Should You Be Worried About Your Skin Barrier?

Megan Dominion

Let’s take a moment to go back to our Biology class. Do you still remember that the skin accounts for the largest organ in the body which is primarily made up of three layers: the subcutaneous fatty layer, dermis, and epidermis? Did you also know that the epidermis’s upper layer stratum corneum acts as the skin barrier, therefore, the body’s first line of defense?

So, why are skincare brands running after the term skin barrier? How relevant it is in achieving healthy skin?

Skin Barrier 101

Layers of the skin

Source: Cleveland Clinic – Skin

First and foremost, what is your skin barrier? The skin barrier, also known as the moisture barrier or acid mantle, is a term that refers to the top layer of your skin.

When we talk about skin, there are three main layers: the epidermis, which is the skin’s outermost layer; the dermis, which is the skin’s middle layer and contains collagen, elastin, and the skin’s nerve and blood supply; and the subcutaneous fat, which forms a barrier between the skin and muscle.

Your skin barrier defends your body against free radicals and harsh environments are frequently the source of damage. This incredible thin brick wall keeps you alive and without it, various harmful environmental toxins and pathogens could enter your body through your skin and cause harm.


Why is your skin barrier important?

Your skin is composed of layers, each of which serves an important purpose in protecting your body. The outermost layer, known as the stratum corneum, is frequently compared to a brick wall that is made up of tough skin cells known as corneocytes that are held together by mortar-like lipids, which are considered the skin’s protective layer.1Cleveland Clinic – Skin


The skin barrier serves two functions: it keeps the good stuff in and the bad stuff out. The skin barrier prevents the internal organs from physical toxins such as pollution and harmful chemicals as well as ultraviolet radiation from sun exposure.

Another important job that your skin barrier does is to keep water in your skin, which is essential for not only dewy, bouncy skin, but also overall healthy skin. By preventing transepidermal water loss, the skin barrier also aids the body in retaining natural moisture. Maintaining a strong barrier reduces evaporative water loss, which can lead to skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis and eczema.2National Library of Medicine – Repair and Maintenance of the Epidermal Barrier in Patients Diagnosed with Atopic Dermatitis

Causes of Skin Barrier Damage

Every day your skin defends itself against a plethora of threats, many of which come from outside your body and a few from within. External and internal factors that can cause skin barrier damage include:

  • a humid or dry environment;
  • pollutants, allergens, and irritants;
  • sun exposure;
  • harsh chemical exposure;
  • excessive exfoliation or washing;
  • smoking and poor nutrient-based diet;
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The majority of barrier damage is caused by stripping your skin’s natural oils with harsh cleansers, acne medication, and acids. A combination of avoidable and unavoidable daily habits can also cause damage to the skin barrier to varying degrees.

Signs of Damage and When Should I Be Worried?

Your skin barrier is constantly protecting you from irritants, which means it will be damaged at some point. So how to tell if your skin barrier is damaged? When your skin barrier is compromised, you are more likely to develop the following skin symptoms and conditions:

  • scaly or dry skin
  • itchiness
  • rough or discolored patches
  • chronic skin irritation
  • acne
  • hyperpigmentation
  • sensitive or inflamed areas
  • dull and dehydrated skin
  • skin infections caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi

Dry red skin

Ways to protect and restore your skin barrier

What to do if your barrier is damaged? Reverse it! Given the significance of your skin barrier, what can you do to keep it healthy and functional? Here are some helpful tips below:

Keep Your Skin Care Routine Simple

If you have a complicated daily skin regimen that includes several products, you may be inadvertently weakening your skin barrier. With skincare, sometimes less is more. Consider consulting a dermatologist or another skin care professional to determine which products are necessary and effective.

When exfoliating, pay attention to how your skin reacts to the method you use. It is recommended using a soft cloth and a mild chemical exfoliant on those with sensitive skin, since some scrubs and brushes may cause temporary damage to your skin’s barrier.

Check the pH

Maintaining a healthy pH level for your skin may help protect you from skin conditions such as dermatitis, ichthyosis, acne, and other infections. For the recommended pH of a cleanser, researchers suggest that it should be between 4.0 and 5.0.

Ceramides Can Help

Ceramides are waxy lipids that are particularly abundant in the stratum corneum. They are essential for ensuring that your skin barrier functions properly. Products containing pseudo-ceramides may greatly enhance the dryness, itchiness, and scaling caused by a poorly functioning barrier. Ceramide-rich moisturizers may also help to strengthen the structural integrity of your skin barrier, which is especially beneficial if you suffer from acne.

Yes to Moisture and Hydration

Moisturizers retain water in the skin barrier and most are water-based, with ingredients like glycerin and lactic acid that draw water into the skin, keeping it smooth and elastic. Apply moisturizer while your skin is still damp for best absorption. An occlusive moisturizer helps the skin barrier by reducing water loss from the skin. These products leave a thin film on your skin, which aids in moisture retention.

Say No to the Sun

UV rays can damage your skin barrier and accelerate aging. It can also cause dark skin spots, wrinkles, and increase your chances of developing skin cancer. To protect yourself from the sun, use broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, avoid the sun during peak hours, and cover up, especially during hot and humid months.

Lifestyle Check

The abovementioned tips will not be successful without starting the change from within. A change in lifestyle like quitting smoking, eating healthy, getting enough sleep, and managing stress can also aid in restoring the skin barrier.

Your Skin Barrier is Your Best Friend

So, how long does it take to heal your skin barrier? This is not what you want to hear, but recovery time is entirely dependent on your skin type and the extent of damage to your skin barrier.

At the end of the day, your skin barrier is your greatest ally. It shields you from the harmful aspects of our external environment. Unfortunately, there is more to skincare routines that can impact our skin barrier. That’s why keeping it healthy is more than just a cosmetic issue that must be addressed.

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Megan Dominion

Megan Dominion is SILKUP's Managing Editor. She's been down both the curly hair and skincare rabbit holes many times and loves that there's always something new to learn; a new science, method, product or personal experience.