This article contains PR samples° and affiliate links* It is hard to find a more “buzz-worthy” skincare topic at the moment than the skin barrier and how to fix it! So, for my latest video, I decided to put my very own K-beauty spin on the subject, teaching you step by step how to determine if your skin barrier is broken, how to fix it and what Korean skincare products work particularly well for a compromised or damaged skin barrier!
The Skin Barrier Is Trending – but It’s not like It’s a New Thing…
If I were to name the biggest trend in skincare right now, it would definitely be products focused on skin barrier repairing and soothing, paired with the whole microbiome craze. Of course, this isn’t really a new thing at all: if you have ever visited a dermatologist, they will probably have talked to you about the importance of respecting your skin barrier, predominantly recommending pharmacy brands for whatever skin problem you might have.
Indeed, pharmacy skincare has always been all about the skin barrier, which is probably why brands such as Cerave became so popular during the pandemic. Really, it was our constant mask-wearing that likely triggered our sudden interest in skin barrier health, since maskne is a direct result of that sweaty-humid environment under the mask weakening our skin barriers. And, well, probably also the fact that the skinfluencers of the 2010s told us to throw every acid out there on our faces, plus go real hard with that retinol.
Basically, the beauty industry is now offering us the products we need to repair our skin barrier that was damaged by all the actives sold to us by the same industry in previous years. But, jokes aside, I feel that this new focus on skin barrier health and skin balance vs. over-optimisation of our routines to the point of actively harming our skin can only be good!
Watch My Video: How to Repair Your Damaged Skin Barrier + Gentle K-Beauty Routine!
Here is a little summary of the main points I made in my video about what you can do to repair a damaged skin barrier, just in case you prefer to read instead of watch…
So – What Is the Skin Barrier?
I am neither a dermatologist nor a scientist, so I advise you to watch videos from derms such as Dr. Shereen Idriss on the subject, as I can only offer a layman’s summary of information given by these experts. In short, the skin barrier or moisture barrier, is the outmost layer of the epidermis, the upper layer of our skin. The stratum corneum is the upper layer of the skin barrier (some sources I’ve read also use those two interchangeably) – it is a layer of harder, pretty resilient skin cells (corneocytes) that form what can almost be described as a “brick wall”, with a layer of lipids (made up of ceramides, cholesterol and fatty acids) functioning as the “mortar” that bricks them together.
A healthy skin barrier serves as a protective layer that keeps potentially harmful stuff such as pollutants or bacteria out and precious moisture in (hence its other name, the “moisture barrier”). However, a few factors can sadly contribute to our skin barrier starting to break down and, worst case scenario, become severely damaged, leading to all sorts of problems.
Signs That Your Skin Barrier Is Damaged or Compromised
There are some pretty noticeable warning signs that your skin barrier might be compromised, and if you pay close attention to your skin in general, you will likely catch them before it is too late!
Some of the most common signs of a compromised moisture barrier are:
- Feeling of tightness, extreme dehydration no matter what you use
- Rough texture, flaking, especially if you usually don’t deal with that type of dryness
- Your skin feels and looks “flat”, almost thinned out
- Sensitive to ingredients, products, and to physical touch
- A burning sensation when applying products, even if they are very gentle
- Skin is itchy and red, inflamed
- If you have acne or other skin conditions, those usually noticeably worsen
Note that sometimes our skin can just feel a little rough or sensitised after, say, using a new product, but there is no need to freak out immediately! I feel so much skincare content is needlessly alarmist, always presenting every single thing as the absolute extreme, vs. the far more common, little “skin annoyances” we often face that can be fixed with just a bit of time and patience.
Main Causes of Skin Barrier Breakdown
I go through all of these in the video, and in many ways you can probably kind of guess them when you hear what a well-functioning skin barrier looks like and what it’s supposed to do for you, which is to form a resilient, strong barrier between your skin’s inner layers and the environment.
Remember the stratum corneum, that “brick wall” of harder skin cells which sits right on top of your skin? Well, if you get too eager with your skin care routine, you may actually start to cause harm to those skin cells, making them break down and soften up too much. The number one culprit here is over-use of actives such as retinols, acids (especially glycolic acid!) and even high dosage niacinamide serums (anything above 5% can potentially aggravate your skin if you are sensitive to actives).
Other factors that can cause a strain on your skin barrier:
- Allergies and sensitivities towards certain ingredients
- Seasonal allergies – pollen can also damage your skin, not just your sinuses and eyes
- Trying too many new products at the same time
- Trying products unsuitable for your skin
- Using cleansers that are too harsh for your skin and/or with a high pH value
- Extremely dry OR extremely humid air
Basically, anything that puts extra strain on our skin barrier balance, anything that can upset our skin’s microbiome (the sum of all micro-organisms on our skin), and anything that might overly strip our stratum corneum can lead to a breakdown of that natural defence strategy of our skin.
What You Can Do to Repair Your Moisture Barrier
If your skin barrier is compromised or damaged, a stripped-down, simple skincare routine that focuses on replenishing lost hydration and moisture is the way to go.
Here are some general steps to take when your moisture barrier is compromised:
- Use a gentle, Low pH cleanser, ideally with a pH value of 5-5.5
- Take a break from actives – ideally you want to cut out any acids, retinols or high dosage actives such as ascorbic acid or niacinamide (anything over 10% can be aggravating) for a couple of weeks, depending on the severity of the damage
- Avoid drying alcohols and fragrance – I am not 100% against fragrance or a little alcohol in skincare, but if your moisture barrier is damaged, it is best to avoid any drying or triggering ingredients
- Avoid physical exfoliation such as scrubs, rough-textured toner pads etc.
- Feed your skin – go for hydrating toners and serums that contain humectants such as hyaluronic acid, glycerin, beta glucan, urea
- Seal in hydration with occlusives, especially overnight – try “slugging” if you can tolerate it (using vaseline as a last layer overnight), but other occlusive balms and creams also do the trick – sleeping creams or cica balms are great choices here
- Consider using a humidifier overnight if you live in a very dry environment to help skin retain moisture
I would also avoid trying new, ingredient-rich products while you are repairing your moisture barrier, or attempting any new skin procedures that could put a strain on your skin and its natural balance (e.g. lasers). Time and patience is what is needed here.
Ultra Gentle K-Beauty Routine to Restore Healthy Skin Barrier Function
If you watch the video, you can see me all stripped down and bare-faced, something I felt really weird about! I definitely don’t have “perfect skin”, so this felt very raw, but I think you guys like to actually see a routine vs. me just describing the steps. All the products used in this routine are fragrance- and alcohol-free, with gentle, skin barrier respecting formulas.
These are the steps in my minimalist, moisture barrier repairing K-beauty routine:
- Cleanse skin with a gentle, low pH value cleanser: I used the excellent Barr Cosmetics Centella Calming Gel Cleanser*, which is free from any harsh surfactants
- Pat in a fragrance- and alcohol-free, hydrating toner: the Vegreen Alcohol-Free Nature Mucin Toner* contains hyaluronic acid, hydrating wild yams extract and glycerin – just pure, deep hydration for sensitive skin
- Use a minimalist, hydrating serum rich in humectants: I chose the Torriden Dive-In Serum* because its simple formula focused on hydration is perfect for skin barrier repair
- Choose a moisturiser with ceramides and probiotics: ceramides are a natural part of your skin barrier, so replenishing them will help repair the damage, while probiotics support your skin microbiome health – I chose the The Lab by Blanc Doux Prebiotic Cera Cream*
- For your AM routine – don’t forget to finish with a gentle, high protection sunscreen: I chose the Beauty of Joseon Relief Sun : Rice + Probiotic* sunscreen, which I reviewed on the blog a while ago
- For your PM routine – lock in hydration with an additional occlusive layer: my favourite occlusive balm is the Pyunkang Yul Calming Moisture Repair Balm* as it doesn’t feel too greasy or heavy and leaves my skin extra plump
- Additional step – use a gentle eye cream or gel for the delicate undereye area: I really love the Benton Fermentation Eye Cream*, which is so gentle and doesn’t cause milia for me, unlike so many eye creams
I hope that my little skin barrier repair tutorial can help you with your skin woes!
Let me know in the comments: Do you suffer from a compromised or damaged skin barrier? What was it that caused the damage? Are there any products that you gravitate towards when your skin is out of balance?
Take care guys, and stay safe – don’t forget to follow me on Instagram and Facebook for all the latest K-Beauty and skincare news, and check out my other work, e.g. my video and article on 5 underrated K-beauty products! And guys – I have a YouTube channel now, I’d love for you to check it out and subscribe!
°PR Sample, kindly provided by a brand or shop – I am not obligated to write this blog article, was not paid for the article, and my opinions are entirely my own.
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