What Causes a Damaged Skin Barrier + Ways to Fix It

By Emily M.| Last updated on April 26, 2024
damaged skin barrier
⏱️ 9 min read

You’ve probably noticed that there seems to be an explosion of products focused on damaged skin barrier repair. But where does the need to repair skin barrier even come from?

An influx of various skincare trends and tools has led to a lot of overuse – which severely damaged skin barrier. This is what sparked an interest in learning more about damaged skin barrier and ways you can repair it.

So, let’s break down what your skin barrier is and signs it has been damaged as well as some of the best tips and products to help fix skin barrier.

What Is a Skin Barrier?

The skin barrier, also referred to as the moisture barrier, is the outermost skin layer that consists of cells and lipids that protect deeper layers from harmful elements such as pollution, UV radiation, and bacteria.

So the skin barrier is essentially a “shield”.

The barrier preserves the skin’s moisture, preventing issues like dryness, redness, flakiness, sensitivity and inflammation. A damaged skin barrier can cause various skin problems, including breakouts, rashes, and premature wrinkles.

Why Is the Skin Barrier So Important?

The skin barrier is vital for maintaining healthy and resilient skin.

It prevents harmful chemicals and environmental stressors such as UV radiation and air pollution from penetrating the skin and causing damage. A weakened skin barrier may also make the skin more susceptible to infections and irritants, leading to further damage.

Additionally, it plays a critical role in maintaining the skin’s pH balance and preventing the overgrowth of harmful bacteria on the skin.

It also supports the skin’s natural healing processes and helps to regulate oil production and helps retain moisture in the skin, keeping it hydrated and supple.

what is a skin barrier
Image source: Freepik

What Are the Signs of a Damaged Skin Barrier?

The first signs of damaged skin barrier is noticing your complexion is looking more uneven and duller – maybe even suddenly aged.

Plus if you notice your normal skincare products are no longer working as well – or worse, suddenly irritating and burning your skin – it’s definitely due to a damaged skin barrier.

Other signs your skin barrier is damaged are:

  • Dryness
  • Flakiness
  • Increased sensitivity
  • Skin irritation
  • Tingly, itchy or burning sensation
  • Rashes
  • Flare-ups of skin conditions such as rosacea or eczema, and keratosis pilaris, if you suffer from such conditions
  • Inflammation
  • Acne breakouts
  • Increased risk of infections and dermatitis

Fortunately, it’s possible to repair skin barrier if you know the right steps to take.

signs of a damaged skin barrier

What Can You Do to Repair Skin Barrier?

If your skin barrier is damaged, there are several steps you can take to repair and strengthen it. Here are some tips:

Find the Root Cause of Damaged Skin Barrier

One of the first steps to damaged skin barrier repair is figuring out what damaged it in the first place. Once you’ve figured that out, you can move on to trying to fix skin barrier.

See a Professional

If you have a severely damaged skin barrier, seek help from a dermatologist. They can assess the extent of the damage and suggest a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs, that may include the use of topical medications.

Get a Facial

One of the ways to fix skin barrier is by getting a professional facial like dermaplaning or a very superficial chemical peel.

While further exfoliation might seem counterintuitive, these treatments will help alleviate symptoms of a damaged skin barrier, such as flaky and itchy skin – as well as help products sink in better and work faster.

You can also try out LED light therapy as these skin treatments are used for speeding up the healing process and can aid in repair of the skin barrier.

what to do to repair skin barrier
Image source: Instagram @chesapeakelaser

Avoid Environmental Stressors and Use SPF

Exposure to various environmental factors, such as UV radiation from the sun, pollution, and harsh weather conditions, can cause significant harm to the skin.

Protect your skin by using an SPF 30 or higher and avoiding exposure to excessive heat and cold. Also, dry air inside is also contributing to the damaged skin barrier, so using a humidifier can help to keep the air moist and prevent further damage.

Change Your Lifestyle

Sometimes bad lifestyle habits can throw your skin out of balance.

You might be deficient in some vitamins or minerals, so try nourishing your skin from within with healthy foods and stay hydrated. Also, focus on reducing stress as much as possible, and observe if your skin is improving.

Adjust Your Skincare Routine

To help the skin barrier recover, it’s essential to switch to gentle and nourishing skincare products that won’t further irritate or damage the skin. Be patient and consistent. It may take a few weeks or even months for the skin barrier to fully heal and repair.

What Does Skincare for Damaged Skin Barrier Look Like?

When you’re in a need to fix your skin barrier, you need to adjust your skincare routine accordingly.

Using the right skincare for damaged skin barrier is probably the most important aspect of helping your complexion go back to its normal, healthy, and glowing self.

So here’s what skincare for damaged skin barrier looks like and which are the best ingredients to repair skin barrier:

Limit Face Washing

Limiting the time and frequency of washing your face can help prevent unnecessarily stripping natural oils from your skin. Use a gentle (but effective) cleanser and try to only limit it to nighttime.

Also, avoid hot water as the heat can be very drying and can further irritate a damaged skin barrier. Use lukewarm water instead.

what does skincare for damaged skin barrier look like
Image source: Freepik

Stop Over-Exfoliating

Stop all forms of exfoliation, including scrubs, acids, and retinoids, as these can further damage the skin barrier.

Although exfoliating your skin regularly and using active ingredients is good, there can be too much of a good thing. Over-exfoliation is the biggest cause of damaged skin barrier, as well as mixing too many active ingredients.

Simplify Your Skincare & Use Good Ingredients

Avoid using harsh and stripping skincare products, such as those containing alcohol, fragrances, and sulfates.

Go for gentle and non-irritating products that are specifically formulated to support the skin barrier. Allow your skin to heal and recover before reintroducing active ingredients.

Best ingredients for skin barrier restoration

Hydrate Your Skin

When you have a damaged skin barrier, including hydration in your skincare routine, even for oily skin is crucial. A healthy skin barrier requires a balance of lipids and hydration, but the amount you’ll need to repair skin barrier may vary depending on your skin type.

  • Dry or combination skin types usually need more lipids and oils to support a healthy skin barrier. Look for ingredients such as squalene, and if your skin feels dry and tight, apply an occlusive ointment as a final step to trap moisture in your skin.
  • For normal to oily skin types, go for lighter textures and ingredients like glycerin to maintain hydration and fortify the skin. It’s advisable to prioritize ingredients naturally present in your skin, such as squalane and urea, or ingredients that emulate these lipids, like jojoba oil.

Regardless of skin type, strive for moisturizers that include components that repair and reinforce the skin barrier, like ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids. To provide extra nourishment and protection to the skin, consider adding a facial oil or balm to your routine.

What Are the Best Products to Repair Skin Barrier?

When it comes to repairing the skin barrier, it’s important to look for products that contain ingredients that can help to hydrate, soothe, and restore the skin. Here are some of the best products to repair the skin barrier:

Best Cleanser for Damaged Skin Barrier

When looking for a cleanser for a damaged skin barrier, it’s important to choose a gentle and hydrating formula that won’t strip the skin of its natural oils. Find the ones that are free of harsh sulfates and parabens and won’t leave the skin feeling tight or dry.

Best Serum for Damaged Skin Barrier

When picking a serum to repair skin barrier, look for the ones that contain hydrating and soothing ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, and vitamin E. By adding a hydrating serum to your routine, it’ll help deeply hydrate the skin and restore the skin barrier.

Best Moisturizer for Damaged Skin Barrier

The best moisturizer for damaged skin barrier has a combination of emollients (ingredients designed to soften the skin) and humectants (ingredients that enhance water absorption from the top layer of the skin).

Glycerin and hyaluronic acid are probably the most well-known humectants in moisturizers, along with panthenol and urea. In addition, moisturizers rich in ceramides help to replace natural ceramides that are depleted throughout the day.

Barrier Cream

Barrier creams are specifically designed to protect the skin and promote healing. Look for creams that contain ingredients like ceramides, petrolatum, and dimethicone, which help restore the skin barrier.

Facial Oil

Facial oils help nourish and hydrate the skin, and many of them contain antioxidants that can help to protect the skin from environmental damage.

Depending on your skin type, you can choose from oils like jojoba, rosehip, and argan oil. All of which are great for damaged skin.

Sunscreen for Damaged Skin Barrier

Choosing the right sunscreen is essential to prevent further sun damage. When selecting a sunscreen, look for one that is gentle and moisturizing, and avoid formulas that contain harsh ingredients like alcohol or fragrance.

Home Remedies for Damaged Skin Barrier

Alternatively, you can try some home remedies for the damaged skin barrier.

You can also opt for natural soothing ingredients. Natural extracts and plant oils are full of essential fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamins that help soothe, protect and repair skin barrier.

  • Aloe vera gel is known for its soothing and healing properties, and it can help to reduce inflammation and redness in damaged skin.
  • Green tea is considered anti-inflammatory and helps protect you against free radical damage.
  • Oatmeal also has anti-inflammatory properties which help soothe redness and irritation and help strengthen the moisture barrier.
  • Squalane is mostly used as an oil that is easily absorbed by the skin. It helps to hydrate and protect the skin barrier while also reducing redness.
  • Jojoba oil is a non-comedogenic oil that is rich in antioxidants and vitamins E and B. It provides lightweight hydration and soothes the skin.
  • Rosehip seed is rich in vitamin A and essential fatty acids, which help to stimulate collagen production and repair the skin barrier.

Home Remedies for Damaged Skin Barrier
Image source: Freepik

Does Skin Barrier Heal Itself & How Long Does It Take to See an Improvement?

While a damaged skin barrier can typically heal itself within two weeks, it may take longer depending on the severity of the damage (and some other individual factors, like your skin type).

If the damage is quite severe, you might need several months to get your skin back to normal. It can take 3+ months!

To observe an improvement in skin damage, it’s crucial to address the root cause of the damage. If you don’t change the cause of the damage, you likely won’t notice any improvement.

Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix to help heal a damaged skin barrier. You’ll need to make some changes to your skincare regimen to help fix skin barrier as much as possible. It’s important to be patient and allow the skin barrier to fully recover.

Can a Skin Barrier Be Permanently Damaged?

Since the skin goes through a cell turnover process every few weeks, it’s unlikely that damage to the skin barrier will be permanent. But, that’s not to say it’s impossible to cause permanent harm.

While it’s highly unlikely that you would permanently damage your skin barrier through normal activities and skincare routines alone, it can happen if the harm continues. Also, a permanently damaged skin barrier is usually related to an underlying medical condition.

Plus, your genetics, lifestyle, and environment play a huge role in determining the likeliness of your skin’s predisposition to breaking down.


Image source: Instagram @thisisniss_

How to Prevent a Severely Damaged Skin Barrier?

Finding the root cause of a damaged skin barrier can be complex

  • Assess the skincare products you’re using and how often you’re using them;
  • evaluate your diet and environmental factors;
  • look at underlying health conditions.

Environment plays a big role too – pollution, cold, wind, and UV radiation all contribute to the damaged skin barrier. Stress or lack of sleep can also play a role, especially if prolonged.

Avoiding these things will help keep your skin health in check.

Focus on using gentle skincare products, avoiding hot water and long showers, using a humidifier, avoiding harsh weather conditions, and incorporating foods rich in antioxidants and essential fatty acids into your diet.

In Conclusion

The key to a healthy skin barrier is healing it with a simple skincare routine and hydrating, barrier-supporting products – most importantly, moisturizers.

By incorporating the right ingredients, like ceramides and humectants, into your skincare routine, you can help your skin maintain moisture and enhance its overall health.

But even the most effective and moisturizing skincare routine may not resolve all skin barrier concerns, particularly if you’re experiencing conditions such as cystic acne, rosacea, or eczema.

In these cases, seek help from a dermatologist.

Cover image source: Freepik

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