It’s all about the skin barrier

Beautiful and glowing skin is impossible without a healthy skin barrier. A damaged barrier is one of the most common causes of skin issues such as acne, eczema and rosacea. 

What Is the Skin Barrier?

The skin barrier is called the epidermis. It is the outermost layer of the skin. It protects the skin from any “outside” bacteria, allergens and chemicals. From the inside, the epidermis prevents water loss to keep the skin hydrated.  

Skin barrier graphicWhat damages the Skin Barrier?

The most common causes:

  • Genetics. Certain conditions like eczema and rosacea can make your skin barrier weaker. 
  • Age. As we age, our skin produces less sebum (oil) which is crucial in maintaining a healthy epidermis. 
  • Aggressive skin care habits, such as over-washing and over-cleansing
  • Environmental aggressors, like UV exposure, dry air and pollution

What Are the Signs?

The most common signs:

Dry / Dull Skin

When your epidermis is damaged, the moisture in your skin evaporates resulting in dry, dull, tight and flaky skin. 

Skin Redness

Skin inflammation is a sure sign of a damaged skin barrier. Allergens, pollutants and chemicals pass through the epidermis to deeper layers of the skin and cause inflammatory reactions, leading to redness, burning sensation, and visible veins. 

Sensitive Skin

Research suggests that an imbalance of lipids in the epidermis, could lead to sensitive skin — so if you’re born with sensitive skin, keeping it healthy is especially important.


Acne can have many causes, but a damaged skin barrier is commonly associated with breakouts and acne flare-ups. Bacteria can pass through the compromised barrier and cause infection. Additionally, most acne skin care products contain harsh actives such as benzoyl peroxide, which can dry out the skin. This further damages the barrier and creates a never-ending cycle of breakouts and acne flare-ups. 

How to Repair It

The first and most important step is to assess your skincare habits. When it comes to repairing compromised epidermis, less is always more! 

Start with cleansers and exfoliation. Keep it very simple and gentle. Foam cleansers can be very drying, so switch to a creamier cleanser. Also if your skin is very dry, try washing your face just in the evening. Exfoliation is important, but if the barrier is damaged, give it a break or go super gentle (or reduce frequency). 

Next – moisturizer. You can never over-moisturize, more moisture is always a good thing, especially with the damaged skin barrier. Even if you suffer from acne or have oily skin, you must use moisturiser. Choose an oil-free (or non-comedogenic) formula which will still hydrate the skin without clogging the pores. 

Finally, prevention is always easier than treatment. Sunscreen is one of the most important skincare products that can help avoid damage to the epidermis. A 2012  study showed that UV exposure leads to free radicals, which in turn damage the lipids, disrupt the skin’s renewal cycle, and increase transepidermal water loss in your barrier. 

The Best Ingredients for Your Skin Barrier

  • Humectants – draw moisture to the skin. Examples include glycerin, propanediol, hyaluronic acid.
  • Emollients seal the skin and prevent water loss. Examples include rosehip seed oil, jojoba oil, argan oil.
  • Ceramides are one of the most important lipids in skin barrier. If your skin barrier is damaged, you are very likely missing ceramides too. 
  • Antioxidants help neutralize free radicals and repair any damage. They also defend your barrier from UV exposure, allergens and pollution. Examples include Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin B3.

Biniek, Krysta, Kemal Levi, and Reinhold H. Dauskardt. “Solar UV radiation reduces the barrier function of human skin.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109.42 (2012): 17111-17116.