Skin Barrier

What is your skin barrier?

The skin barrier is the outermost layer of your skin that serves as a protective shield for your face. Basically, the entire purpose of your skin barrier is to protect your skin from environmental stressors, irritation, and inflammation, while holding onto all the good stuff (like moisture, moisture, and more moisture).

Technically, your skin barrier is called the stratum corneum, which is the most superficial layer of your epidermis—think: the top bun on your hamburger. The stratum corneum (skin barrier) is filled with a whole system of cells and lipids that form a barrier to keep your skin healthy. The cells, aka corneocytes, are the bricks in your skin barrier, while the mortar is made of various lipids, like cholesterol and ceramides. Each piece is vital in keeping the ecosystem of your face happy.

What destroys the skin barrier?

Sadly, your skin barrier is way more fragile than think and can easily be “destroyed” by environmental factors (sun exposure, pollution, smoking, extreme weather variations), physical damage (over-exfoliating or using harsh/irritating products), certain medical conditions (like diabetes), and genetics. Even your age can affect your barrier: Ceramide levels decrease significantly as we age, so our skin’s ability to hold onto moisture eventually becomes compromised too.


Obviously, some of these factors are out of your clients  control (aging, pollution, desert heat, and freezing winters), but generally, the most severe damage will come from using too-harsh products, like gritty exfoliators, intense acids, and drying sulfates. When your skin barrier doesn’t have an effective balance of fats, the moisture and hydration that makes your skin look supple, full, and plump will not be maintained.


How do you know if your clients skin barrier is damaged?

skin might be dry, flakey, sensitive, irritated, tingly, burning, and/or itchy. You may also be dealing with rashes and inflammation, since a damaged skin barrier increases your risk of infections and dermatitis, , as well as flare-ups of rosacea, eczema, and keratosis pilaris. Another tell-tale sign? When you use a moisturizer on your skin that you typically tolerate, but it starts to irritate or burn on application.


Will a skin barrier heal itself?

A damaged skin barrier can usually heal itself within two weeks, depending on the damage, but only if you stop all exfoliators (even acids and retinoids) and switch to gentle, soothing products. If you keep up the same routine that led to a damaged barrier in the first place, you’re not going to see results. But with time and a simpler routine, your clients skin barrier will begin to function like normal again, fending off irritants and potential stressors to keep your skin moisturized and healthy.

Should your client exfoliate if their skin barrier is damaged?

You client should avoid exfoliating with chemical and physical exfoliants (including retinol, AHA’s & BHA’s, and Vitamin C for two to three weeks once you notice that your skin barrier is damaged. After the inflammation, flakes, and irritation have subsided for at least one full week, you can add back one gentle chemical exfoliant (like polyhydroxy) PHAs, the mildest of acids) one day a week for another two or three weeks.


How do you get a healthy skin barrier?

The key to a healthy skin barrier is healing it with a simple skincare routine and loading up on vitamins rich and hydrating products. Stick to a bland and hydrating routine for at least two to three weeks before adding exfoliation back in once or twice a week (in general, even with a healthy skin barrier, you should only use exfoliants three times a week max).


Your clients  skincare routine should include a gentle face wash in the morning and night, followed by a hydrating face serum —most importantly—a rich, barrier gel or cream. If your skin feels tight and dry, you can layer on an occlusive ointment at the end to seal all that hydration and water into your skin.

Ideally, your skincare routine should be filled with products that contain barrier-repairing ceramides and humectants, adding that topical vitamins  mimic your skins moisturizing functions to hold onto hydration, while humectants (like hyaluronic acid and glycerin) “pull water molecules from the dermis toward the epidermis to keep your skin moisturized.”


You should also prioritize ingredients already found in your skin, like squalane, urea, or ingredients that mimic those lipids, like jojoba oil. And, as always, try to avoid products filled with fragrance, essential oils, and sulfates, which can irritate your skin and break down your skin barrier over time.

Of course, even the best, most hydrating routine can’t magically fix all skin-barrier issues, especially if you’re dealing with cystic acne, rosacea, or eczema.

Can a skin barrier be permanently damaged?

It’s highly unlikely that you would permanently damage your skin barrier through normal activities and skincare routines alone. However, it is possible for your skin barrier to be predisposed to breaking down based on genetics, age, prolonged stress, and environmental factors. This is why it’s so important to have a moisturizing skincare routine (that consists of a gentle cleanser, hydrating serum, and a rich moisturizer to keep your skin barrier healthy and more resistant to damage.

How long does it take to improve your skin barrier?

How long it takes to improve your clients skin barrier is dependent on the  skin type and how damaged your skin barrier is. If your client spent months accidentally breaking down their skin barrier through harsh products, stress, or environmental factors, you might need to change routine for one to two months to get their skin back to normal.