How-To / Skin care Routines / Skincare Tips

How To Repair A Damaged Skin Barrier

How To Repair A Damaged Skin Barrier

"Barrier repair" has become a reoccurring buzzword in the skincare industry and rightly so. Unlike some buzzwords that come and go quicker than you can get to learn about them, barrier repair is hugely important and should be taken very important notice of. Let's discuss why.


What Is A Skin Barrier?

Everyone has a skin barrier. Our skin has lots of different layers and the skin barrier sits at the very top layer to form the outermost layer. Its job is to keep all the good stuff in (think hydration, essential oils, essential fatty acids, and water), while also keeping all the bad stuff out (think irritants, pollution, and toxins).

When you have a healthy skin barrier, it'll do its job without any issues and your skin will feel soft, plump, and hydrated. However, when you have a compromised skin barrier, this doesn't happen instead, you will notice sensitised skin and your skin may feel reactive, irritated, sore, and even flaky in some areas.

skin barrier

What Causes A Damaged Skin Barrier?

A damaged skin barrier can happen for various reasons. Your skin barrier is made up of lots of lipids which help to cushion and protect the skin from external aggressors. However, when these lipids are broken down, that's when trouble starts.

It's important to note as well that a damaged skin barrier can also be caused by genetics. Think of skin disorders such as eczema, atopic dermatitis, and psoriasis. They are normally inherited from our parents and caused due to poor skin barrier function but they can be repaired to ease symptoms.

  • Using water that's too hot or too cold: Do you love a hot, steamy shower? They may seem like a good idea at the time but they wreak havoc on our skin barrier function. It causes the skin to dry out and ultimately strips the skin's surface of natural oils. This sparks a chain reaction and leads to a compromised skin barrier. On the other hand, water that is too cold can shock the skin so it's best to always stick to lukewarm water.

  • Over-exfoliating: Exfoliation is an essential part of a healthy skin care routine. However, with the rise in the popularity of acid exfoliating products, it can be easy to overdo it (even for experienced skincare users). Over-exfoliating causes the skin to be removed quicker than it can physically create new skin cells and as a result, skin that is not ready to come to the surface is exposed to the elements causing irritation. Also, try to avoid using harsh cleansers too often. Limit your exfoliation to around 2-3x times a week and then listen to how your skin barrier reacts and adjust accordingly.

  • Using too many active ingredients: It can be easy to get caught up in all the key ingredients that your skin needs like retinol, AHAs, antioxidants, and BHAs. Whilst they are very effective at treating a variety of skin concerns, applying too many at once? It's a recipe for disaster. Active ingredients tend to be extremely concentrated so you don't need to use them as often and you need to allow your skin time to adjust. Try reducing your usage or speak to us if you're unsure.

  • Too much sun exposure: We constantly say it over and over again however, sunscreen really is essential 365 days a year. UV rays have horrendous skin-damaging effects and account for around 90% of skin ageing. Apply the SPF!

  • A poor sleeping pattern: They don't call it beauty sleep for no reason... There's a reason why your skin looks dull and puffy after a night of bad quality sleep. A consistent sleeping pattern strengthens your skin barrier and allows your body to repair to keep your skin healthy.

skin barrier

How Do I Know If My Skin Barrier Is Damaged?

If your skin has been bothering you for a while and you've changed something in your routine recently, you may be wondering whether a damaged skin barrier is the real culprit. Here are the main symptoms of a damaged skin barrier:

  • A burning sensation (especially when applying skincare products)

  • Acne or rosacea (which you don't usually have)

  • Scaly and/or dry skin

  • Tightness and irritation

  • Redness, sensitive skin, or inflamed areas

  • Bacterial, viral, or fungal infections

  • Eczema or similar skin disorders

skin barrier

What Can I Do To Fix A Damaged Skin Barrier? (And How To Strengthen It)

If you've figured out that you've damaged your skin barrier and need to fix it asap, the first thing to do is strip it back and simplify your skincare routine to the basics. However, there are some key skincare products that a damaged skin barrier craves.

Here, we guide you through the absolute essentials when it comes to skin barrier restoration.

1. No Exfoliating!

You must stop all exfoliating products immediately until your skin barrier heals. This includes retinoids, AHAs, and BHAs. As over-exfoliation is usually the culprit when it comes to a damaged barrier, further use will only cause further irritation. Strip back and simplify your routine until further notice.

2. Sunscreen, Sunscreen, Sunscreen

It can't be stressed enough: Sunscreen with an SPF of 30 minimum is an essential step to act as a protective shield and keep the skin barrier healthy but even more so when it comes to skin barrier repair as the skin is ultra delicate and sensitised. You can work from the inside out too: A diet rich in essential fatty acids or omega-3 supplements like Advanced Nutrition Programme Skin Omegas+ helps to nourish, soothe, and work from the inside out to lock moisture in.

3. ❤ Antioxidants

Antioxidants, such as vitamin C, support the skin's barrier function by enhancing the production of barrier lipids (remember, a damaged skin barrier happens when too many lipids are broken down). Antioxidants also have natural healing properties to reduce inflammation and protect against water loss.

4. Hydration Is Key

Due to the water loss, a damaged skin barrier requires A LOT of hydration continuously. Switch to moisture-binding skincare products that can be lightly layered such as hyaluronic acid serums, ceramide creams, and glycerin. Mist throughout the day with a facial spray too to keep hydration levels topped up. Incorporate a hydrating mask like PCA Skin Hydrating Mask to speed up recovery time and strengthen the skin barrier further.

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Andrea Patel Dermatology Nurse Practitioner & Director Author
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