Why are videos tagged #SkinBarrier suddenly everywhere? The hashtag has over half a million views and has taken over beauty TikTok. But what is the skin barrier? And why is everyone talking about it? Before Beauty TikTok made the term popular, you had to search through the dregs of internet forums and niche social media accounts to figure out what a skin barrier is and why it was important. I know, because I had to wade through masses of unhelpful information before I ever came across the terms “skin barrier,” “moisture barrier,” or “lipid barrier.” Sure, I’d probably seen and promptly ignored them in a high school bio textbook, but that wasn’t going to tell me why it suddenly hurt to put on all my skincare products. And it definitely wasn’t going to recommend the best skin barrier repair products.
We’ve all been there: getting overenthusiastic about skincare — my vice: chemical and physical exfoliators … what can I say I love an at-home microdermabrasion treatment — then feeling it for days. Your face feels like it’s pulsing, it’s tight no matter what you do, and putting anything but the gentlest of products on it hurts way more than you can stand. When this started to happen to me more often, it took me a while to realize what it was. Then even longer to realize why. I’d been rough on my skin without giving it back the hydration and moisture it needs to heal.
When talking to the Founder and CEO of cult-favorite beauty brand Vintner’s Daughter, April Gargiulo, she revealed the key to a healthy skin barrier: a balance of moisture and hydration. “In the world of nutrients, there are water-soluble nutrients and there are oil-soluble nutrients,” she said. Most people don’t understand the difference — and how critical it is to have both. “Moisture is oil. Hydration is water.” If you’re stripping your skin of both, you have to give it back both or your skin barrier will give up on you.
I asked cosmetic chemist, Founder, and CEO of Acaderma, Dr. Shuting Hu, about what it actually looks like and how to fix it. Read on to find out if your skin barrier is damaged, and how to fix it before you risk further damage. Turns out, once your fix your skin barrier, you can reverse some of the effects of the damage and practically age backward. Run, don’t walk, to find out more about the best skin barrier repair products.
What is your skin barrier?
Dr. Hu gave me the medical what, why, and how of the skin barrier. According to her, “The outermost layer of your skin, or Stratum Corneum, serves as a protective shield that shields you from environmental stressors, irritation, and inflammation.” To break it down even further, Dr. Hu explained, “Think of your skin like a brick wall. Your skin is made up of ‘bricks,’ proteins from your skin cells, and is held together by “mortar,” which are lipids and fats that create a strong, healthy barrier.” To protect the foundation of our skin, we have to keep this lipid barrier healthy.
As a beauty founder, protecting the skin barrier is a big part of Gargiulo’s work. Her products work in tandem to support skin health, which starts at the skin barrier. As she put it, the skin barrier is “there to do two things. To protect and to defend. To defend is to keep aggressors out, to defend your skin against things that could irritate your skin. And then it is there to protect what is in your skin — mostly that is hydration. And so you need both sides of the coin in order to have your most healthy skin.” Both of those functions are equally important and crucial to have in a skincare routine full of the best skin barrier repair products.
Why is the skin barrier important?
For that coveted dewy glow, a healthy skin barrier is crucial. It’s your line of defense against dehydration and damage. According to Dr. Hu, “it is important to have a healthy skin barrier as its main function is to protect your skin and body from external aggressors such as toxins, chemicals, and allergens while simultaneously regulating and maintaining your body’s water levels. Without the skin barrier, your body would not be able to retain any water and you would be in a constant state of dehydration. ”
How do you identify a damaged skin barrier?
But how do you know if your skin barrier is healthy? How can you tell if you have a damaged skin barrier?
Symptoms such as dryness, itching, and inflammation can be signs that there is a disturbance in your skin barrier. Beyond self-inflicted, exfoliation-related beauty faux pas, Dr Hu said common causes include “oxidative stress (free radicals), environmental factors such as UV radiation or an over-exposure to blue light, and pollution.”
But even the best skin barrier repair products can’t help if your problem is in your lifestyle. According to Dr. Hu: “Some lifestyle factors can include high-sugar diets, stress, lack of quality sleep, harsh products and ingredients, or over-cleansing with solvents, detergents, perfumes, and other irritating chemicals.”
What happens when you damage your skin barrier?
When I damaged my moisture barrier, I found out the hard way: a throbbing, stinging pain when I tried to apply my glycolic acid toner. Sensitivity, redness, and inflammation are the most obvious signs of a damaged skin barrier — but they’re not the only signs.
“The existence of chronic inflammation in the epidermis, the outermost layer of your skin, will damage the skin barrier and induce redness, dryness, or irritation,” says Dr. Hu. Long-term effects include a loss of collagen, hyaluronic acid, and other anti-aging molecules, which causes wrinkles and loss of elasticity in the skin.” The best skin barrier repair products will help build that layer back up and repair the long-term effects.
How do you heal a damaged skin barrier?
“Fewer and better,” says Gargiulo. To fix the damage caused by overworking your skin, nourish it with less, but more nutrient-dense, ingredients. “Really focus on hydration and moisture. Focus on a proper pH for your skin. And then those nutrients that really help to balance and add strength and resilience to the skin.”
For ingredients that are superstar skin healers, look for ceramides — which are thick proteins already in your skin. “Ingredients like Ceramides are essential and widely used to repair skin barriers by “filling” gaps in your brick wall of cells,” Dr. Hu recommends for the best skin barrier repair products.
Just don’t get trapped in a cycle of damaging and trying to repair your skin, she warns. “You want to also address what could be causing inflammaging … using ingredients that promote anti-inflammation while also repairing the damaged cells is crucial to fully healing your skin barrier. “
Read on to discover the best skin barrier repair products for your skin: