Our skin is our largest organ, responsible for creating a barrier between our bodies and the outside world. It’s made up of several different layers that work together to protect our body from bacteria and viruses, as well as environmental irritants like UV rays and pollution. The skin barrier, which is the first line of defense for our body's largest organ, is essential for maintaining healthy skin function.
What is the Skin Barrier?
The skin is made up of three layers: the epidermis, dermis, and hypodermis.
The stratum corneum is where dead skin cells are shed from the epidermis and are replaced with new ones. This layer is made up of tightly packed cells that are arranged like bricks in a wall —called keratinocytes. These cells contain keratin proteins that give your skin its strength and flexibility. When not properly cared for, they can also trap bacteria and other substances between them - which can lead to acne, breakouts, or other types of skin irritation.1,2
What causes a damaged skin barrier?
The skin barrier consists of a fine layer of lipids (fats) and proteins – all of which work together to keep moisture in and irritants out. A healthy skin barrier requires a balance of fats, hydration, and moisture to function ideally. However, the skin barrier can be easily manipulated by environmental factors as well as our skincare routines.
If there’s one thing we know, it’s that everyone’s skin is unique. Products that work well in one person’s skincare routine may be overwhelming or irritating for another person’s skin. Even when we have our skin’s best interest at heart, the overuse of active ingredients can be a likely culprit when it comes to damaging your skin barrier.3 Sometimes, the skin may need a break in-between applying intense active ingredients.
Harsh facial cleansers are a common cause of skin barrier damage.3 Soapy cleansers can’t tell the difference between “good” and “bad” oils, but instead wash away everything in its path. They can strip away the healthy natural oils on your skin and leave you with a weakened barrier.1,3
Exfoliation, although an important part of a healthy skincare routine, can also cause damage to the skin’s top layer if overdone. For most skin types, it is best to avoid using exfoliating products more than a few times a week. Eliminate the use of exfoliating microbead scrubs as they cause tiny tears in the skin, doing more damage than good in the long run.1
When your body experiences stress, it produces additional cortisol — also known as the stress hormone — which contributes to inflammation in the body and skin. Stress also exacerbates existing conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, and acne.
Environmental factors such as extreme hot or cold weather, pollution, and UV damage can also have an impact on the health of the skin barrier due to loss of skin moisture, photoaging, and irritation.
What are the signs of a damaged skin barrier?
The skin barrier is an intricate system that is usually good at maintaining itself. When damaged, your skin may have a harder time protecting itself from irritation and infection. The best way to determine the health of your skin barrier is by being familiar with the behavior and appearance of your skin.
Dryness, irritation, and inflammation are common with skin barrier damage.1 This may cause skin to feel tight, become flakey, itchy, and more sensitive than usual. You may even notice a burning or stinging sensation when applying even the gentlest moisturizer due to an extreme lack of hydration in the skin. 1
A weakened skin barrier may have a harder time fighting off bacteria and infection which may lead to the exacerbation of preexisting skin conditions such as acne, eczema, psoriasis, and rosacea.1,3 An unbalanced pH of the skin can also contribute to these uncomfortable flare-ups.3
If your skin is feeling dull and worn out, it may be time to take steps towards healing your skin barrier. The good news is a damaged skin barrier isn’t permanent and healing your skin is easier than you may think.
How do I heal and maintain a healthy skin barrier?
Healing your skin barrier starts with simplifying your skincare routine based on the needs of your skin. A healthy skin barrier will appear smooth and plump in texture, hydrated, and radiant.1 Here are a few tricks and tips to get you on the path towards a healthy barrier and help you maintain it in the long run.
Using a soap-free facial cleanser is a great way to avoid stripping your skin of healthy natural oils while still removing and impurities from the day. The Great Cleanse – Nourishing Supercritical Cleansing Oil is a gentle oil-based cleanser effective for all skin types. The Great Cleanse easily removes stubborn makeup and impurities but doesn’t strip the skin of its healthy natural oils. As a bonus, it’s packed with omega fatty acids that promote a plump and radiant complexation.
If the overuse of actives in products are causing stress for your skin, you may want to switch to gentle, all-encompassing serums and moisturizers. The Super Couple - Ultra Luxe Face Oil Serum has all the power of a serum, face oil, and moisturizer combined into one easy-to-use product. The Super Couple combines Astaxanthin (one of nature’s most powerful antioxidants that’s 65 times stronger than vitamin C in fighting free radicals) and Supercritical Chia Oil (packed with nourishing Omega-3 fatty Acids) that work in tandem to promote a brighter, moisturized, plump, more even complexion all year round.
For an extra boost of hydration in your routine, apply The Optimist – Hydrating Brightening Essence after cleansing, but before applying oils. The Optimist is a soothing, gentle, ultra-lightweight, facial spray that is packed with a blend of hydrators and antioxidants to promote healthy, balanced, and radiant skin.
To lock in your products, opt for The Super Blend – Pressed Serum Multi-Correctional Moisture Concentrate. The Super Blend contains a powerful, yet gentle nutrient-dense formulation that contains clinically-proven ingredients[MC1] to improve the skin barrier function, reduce water loss from the skin, and restore hydration. Ingredients such as Astaxanthin, Coenzyme Q10, Vitamin C Ester, and Sweet Lupine Seed Extract work in tandem to improve the firmness and elasticity of the skin as well as protect the epidermal barrier. Using the Super Blend as the last step in your evening routine will trap hydrating serums and moisture underneath, working to heal your skin through the night. You may have heard this reparative method referred to as “slugging”.
Instead of a physical exfoliant which can break down the skin barrier, opt for a hydrating chemical exfoliant like The Refresh Mint – Exfoliating Moisture Mask. The Refresh Mint is a gentle exfoliant treatment that contains four different types of acids, as well as enzymes and hydrators (such as hyaluronic acid) to resurface the skin while adding additional moisture. We recommend using the Refreshment 1-2X per week to exfoliate efficiently, but also prevent over stripping the skin barrier.
Practicing mindfulness in your day-to-day routine will benefit your skin barrier, as well as your body and mind. Setting aside time to practice stress-reducing activities, getting enough movement in your day, eating a well-balanced diet, consuming enough water, and getting fresh air (while wearing your SPF of course!) can help reduce cortisol levels and make sure your skin is getting the nutrients and hydration it needs to function at its healthiest level.
We hope this helps shine some light on the importance of your skin barrier and why we should protect it. To find a routine that is best suited for your skin goals, visit our regimen page or reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we would be happy to guide you.
Rosso, J. D., Zeichner, J., Alexis, A., Cohen, D., & Berson, D. (2016). Understanding the Epidermal Barrier in Healthy and Compromised Skin: Clinically Relevant Information for the Dermatology Practitioner: Proceedings of an Expert Panel Roundtable Meeting. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology, 9(4 Suppl 1), S2–S8.
Yousef H, Alhajj M, Sharma S. Anatomy, Skin (Integument), Epidermis. [Updated 2022 Nov 14]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470464/
Kono, T, Miyachi, Y, Kawashima, M. Clinical significance of the water retention and barrier function-improving capabilities of ceramide-containing formulations: A qualitative review. J Dermatol. 2021; 48: 1807– 1816. https://doi.org/10.1111/1346-8138.16175