We talk about the natural skin barrier a lot. We emphasize the importance of making sure you don’t damage it, stressing that even cleansing should be gentle enough so you don’t compromise your natural skin carrier.
Why exactly is it so important, though?
Put simply, your skin barrier is a layer of defense between your skin and the outside world. A healthy skin barrier has three primary functions: it helps prevent dehydration by slowing down transepidermal water loss, preventing water from evaporating out of your skin into the air. A healthy skin barrier also protects skin against harmful microorganisms, chemicals, or irritants that can penetrate skin and cause damage. Finally, the skin barrier helps sustain skin’s immunity.
When that skin barrier is compromised, it doesn’t work as effectively, so hydration is lost to the environment and harmful things like microorganisms or pollutants or bad bacteria can breach the barrier. This damage often manifests in inflammation and dehydration as skin has lost its protective layer — but don’t worry. There are ways you can help protect your natural skin barrier, so it can do its best job protecting your skin.
Your natural skin barrier sits at the topmost layer of skin.
Think of a brick wall.
A wall is constructed of bricks that are held in place by mortar, and a brick wall, when properly constructed, is impenetrable. When built around a house, the brick wall helps keep people and pets inside, so they can’t wander and get lost, while also protecting them from outsiders who could do these people and pets harm.
The stratum corneum, the topmost layer of the epidermis, works in a similar way. The “bricks,” in this case, are corneocytes, dried-out skin cells that are ready to be shed, and the “mortar” is made of up lipids. Together, this wall works as an impermeable barrier, keeping hydration in skin and protecting skin from harmful external stressors, which helps maintain skin health, even skin tone, and overall glow. The lipids in the barrier also help maintain skin’s softness and firmness.
A compromised skin barrier can lead to irritation and increased sensitivity.
There are many ways the skin barrier can become compromised, from environmental stressors like pollution and smog to excessive, too-frequent cleansing to the use of harsh, abrasive substances. Using really hot water when cleansing or in the shower can also compromise the skin barrier, as can smoking and eating unhealthy, imbalanced meals.
When the skin barrier is compromised, it creates openings for harmful irritants and bad bacteria to get to skin’s inner layers. This can cause inflammation in skin, which manifests often as redness, soreness, and blotchiness, and skin can also become more prone to breakouts.
A compromised skin barrier also makes it easier for hydration to evaporate out of skin (something known as transepidermal water loss), which leads to dehydrated, dry skin that can appear flaky and feel itchy. Skin might appear dull, with uneven texture and tone. You might even notice that your skin reacts to things it didn’t in the past. You might wonder how so much can go awry just because of one thing, but your natural skin barrier really is that crucial layer of protection, and maintaining it can go a long way for maintaining overall skin health.
Don’t lose hope! It’s possible to heal your skin barrier.
Here are a few steps we recommend to help heal your skin barrier.
Go back to the basics.
Pare down your skincare routine to the basics, giving your skin some time to calm down and heal, instead of continuing to layer on product after product. Make sure to cleanse properly, double cleansing with gentle products that aren’t stripping your skin dry, and follow that with a soothing toner to balance your pH level, an essence to flood your skin with hydration, and a moisturizer to soften and condition skin while sealing all that hydration in.
When your skin is looking better and more stable, start re-introducing your serums and ampoules and oils again, one by one.
Recommended products: use a nourishing cleanser like Atoclassic’s Real Tonic Soothing Multi Cleanser, which is recommended even for sensitive skin because it’s been packed with beneficial, hanbang ingredients. Hanbang ingredients are ancient Korean ingredients, passed down through generations for their powerful healing properties.
Avoid harsh exfoliants.
We particularly recommend you avoid physical exfoliants because they can be rougher and more abrasive against skin, potentially even causing micro-tears that can further damage your natural skin barrier. Occasional exfoliating can still be okay, helping remove dead skin cells and even the surface of skin, but we recommend going for chemical exfoliants in gentle formulas that will not only help dislodge dead skin cells, resurfacing skin, but also nourish, balance, and soothe skin. Reduce exfoliating to once, maybe twice, a week. Remember: one component of your natural skin barrier is made up of dead skin cells.
Recommended products: the Peach & Lily Super Reboot Resurfacing Mask is a gentle mask that exfoliates skin without irritating or sensitizing skin — even people with sensitive skin have reported that the mask works well for them.
Maintain a good pH balance.
Tone! Toners help balance the pH level of your skin after cleansing, so skin doesn’t become too alkaline or too acidic. Keeping skin balanced is crucial to maintain good skin health; the optimal pH for skin is 5.5, which is slightly acidic to help maintain the skin’s natural microbiome. Cleansing can throw skin’s pH level off, so toning is a step we recommend you don’t forget.
Recommended products: the Pure Lotus’ Essence is an essence-and-toner-in-one that helps balance skin’s pH level and is 89% lotus leaf extract, a beneficial ingredient that helps reduce inflammation and encourage healing. The addition of niacinamide, sunflower seed oil, and camellia extracts also make this a particularly good product for helping heal a compromised skin barrier.
Look for good ingredients.
Because the natural skin barrier is held together by lipids, you want to look for, well, lipids to help fortify that compromised barrier. Lipids are found in ingredients like fatty acids, ceramides, and squalene, and we like plant-based oils, like macadamia nut oil, safflower seed oil, sea buckthorn oil, which also has healing properties.
Look also for soothing ingredients like centella asiatica extract, a superstar ingredient with healing, anti-inflammatory properties, thanks to madecassoside, one of its four main components. Camellia and chamomile extracts are also soothing and calming, and we also recommend hyaluronic acid, a humectant that is able to bind water molecules up to a thousand times its weight. Snail extract also has healing and hydrating properties.
Recommended products: if you have a drier skin type, we recommend Ground Plan’s Day & Night Secret Moisture Cream; it contains olive oil, glycerin, shea butter to hydrate and green tea extract centella asiatica extract to help soothe and heal. If you have an oilier skin type, we recommend Lagom’s Cellus Mild Moisture Cream, with macadamia nut oil to deliver fatty acids, centella asiatica extract to help soothe and heal, and DermaFlux technology to help deliver hydration to all layers of skin.
This should be a no-brainer. Protect your skin from sun’s harmful UVA/UVB rays. Just do it.
We hope this was helpful! If you have any other questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below!