How to Get a Healthy Skin Barrier

Dealing with redness that won’t quit? Blame your skin barrier. Woke up to a fresh breakout? Your skin barrier might be to blame. Skin feeling dry and flaky? …you probably know where we’re going with this. Skin’s moisture barrier is the MVP of all its layers, and there’s no way to have a healthy, radiant complexion without it. Here, everything you need to know to keep it in tip-top shape.

What is the skin barrier?

Consider it your skin’s armor against the world. It acts as your first line of defense against everything, from environmental aggressors (looking at you, pollution) to nasty microbes. “It basically protects you from the outside,” explains Jennifer Chwalek, MD, a dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York, NY. On top of that, “it maintains the moisture in your skin,” she adds. So, the skin barrier works both ways: It keeps external disruptors out and seals in the good stuff you need, such as moisture. And when it’s functioning properly, skin is smooth, soft, and doesn’t have any redness or visible irritation. The problem? It doesn’t always function properly.

How do you know if your skin barrier is damaged?

A few factors can compromise — or impair or weaken — your skin barrier. Because it’s comprised of lipids, science-speak for oils that serve as the glue for skin cells, anything that removes or disrupts these oils can cause damage. A common one is being too enthusiastic with your exfoliating regimen (including acids, manual scrubs, and harsh treatments like retinol). “Over-exfoliating or over-washing can compromise the function of the top layer of your skin,” says Chwalek. Environmental aggressors, including UV exposure, can also affect its function (just think of a bad sunburn), as can dryness. When your skin gets flaky or rough in dry weather, you’re just experiencing an impaired skin barrier in real time. You could also be genetically predisposed to it, as is the case with eczema.

There’s a right way to exfoliate skin. Here’s how to do it safely.

Over time, these various forms of damage chip away at the barrier, eventually giving irritants and bacteria access to the deeper layers of skin and allowing moisture to escape, says Chwalek. This disturbance in skin can manifest in a few ways, and none of them are subtle. “Your skin might look dry, flaky, or dull,” Chwalek explains. “Or you might have red, blotchy rashes.” On top of that, your skin will be more vulnerable to bacteria, including the kind that leads to acne. The good news is that in spite of this, you’ll never not know if your skin barrier is impaired — because clearly, it makes itself apparent.

How do you get a healthy skin barrier?

Luckily, the solution is fairly simple: Replenish the oils that make up the skin barrier. Chwalek is a fan of ceramides in particular. These are lipids that fill in the cracks between the skin cells that make up the barrier; they serve as the mortar to your cellular “bricks.” But your skin produces fewer ceramides with age, so their levels nosedive; external aggressors can break them down, too.

Beyond that, anything that’s a lipid is fair game. “Ceramides, triglycerides, squalane, and different forms of fatty acids — using moisturizer with these ingredients can help create a healthier skin barrier,” she says.

You’ll find plenty of ceramides in the Avocado Ceramide Recovery Serum. It includes a complex of five ceramides identical to those naturally found in your skin to fortify it and leave it stronger and healthier than ever. There’s also allantoin and rice milk, which help a burnt-out barrier calm down and recover.

Another boss barrier healer is magnesium, which is one of the hero ingredients in Banana Soufflé Moisture Cream. It’s also rich in squalane — another skin-identical moisturizer Chwalek recommends — and centella asiatica, which is known for its ability to help heal irritation.

One other common way people sabotage their skin barrier is by using harsh cleansers that can strip away those protective lipids. Switch to a gentle face balm, like our Papaya Sorbet Enzyme Cleansing Balm. It’s made with a fatty acid-packed blend of papaya seed, apricot kernel, and camellia seed oils to strengthen and replenish as it clears away dirt, makeup, and debris — even when used in our (1:1) Method of double cleansing. Instead of stripping away lipids, this actually replenishes them.

Finally, don’t forget sun protection. UV rays unleash free radicals, which damage the skin barrier and beyond, and can dehydrate skin, too, so defending it properly can go a long way.

Follow these tips to keep your skin barrier strong and ready for whatever the day may bring.

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