Protecting your skin is much easier than repairing the signs of abuse or neglect. If your skincare efforts are not delivering the results you were hoping for; maybe it’s time to take your routine in a different direction. Frequent breakouts, dryness, flaking, and irritation are often signs of a complexion compromised by barrier disruptions.
Defending your skin’s protective barrier is one of the best things you can do for its health and appearance. Yet, it’s far too easy to misstep. It’s not your fault. Somewhere along the line, the skincare industry began promoting products and practices that can limit your skin’s natural ability to protect itself. Fortunately, it’s easy to reverse course once you understand the importance of barrier integrity and how to restore it.
What Is the Skin Barrier? Why Is It So Important?
Many sources define the skin barrier by stressing the significance of the outermost layer of skin cells, the hardened, fibrous cells that eventually shed. While an essential component of the skin barrier, true barrier protection is more involved. The lipids (ceramides, fatty acids, and cholesterol) are just as important. Together, these essential barrier components help protect your skin from environmental pollutants, microbial contamination, and moisture loss. Without this barrier, the moisture inside your body would evaporate.1
What Causes Skin Barrier Damage and Dysfunction?
There are many potential causes of skin barrier damage, but not all of them are within your control. People diagnosed with eczema and psoriasis often have issues with barrier dysfunction. Both skin conditions have genetic origins. Steroid treatments, several prescription medications, high stress levels, and natural aging processes can also contribute.2
But the most common causes of barrier depletion and dysfunction are (unintentionally) self-inflicted. Over-washing, sun exposure, and exfoliating too frequently or too aggressively can strip the protective lipids from your skin. Once the protective layer is compromised, your skin can lose its natural ability to keep moisture from evaporating. The resulting dehydration can cause roughness, flaking, itching, and burning. Barrier damage can also leave your skin more susceptible to visible irritation, infection, sagging, and wrinkles.3
How Can I Restore and Protect Barrier Function?
The best way to restore and protect your complexion is to treat your skin with the level of respect it deserves. Since it’s possible to disrupt its protective barrier at any point during your daily skincare routine, reestablishing a healthy relationship with your skin barrier often requires an objective review of your habits. Once you’ve given your skin what it needs to recover, you’ll likely be rewarded with a calmer, smoother, more radiant complexion. The following suggestions could help you recognize skincare practices you may want to reconsider.
Healthy skin requires gentle twice-daily cleansing to remove the layer of dirt, excess oil, and environmental pollutants that can irritate your skin, congest your pores, and compromise your skin barrier. If washing your face makes it feel tight or dry, pay attention. Soap, harsh detergents, and some synthetic preservatives can strip your skin’s natural lipid barrier. Instead, switch to a soap-free cleanser. Massage a dime-sized amount onto your skin with a gentle, circular motion. Then rinse with lukewarm, not hot, water. Hot water can also strip your skin.4
Toning is an essential second step in a conscientious skincare routine. Yet far too many skincare enthusiasts grossly underestimate its value. Toning your skin is important because your skin’s lipid barrier is slightly acidic. But cleansers, cosmetics, and even the sun’s UV rays can alter its pH balance. When that happens, your skin is more susceptible to damage, and its ability to absorb any benefit from your skincare products is significantly reduced. Sweeping a gentle, pH-balancing toner over your skin is an easy way to maintain healthy barrier function.5
Although facial serums are optional, using a serum after cleansing and toning can help restore your skin’s moisture barrier. But the type of serum you select matters. Facial serums made with vitamin C, alpha or beta hydroxy acids, and retinoids are potentially damaging. Instead, choose a nurturing serum made with hyaluronic acid, natural plant oils, and cannabidiol (CBD). Hyaluronic acid helps protect barrier integrity by protecting skin from environmental stressors, helping skin retain moisture, and fortifying its lipid barrier.6
Slathering layers of your favorite moisturizer on compromised skin will not restore its protective barrier. But moisturizing will help keep the added moisture you’ll get from your toner and serums from evaporating as your barrier recovers. However, some moisturizers are made with barrier-compromising ingredients like parabens, sulfates, and alcohol, so be sure to read the labels. For best results, apply a protective moisturizer made with skin-friendly oils and other natural ingredients while your skin is still damp from your toner and serums. 7
Gentle exfoliation once or twice each week can help encourage skin cell turnover, clear surface flakes, and decongest your pores. But many skincare enthusiasts exfoliate more often than necessary. Some use multiple exfoliators daily; several different products developed for the same purpose. If you’re exfoliating more than once or twice a week, it’s important to understand that over-exfoliation is one of the leading causes of barrier damage. Your skin may need time to heal. After skipping the mechanical brushes, gritty scrubs, or hydroxy acids until your skin recovers, try sticking to a once-weekly exfoliation schedule using a soothing clay mask or lactic acid serum.8
Are You Ready to Protect Your Skin Barrier?
Once you’ve analyzed your current skincare routine and identified some of the habits most likely to compromise your skin barrier, take a moment to scan the list of ingredients on your skincare products. Toners, serums, and moisturizers made with artificial fragrances, synthetic ingredients, and questionable preservatives can also dry your skin and disrupt barrier function. Many have never been tested to ensure consumer safety.9
Instead, consider investing in protective, restorative, plant-powered skincare products, a natural skincare routine. BOTA™ botanical skincare products are enhanced with the many potential skin benefits of full-spectrum CBD extracted from naturally cultivated hemp. To learn more about plant-powered skincare and the benefits of hemp oil, products that could help restore balance to barrier function, visit BOTA™ hemp to browse our Complete Guide to Natural Skin Care. All BOTA™ CBD skincare products are third-party tested for purity and potency, formulated with botanicals selected for specific skin concerns, and made with non-GMO, cruelty-free ingredients.
- Healthline. R Stanborough. (2020 September 16) What to Know About Your Skin Barrier and How to Protect It.
- Clinical Dermatology. E Ho Choi. (2019 April 26) Aging of the Skin Barrier.
- Be Spotted. Jovana R. (2019 February 25) Dehydrated Skin – What Are the Signs and How to Treat It.
- The Balancing Project. Jessica. (2021 April 11) Damaged Skin Barrier 101 and the Best Repair Products.
- Women’s Health Magazine. C Shatzman, M Aberman. (2019 April 02) Here’s How to Use Facial Toner Without Drying Out Your Skin.
- Journal of Anatomy. H Oxlund, T Andreassen. (1980 December 13) The Roles of Hyaluronic Acid, Collagen, and Elastin in the Mechanical Properties of Connective Tissue.
- Byrdie. L Metrus. (2021 July 23) Is Alcohol in Skincare Bad? We Asked Dermatologists.
- Healthline. J Yarbrough. (2019 May 14) Health the Face Acids: Here’s How to Know If Your Over-Exfoliating.
- Treehugger. (2014 June 23) Everything You Need to Know About Natural Skin Care.