What is the skin barrier?
Think of your skin like building a house–you start with the foundation and build up from there. To treat different skin concerns effectively, you also have to build a strong foundation. You can't treat acne or fine lines + wrinkles effectively without an intact and healthy skin barrier.
Your skin barrier is the outermost layer of your skin that acts as a watertight seal and frontline defense against harmful toxins, germs and allergens that could penetrate your skin and wreak havoc on your body. It regulates water loss from the inside out, retains moisture and keeps you hydrated. Similar to a screen door, the skin barrier acts as a protective layer that keeps dirt, bacteria and other debris out.
Think of the skin barrier like a brick wall. The mortar (cement holding the bricks together) is the lipids. The bricks are the skin cells ready to be shed. An intact skin barrier = healthy skin.
Why care about the skin barrier?
The skin barrier plays an imperative role in the overall health of our skin. When it is impaired and unhealthy, bacteria, UV rays and free radicals easily penetrate into the skin. When these irritants enter into the skin, it causes dehydration, irritation and sensitivity. It also means skincare products won’t be able to function properly and the skin won’t respond as it should. With a healthy skin barrier intact, the skin can respond properly and treatments + products can work effectively!
How do I know if my skin barrier is damaged?
A number of things can lead to a damaged skin barrier: incorrect products for your skin type, over-washing, over-exfoliation, stress, UV exposure, bad air quality, dry air, etc. If you are experiencing sensitivity, redness, dehydrated skin, acne flare-ups, or itchy/flaky skin, you may have a compromised skin barrier.
When you are starting a new skincare routine with active ingredients, you may find that your skin becomes more red and sensitive initially. This is different than having an impaired skin barrier, and what we like to call an anticipated reaction (you can read more about this here). This is why we strongly recommend gradually introducing new products to your routine. Start by using three days a week on alternating days and gradually increase as tolerated.
How do you repair a damaged skin barrier?
To help repair a compromised skin barrier, try incorporating these products:
- Step One: Gentle Cleanser - We love Gentle Cleansing Lotion
- Step Two: Vitamin C - If your skin is super sensitive/irritated, stick with a vitamin C derivative like C+ Correcting Complex 30% (the main ingredient is THD ascorbate). This has to convert to the active form of vitamin C on the skin (AKA: it is much gentler).
- Step Three: Overachiever - Formulated to calm and soothe irritated skin (our favorite product to help repair the skin barrier!)
- Step Four: Hydrating Lotion - Specifically designed to hydrate and nourish the skin barrier
- Step Five: Sunscreen - We love our Tinted Protection SPF and it was formulated with sensitive skin in mind.
Keep in mind that it can take 2+ weeks to repair your skin barrier, so be patient and consistent! You'll know when your skin barrier is repaired when inflammation, irritation, redness and/or sensitivity has resolved.
The Skin Priority Pyramid
The Skin Priority Pyramid is our favorite tool to determine which skin condition should be treated first.
#1: Always treat the skin barrier first!
Repairing the impaired skin barrier will protect and strengthen the skin. If you consider yourself to have sensitive skin, start here because your skin barrier needs to be repaired.
#2: Nourish and hydrate the skin.
It's easy to confuse dehydrated skin for dry skin. Dry skin is caused by fewer oil-producing glands, whereas dehydrated skin is due to lack of water. If your skin is 'dry' and acne-prone, it's most likely dehydrated, not dry. Learn more about dry versus dehydrated skin in this blog post!
#3: Treat acne.
First treat inflamed acne, then non-inflamed acne. Acne is an inflammatory condition. Inflammation must be controlled before it can be treated.
#4: Treat aging.
In order for "anti-aging" treatments to be effective, the other concerns must be treated first so that the skin barrier is intact, healthy and able to respond properly. This will ensure the skin has the tools it needs for skincare products and treatments to be most effective.
Skincare Products to Prioritize
Now that you know the order of priority for skin concerns, we can discuss the top products you should prioritize (especially if you’re not ready to invest in a full routine just yet).