of dead skin cells. In doing so, the skin cells are less likely to clog hair follicles, which ultimately leads to less acne breakouts.
It is incredibly important to keep in mind that salicylic acid and other treatments for acne (such as benzoyl peroxide and mandelic acid) do have drying side effects on the skin and could potentially damage your skin barrier even more.
If you do not properly take care of your skin and prep the skin for these treatments, they will do more harm than good. That’s why it is so important to have a full-proof skincare routine in place before you add in additional treatments.
What does a full-proof skincare routine consist of? Read more below to see the steps that you MUST incorporate in order to get your skin healthy and ready to effectively respond to acne treatments.
How Do You Treat Acne With a Damaged Skin Barrier?
Treating acne with a damaged skin barrier involves using a multitude of moisturizing ingredients that nourish the skin.
Don’t be afraid of hydrating ingredients. Often, people suffering from acne will associate hydrating products and ingredients with feeling greasy or oily – It is quite the opposite. Using moisturizing ingredients can actually balance your sebum levels and equip your skin with the tools it needs to fight against inflammation and acne breakouts.
When I first began my acne journey almost a decade ago, I used every acne treatment under the sun, but I didn’t realize that none of those acne treatments were working because all they were doing was making my skin even more dehydrated, irritated, and red.
I was trying to heal one issue while creating another. And in this way, none of those acne treatments could do their job.
To sum it up simply, the most important aspect of your routine needs to be focused on moisture and hydrating ingredients. I wrote an article all about the ingredients you need to look for in a moisturizer that you can read here.
Here are 4 surefire tips that you can incorporate into your skincare routine to mitigate the symptoms of a damaged skin barrier and acne.
Use a Gentle Foaming Cleanser
1. Use a gentle foaming cleanser in the morning. Now, this step can actually be skipped entirely. It is best to wash your face once per day to avoid stripping oils and proteins off the surface of your skin.
However, some people may find that they breakout more if they do not wash their face in the morning. Choose a gentle foaming cleanser with gentle surfactants that can easily cleanse the skin, but doesn’t leave it feeling tight and dry after rinsing it off.
Focus on Hydration
2. Hyperfocus your routine on hydration by incorporating both a hydrating hyaluronic acid serum and a thicker moisturizer. You can read more here about how hyaluronic acid can be used properly to retain moisture in the skin. You must use hyaluronic acid on damp skin, and then top it with a hydrating moisturizer.
Incorporate an Occlusive Into Your Routine
3. Consider incorporating an occlusive ingredient into your routine.
These work to trap water and moisture into the skin and prevent transepidermal water loss. It should be used as the last step in your routine.
Occlusives include things like petroleum jelly or heavy wax-like ingredients. I wrote an article all about how occlusives can be used to fight post-inflammatory erythema and dryness that you can read here.
Stick To Your Routine
4. Use a strictly hydrating and moisturizing routine for approximately 4 weeks before adding any treatments (such as active ingredients like acids or acne treatments like benzoyl peroxide).
You may continue to break out during this time. However, the skin itself is repairing and will be better equipped to handle acne treatments that you start at the end of your 4 weeks of focusing on hydration.