How to repair and maintain your skin barrier

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13 Jul '21

Is your skin red? Does your face feel taut or uncomfortable after you wash it? Is your skin irritated and prone to flare ups? If it is, a damaged skin barrier is most likely the culprit.

Author

Esme Royston

Photographer

Jessica Elizabeth

What is the skin barrier?

Diet, genetics, hormones, age – all these factors and an abundance more play a role in our analysis of determining what exactly gives us great skin. At the pinnacle of good skin however, is the skin barrier. Existing at the outermost layer of the epidermis, the skin barrier, also known as the lipid barrier, is made up of a brick-like structure that weaves together ceramides and fatty acids. This structure protects your skin from toxins, irritants, and bacteria while simultaneously trapping water molecules to retain essential moisture. When the skin barrier has been compromised, a cascading effect can lead to the aforementioned red, uncomfortable and irritated skin that's prone to breakouts. Similarly, a healthy barrier is the foundation of glowing skin.

What is damaging the skin barrier?

While a damaged skin barrier can be the result of anything from lack of sleep, exposure to pollution or acute stress, the most common cause is harsh actives (or simply the overuse of them). The old adage of "too much of a good thing" isn't actually good, and that saying remains true for your favourite go-to glow-inducing actives. Peels, exfoliants, and micro-needling, though incredible for rejuvenating skin and removing dead skin cells from the skin's surface, can quickly become a liability when used in excess. Over-cleansing, cleansing with hot water or using astringent toners also contribute. Taking a more measured approach is key. Restrict actives to once or twice a week, always wash with cool or tepid water, and when double cleansing, ensure that at least one formula is more gentle. A squeaky-clean sensation is a signal that the cleanser(s) have stripped your skin of its natural oils.

How to repair it

Long-term damage to the skin barrier can result in premature ageing. If peels, exfoliants and/or retinols are a regular part of your skincare routine, finding a moisturiser that not only works double-time to moisturise but was also formulated to specifically be restorative, is essential. While rebuilding the skin barrier takes time, there's little that can aid in the soothing and healing process as much as a high-quality, deeply hydrating and occlusive moisturiser. Serums and oils can assist in the healing process but do little on their own, whereas a rich face cream layered on top will seal in those nutrients to aid in the overall restoration of the moisture barrier. As the products overturn skin cells more rapidly, the skin becomes more sensitive, making those lipid-restoring, fatty skin cell-building moisturisers the unsung hero of your product lineup.

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