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Your Skin Barrier Is Your First Line of Defense—Here’s What You Need to Know


One walk down the skincare aisle at your local drugstore, and you’ll meet tons of products that promise to hydrate, nourish, and boost your skin’s glow. A good skincare routine is key to accomplishing all this and more—but ever wonder how these products work? While some skincare products go deeper than others (like serums, for example) and others focus more on your skin’s surface, all skincare products have one thing in common: They come in contact with your skin barrier. Understanding your skin barrier will help you understand how your skincare products work, and can even help inform which you choose to add to your skincare routine.

So, what is your skin barrier? Essentially, your skin barrier is the outermost layer of your skin that acts as your body’s first line of defense against outside pollutants, UV radiation, and other potential threats. Keeping your skin barrier safe and healthy is also key to fighting skincare issues like premature aging, acne, dry patches, and uneven skin tone. Here’s the thing, simply going outside and interacting with pollutants day after day is enough to weaken your skin barrier. But, before you duck for cover, we’ve got good news—if you prep your skin with the right protection and products, you can help prevent skin barrier damage before it starts.

Here’s everything you need to know about keeping your skin barrier protected so your skin stays healthy for the long haul. 

About the Expert:

David Lortscher, MD is a board-certified dermatologist and the CEO and co-founder of CUROLOGY, a skincare company that helps people fight acne with personalized skincare regimens.

How Does Your Skin Barrier Protect Your Skin?

According to dermatologist David Lortscher, your skin itself “functions as a barrier between your insides and the outside world.” It’s the outermost layer that foreign pollutants come into contact with first. Think of your skin barrier as a brick wall. “It’s made up of superficial skin cells (like bricks) that are held together by lipids (fats), which act as mortar,” says Dr. Lortscher. “The skin barrier also contains essential nutrients that help protect your skin from outside environments and aid in water retention.” Basically, it keeps foreign substances out of your body and vital ones (like water and electrolytes) in.

Can You Prevent Skin Barrier Damage?

We get it! It’s next to impossible to avoid coming in contact with skin pollutants like smoke, UV rays, pollution, and more, but there are ways to prepare your skin’s defenses. Plus, as Dr. Lortscher points out, what wreaks the most havoc on your skin can differ from person to person and is based on genetics, lifestyle, and even weather. 

UV radiation is one of the most common sources of damage to the skin barrier. You can help lessen damage by applying an SPF or using a moisturizer with SPF every morning. Another unexpected way you could be unintentionally damaging your skin barrier is by over-exfoliating or over-washing your face. So make sure you’re not washing more than twice a day and keep exfoliating to twice per week to keep your skin healthy and promote regular cell turnover.

How to Tell If Your Skin Barrier Already Damaged

Does it feel like your skin is needing some extra TLC? It might be trying to tell you something. According to Dr. Lortscher, signs of a damaged skin barrier can include dryness, dehydration, redness, sensitivity, and breakouts. “When your skin barrier is compromised, the moisture in your skin can more easily escape,” he adds. “If you notice redness or itchiness, your skin barrier is involved in some capacity. An imbalance of lipids in the skin barrier may also lead to skin sensitivity.”

Can You Restore Your Skin Barrier?

You may see the term “free radicals” associated with your skin care products—and it’s more than just a buzzy word. Free radicals are anything that can damage cells, cause aging, or cause illness. These are impossible to avoid, however, antioxidants work to fight off free radicals, so applying a moisturizer or serum with antioxidants such as vitamins C or E can help. 

Dr. Lortscher also suggests looking for products formulated with ceramides, aka naturally occurring lipids in the skin. “Ceramides can help hydrate the skin and help support barrier function,” he says. Humectants, such as glycerin or hyaluronic acid, work by absorbing water from the atmosphere or deeper layers of your skin and bringing it to the surface, says Dr. Lortscher. Moisturizers with these ingredients can help hydrate and protect the skin.

Our Favorite Products for a Healthy Skin Barrier

1. CIATÉ LONDON Vitamin Boost Plumping Face Primer

CIATÉ LONDON Vitamin Boost Plumping Face Primer

This little gem is all about the good stuff: niacinamide, peptides, probiotics, and a hydrating moisture complex. Each ingredient works together to help reduce fine lines and leave your skin looking nourished and plump (aka the perfect canvas for makeup!).

2. FEEL BEAUTY Probiotic Moisturizer

FEEL BEAUTY Probiotic Moisturizer

Want to help your skin fight the good fight? This moisturizer has got your back (well, face). It’s loaded with high concentrations of probiotic actives to help your skin battle all kinds of negative environmental stressors. It also helps smooth your complexion and boost firmness and hydration levels, so you feel ready to take on the day.

3. DR. JART+ Ceramidin™ Skin Barrier Moisturizing Cream

DR. JART+ Ceramidin™ Skin Barrier Moisturizing Cream

Dry skin is no match for this moisturizer. It’s supercharged with ceramides, panthenol, and glycerin to help increase the skin’s barrier strength, moisture, and bounce. Say goodbye to feeling dehydrated and tight and hello to more nourished and supple-looking skin. 

4. GLOW RECIPE Watermelon Glow Niacinamide Sunscreen SPF 50 

GLOW RECIPE Watermelon Glow Niacinamide Sunscreen SPF 50

Looking for a sunscreen that will enhance your glow? You’ve found it. This gentle mineral and chemical sunscreen hydrates, helps protect your skin, and even delivers a glow boost. Plus, ingredients like niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, and aloe help even the appearance of your complexion over time.

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About the author
Brittany Leitner
Brittany is an award winning beauty, health, and lifestyle writer and author of the poetry book "23 Emotions." She has eight years of experience writing for brands like Elite Daily, The. Dr. Oz Show, Shape, Stylecaster, Bustle, and more.
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Article Last Updated January 26, 2024 12:00 AM