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How to rebuild a broken barrier

How to rebuild a broken barrier
Holly James
Beauty Writer2 years ago
View Holly James's profile

One of the latest buzz words in beauty, the skin barrier has become more and more recognised for the role it plays in achieving healthy skin. Essentially responsible for protecting our skin, keeping out harmful aggressors and locking in moisture, this natural layer of protection (or lack of) could be the solution to many skin concerns from sensitivity to blemishes. So how do you care for it? Melanie Black, Training & Scientific Communications Manager at Pierre Fabre Dermo-Cosmétique answers all, from what the skincare barrier is to how to keep it strong and healthy.


What is the skin barrier?

Otherwise known as the acid mantle or the hydro lipidic film, "the skin barrier is essentially the outer most layer of skin cells. Think of it like a barrier that seals in hydration in the skin and stops external aggressions from getting in. It is made up of lipids, fatty acids and ceramides" explains Melanie. A balance of sebum and water, "it has a slightly acidic film over the surface of the skin to help prevent bacteria and viruses from penetrating into the skin" she expands.

Why is skin barrier health important?

"It is so important to keep it happy and healthy as it acts like a barrier, preventing bacteria and viruses and other external aggressors from getting in that can increase sensitivity and reactions" stresses Melanie. "Also, it helps to reduce trans epidermal water loss (TEWL) this is when water is naturally lost from the skin. A happy healthy barrier helps lock in hydration keeping skin smooth, healthy, plump and soft" she adds.

What kinds of problems can a damaged skin barrier cause?

"A damaged or impaired barrier causes to have an increased trans epidermal water loss (TEWL), this is due to the skin losing ceramides, cholesterol and fatty acids which in turn causes a massive increase in water loss which causes skin to look dull, dry and flaky" warns Melanie. If the skin barrier is damaged "external aggressors can get in" she adds. This includes pollution and irritants that increase sensitivity and irritation and explains that this can also reduce the repairing capacity of the skin.

How to identify a damaged skin barrier?

According to Melanie, some of the main signs and symptoms of a damaged barrier include:

  • Flaking
  • Peeling
  • Sensitivity
  • Redness
  • Irritation
  • Dehydration
  • Inflammation

What causes a damaged skin barrier?

When it comes to the culprits behind a damaged skin barrier, elements in the environment are largely to blame. "Sun  exposure causes premature aging, sun damage and the skin to dry out. It also increases oxidative stress on the skin" explains Melanie. "Extremes of temperature and wind again can strip the skin and take away some of the HLF which helps to protect our skin, along with pollution and smoke which can also dry and dehydrate the skin, also playing a role in stripping the barrier" she adds. "A mix of all of these environmental issues can be very damaging to our skin".

How to avoid stripping the skin barrier?

Melanie's advice for maintaining a healthy skin barrier, "mild and gentle products are essential". "Ensure that they are non drying and that your skin does not feel tight after cleanser will help. The pH of the skin is 4.5 but the acid mantle is often around 5.7 maintaining this pH can also help to prevent stripping of the skin. Lastly maintaining a healthy skin microflora can also be beneficial" she advises.

How to repair a damaged skin barrier

The good news, a damaged skin barrier can be restored with the right skincare products. Melanie recommends a very simple routine dedicated to sensitive skin to soothe and nourish the complexion and help repair the skin barrier. When it comes to picking the right products, she advises to look out for ingredients such as lipids, fatty acids and ceramides that are "all fantastic at helping to restore a damaged skin barrier". Melanie's stripped back routine for damaged skin, made up of "a cleanser, Avene thermal spring water to soothe and a moisturiser to nourish and protect". She also stresses the importance of daily SPF application to shield the skin and opting for lukewarm water or a wipe off cleanser to avoid further damage from hot temperatures or tap water that can dry the skin out. Her top tip, "consistency is key with a simple routine to help repair an impaired barrier".

What are the best barrier-building products for oily skin?

For oily and blemish prone skin types, Melanie recommends a mild and gentle cleanser to effectively clean without stripping it, along with a soothing spray such as the Avène Thermal Spring Water Spray for Sensitive Skin to calm, soothe any irritation. She also suggests the Avène Tolerance Control Soothing Skin Recovery Cream for Sensitive Skin. A nourishing cream with glycerin and squalane "patented active D-Sensinose helps to soothe and calm the skin. It also helps to restore skin barrier function in 48 hours and lock in hydration for 24 hours".

What are the best barrier-building products for dry skin?

As well as the above formulas, all formulated to be suitable for dry and sensitive skin, Melanie also recommends the Avène Cicalfate+ Restorative Protective Cream for dry skin types. "A very rich and nourishing restorative cream that can be used when the skin is very dry, it helps lock in hydration. C+ restore a patented postbiotic derived from the iconic Avene thermal Spring water to soothe and restore" she explains. She also suggests using a skin recovery balm to help soothe and calm the skin and lock in hydration and advises looking for ingredients such as glycerin, squalane and shea butter.

What are the best barrier-building products for combination skin?

Melanie again recommend a gentle cleanser to clean the skin without stripping it for combination skin. To soothe and aid recovery, she loves the Avène Tolerance Control Soothing Skin Recovery Cream for Sensitive Skin for a deeply comforting treatment that will quickly help to soothe the skin and restore balance.

What are the best barrier-building products for sensitive skin?

When it comes to sensitive skin, Melanie recommends the Avene Tolerance range for avoiding any further irritation and repairing the skin barrier. Following her full, stripped back routine for damaged skin she advises using a gentle cleanser, spring water and a nourishing cream, followed by a recovery balm.

Holly James
Beauty Writer
View Holly James's profile
Working with brands at LOOKFANTASTIC for over two years I have developed my knowledge of all things beauty from key skincare concerns to niche makeup tricks and haircare hacks. I have a major passion for finding effective solutions that are easily accessible to everyone so that we can all achieve our best, glowing complexion.