How To Repair A Damaged Skin Barrier
Those suffering from skin conditions including acne, dehydrated skin, flaking, and redness often use harsh products that damage the skin barrier.
It is important to include products in your routine that promote hydration and lock in moisture.
Read below to learn about the symptoms of a damaged skin barrier, types of products you need to look for and the ingredients to use to repair it.
Symptoms Of A Damaged Skin Barrier
Those experiencing a damaged skin barrier will have some or all of the following skin issues:
- Very dry skin
- Dehydrated skin (characterized by fine lines, irritated skin, and dullness)
- Itchy skin
- Uncomfortable feeling of skin tightness
- General redness
Use An Oil Cleanser At Night
Gentle cleansing is an important step in your skincare routine. Using cleansers with harsh surfactants can further irritate your skin.
Oil cleansers effectively remove makeup and sunscreen from the skin in a gentle manner that does not disrupt the skin’s moisture barrier.
Look for oil cleansers that are fragrance free, contain minimal ingredients, and incorporate barrier-repairing plant oils like sunflower seed oil, borage seed oil, and sea-buckthorn oil.
Sunflower Seed Oil
Plays a role in barrier repair and has anti-inflammatory effects on the skin (1).
Borage Seed Oil
Topical application promotes epidermal barrier repair and may have possible anti-inflammatory effects on the skin (1).
Shown to improve acne-prone skin, is anti-inflammatory, and can reduce hyperpigmentation (dark spots). It’s linoleic acid content reduces water loss and improves barrier function (2).
Following an oil cleanser, you will need to use a regular cleanser to remove oily residue and any excess makeup and/or sunscreen left on the skin.
Find a Gentle Second Cleanser
Since the cleanser being used after your oil cleanser comes second, we call this step the “second” cleanse.
Look for cleansers with skin-nourishing ingredients and gentle surfactants.
Examples of gentle surfactants include:
- sodium cocoyl isethionate
- cocamidopropyl betaine
- Sodium cocoamphodiacetate
At night, you can use both an oil cleanser followed by this second cleanser.
In the morning, you should only use your second cleanser to cleanse your skin, or use no cleanser at all.
If you are experiencing barrier damage, you want to incorporate a thick moisturizer to help protect the skin from further environmental insults.
You are also free to add in hydrating serums, but they are not necessary in the repair of your skin.
Read an in-depth explanation of the benefits of moisturizer for your skin here.
The skin’s barrier is extremely important to regulating the water content in the skin.
If we want water to stay in the skin rather than escape through the epidermis (the outer layer of the skin), we must use protective products to keep this water within the skin.
Look for a moisturizer with key ingredients that work to hydrate, soothe, and repair.
Niacinamide works to strengthen the skin barrier by improving skin elasticity, decreasing water loss, and promoting collagen production (3).
This is an incredibly important ingredient to look for. It holds water in the skin, prevents water loss, improves barrier function and even regulates tissue repair (4).
Ceramides, Cholesterol, and Fatty Acids
These are known as the “big 3” in skin care. They have been shown to be reduced in patients suffering from atopic dermatitis, a result of a compromised skin barrier leading to red, dry, and itchy skin.
These three physiologic lipids, when incorporated in the right combination, show marked increases in barrier function and reduce skin inflammation (5).
Always include sunscreen as the last step in your skin care routine. Learn more about the types of sunscreen here.
Habits That Are Damaging Your Skin Barrier
There are numerous actions that you may be taking that are further harming your skin barrier.
BAD HABIT: Towel-Drying Your Skin
After using a gentle cleanser, many people use a towel to remove excess water from the skin.
Unfortunately, many tend to tug at the skin harshly to do so.
By doing this, you are stretching delicate skin, especially around your eyes. This can lead to irritation and wrinkling in the long-term.
Instead pat the towel on the skin gently.
Remove only excess water around the face, and leave your skin damp before you put on your moisturizer.
When putting moisturizer on damp skin, it locks in the water content and hydrates the skin more effectively.
BAD HABIT: Using Hot Water
When cleansing the skin, only lukewarm water should be used.
Hot water dehydrates the skin and promotes skin erythema (redness).
This can lead to itchy skin, as well as flaking or skin scaling.
Following hot water use, the products you use on your skin may sting or burn due to the irritation caused by the hot water.
It can also flare existing conditions like acne and eczema.
Habits That Will Improve Your Skin Barrier
GOOD HABIT: Use A Silk pillowcase
Silk pillowcases are said to have beneficial effects for your hair and skin.
Often, tossing and turning during sleeping hours causes your skin to be pulled in all directions against your regular pillowcase.
This can cause sagging and wrinkling in the skin, as well as irritation and redness over time.
Using a silk pillowcase ensures a softer surface for your skin to be on during the night, leading to less irritation and skin damage.
GOOD HABIT: Increasing Water intake
Increasing your intake of water is a sure fire way to keep your skin hydrated and your insides healthy and functioning.
In a study that involved increased water intake among participants, the results showed a significant increase in epidermal hydration (6).
Drinking more water may even have similar effects to topical application of a moisturizer (6).
GOOD HABIT (For Some Individuals): Cleanse Once Per Day
Here is where we reach a grey area.
Cleansers contain surfactants, as noted above, that can be incredibly harsh on the skin.
Certain foaming agents, like sodium laureth sulfate, are abrasive and harm your skin barrier.
Reducing cleansing to once per day can help to restore and maintain your skin’s natural moisture barrier.
Skipping cleansing in the morning can help your skin maintain its hydration and prevent dry or dehydrated skin throughout the day.
If you choose to skip your AM cleanse, make sure to still apply a moisturizer and sunscreen before you start your day.
Now, this will not work for everyone.
Those suffering from acne may find the skin to be irritated or red if not washed in the morning.
You may experience breakouts when skipping a cleanse.
However, those suffering from dehydrated or irritated skin may benefit largely from doing this.
Remember, any changes to your skin care routine should be stuck to for at least 2 weeks (unless obvious skin reactions happen before then) in order to determine whether or not the change will work for your skin.
See the summary below on how to repair a damaged skin barrier:
(1) Lin TK, Zhong L, Santiago JL. Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils. Int J Mol Sci. 2017 Dec 27;19(1):70. doi: 10.3390/ijms19010070. PMID: 29280987; PMCID: PMC5796020.
(2) Solà Marsiñach M, Cuenca AP. The impact of sea buckthorn oil fatty acids on human health. Lipids Health Dis. 2019 Jun 22;18(1):145. doi: 10.1186/s12944-019-1065-9. PMID: 31228942; PMCID: PMC6589177.
(6) Palma L, Marques LT, Bujan J, Rodrigues LM. Dietary water affects human skin hydration and biomechanics. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2015 Aug 3;8:413-21. doi: 10.2147/CCID.S86822. PMID: 26345226; PMCID: PMC4529263.