Our skin is not only the largest organ of the body, but in my book, it is the most important as well. If your skin is not intact, a whole slew of unfortunate events can arise. But have you ever wondered, if our skin’s primary function is to act as a barrier from pathogens, injuries, and other hazards, what then protects the skin itself?
That is what we call the skin barrier function.
What happens when your skin barrier is compromised?
A disrupted skin barrier allows all kinds of aggressors to invade the skin. These aggressors include pollution, environmental toxins, and many different pathogens that can wreak havoc on your skin and catalyze all kinds of skin troubles such as…
The telltale signs of skin barrier damage
- Redness and inflammation
- Breakouts…basically, the worst of the worst, all wrapped up in one.
What causes an impaired skin barrier?
Stress and medical conditions like diabetes can be contributing factors, but the most common causes are typically external, so think:
- Extreme fluctuations in weather temperature
- Allergens and irritants
- Alkaline soaps
- Over-exfoliating (this is a BIG one that I delve into further in this post on exfoliating acids)
- And the overuse of topical steroids…notice how ‘overdoing’ things in your skincare is an overriding theme or catalyst behind the chaos…
A quick side note on alkaline soaps:
The reason why alkaline soaps can disrupt your skin barrier is due to your skin’s natural pH being slightly acidic. Our skin’s acid mantle is what kills and wards off bacteria, viruses, and infections to help sustain tip-top skin health and barrier function. Therefore, once you use an alkaline soap that is extremely basic in its pH, you end up over-stripping your skin’s acidity and leaving it vulnerable to all types of aggressors.
So how do you repair this damage?
First and foremost, simplicity in your routine is key. My five golden rules for restoring skin barrier health are…
- As I’ve discussed in several of my earlier posts, your skincare routine should always tackle one skin issue at a time, and never all of them at once.
- Start nourishing your skin with a low-pH cleanser (around 5.0 to 5.5) that is hydrating and non-foaming. Aveeno’s Calm + Restore Nourishing Oat Cleanser is a great one — it’s a hypoallergenic, non-comedogenic gel cleanser that gently hydrates, calms, and rebalances the skin.
- Ditch exfoliation temporarily. Giving your skin a breather from chemical exfoliants will honestly do wonders and help prevent further over stripping. And once your skin is ready to jump back into the exfoliating acid game, go for something gentler like your PHAs and restrict use to two times a week at night.
- Incorporate a dense emollient to replenish the lipid layer of your skin barrier. Skinceuticals Triple Lipid Restore 2:4:2 is on the pricey side but a gamechanger with 2% ceramides, 4% cholesterol, and 2% fatty acids.
- Use occlusives! Vaseline is a budget-friendly miracle worker that does a stellar job in locking in hydration. It has been proven to block up to 99% of water loss. It’s also extremely effective for inflamed skin and can be applied even after a strong humectant like La Roche-Posay Cicaplast Balm B5, a personal favorite of mine with hydrating and skin-soothing ingredients.
Shop my entire list of skin barrier repair go-to’s here.