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What to Know About Your Skin Barrier & How to Protect It

Woman applying skin barrier serum to fix her damaged skin barrier

From skin dryness to wrinkles, there’s a common denominator amongst skin concerns: your skin barrier. Think of your skin barrier as your body’s first defense against the world, be it environmental aggressors, microbes, or allergens.1 At the same time, your skin barrier keeps the good stuff in — like essential moisture. But some external factors can damage the skin barrier, leaving your skin vulnerable and setting the stage for skin inflammation. Ahead, we discuss what the skin barrier is, what it does, why taking care of it is so important, and our best products to support your unique skin barrier.

This article is provided for informational purposes and is not a substitute for medical advice. Always consult a board certified dermatologist or medical professional for personalized recommendations.

What Is the Skin Barrier?

The skin barrier, or epidermal barrier, is the outermost portion of your stratum corneum, or the top layer of skin. Within your skin barrier, there is a lipid barrier – also known as the moisture barrier, which is made up of lipids, or fats, and skin cells. These lipids, which include ceramides, help seal in hydration.

What Does the Skin Barrier Do?

Simply put, the skin barrier keeps the harmful stuff out while maintaining and balancing the good stuff within. It’s your body’s first defense against external aggressors, like pollutants or irritants. It maintains proper skin hydration and pH, defends against oxidative stress, and keeps bacteria at bay. When the skin barrier is taken care of and functions properly, skin looks smooth and feels firm.

What Causes a Damaged Skin Barrier?

There are internal and external factors behind the skin barrier. Let’s start with internal. First, your genetic makeup may be that your skin just doesn’t produce enough key lipids, such as ceramides, to keep your skin barrier hydrated and performing optimally — which can then lead to skin dryness. Aging can also lead to a damaged skin barrier, as skin typically becomes thinner and drier with age.

Then, there are the external factors that cause a damaged skin barrier. That includes exposure to severe weather conditions, such as cold weather (which explains why your skin may feel dry in the winter) as well as your skincare routine. That means saying goodbye to bad skincare habits like over-cleansing and over-exfoliating. If your cleanser leaves your skin feeling squeaky-clean and tight, that’s a good sign that it may be stripping moisture from your skin barrier and time to switch products. Exfoliating too frequently, or with exfoliants that are too harsh for your skin type, can also impair your skin barrier function.

How Do You Know if Your Skin Barrier Is Damaged?

When the skin barrier is damaged or compromised, moisture can escape more easily — a process known as trans-epidermal water loss. This can leave your skin looking dehydrated, which may give it a rough, dry texture and exaggerate the appearance of lines and wrinkles.

A damaged skin barrier also leads to a rise in inflammation in the skin, which research shows may noticeably increase signs of aging, such as fine lines and wrinkles, saggy skin, skin dryness, and more.2 That said, you may have a damaged skin barrier if you’re noticing visible skin dryness and dehydration, redness, itchiness, flaking, or even breakouts. Always consult with a skincare professional if you are not sure.

Ingredients That Support the Skin Barrier

Genifique skincare ingredients that help support the skin barrier

Not all moisturizing and nourishing ingredients are created equally. At Lancôme, we recommend looking for these ingredients in face serums and moisturizers to help give a dry or damaged skin barrier the support it craves:

Hyaluronic Acid - It’s a humectant best known for its ability to hold up to 1000 times its weight in water. Since a damaged skin barrier comes with trans-epidermal water loss, which can lead to skin dryness, using products formulated with hyaluronic acid could help with any deficit in hydration your skin may be experiencing.

Antioxidants - Oxidative stress is the process in which free radicals damage both the skin barrier and proteins like collagen and elastin. Antioxidants, such as vitamin E and vitamin C, help to neutralize these free radicals and protect the integrity of the skin barrier.3

How Do I Improve My Skin Barrier?

Keeping your skin barrier properly hydrated and in balance is paramount for repair to take place – though easier said than done. Once you’ve squashed old habits of over exfoliating and over cleansing, take a second look at your skincare routine and adjust where needed.

Skincare Tips to Support the Skin Barrier

Curating a skincare routine for your specific skin concerns can help support your skin barrier, leaving you with skin that looks healthy, smooth, and firm.

Cleanse your skin as you would a cashmere sweater. That is, very gently. First, make sure you’re using a cleanser suited for your skin type, and resist the urge to scrub or rub. Also, rinse your face with lukewarm water instead of hot water, which can lead to skin dryness. The right cleansing technique and product can help rinse away surface impurities while still respecting the skin barrier.

A creamy cleanser, such as Crème Mousse Confort, gently melts away makeup (even waterproof) and contains nourishing rosehip oil, making it ideal for those with skin dryness. For those with oily or combination skin, try a purifying cleanser like Crème Radiance to dissolve impurities and waterproof makeup.

Improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles in addition to isolated incidents of dryness with an everyday face serum to support the skin barrier function. Our Advanced Génifique Face Serum has what your skin craves to improve and maintain skin's natural moisture barrier, infused with Hyaluronic Acid, Vitamin C, and Bifidus Prebiotic to help address the 7 key signs of aging: radiance, wrinkles, pores, evenness, smoothness, fine lines, and firmness.

Consider adding a vitamin C serum to your routine, or a face serum with vitamin C, like our Rénergie H.C.F. Triple Serum. This antioxidant-rich formula contains C+Niacinamide – a combination of a highly potent, but stable and fast-working form of Vitamin C and Niacinamide (Vitamin B3). The proprietary formula helps visibly brighten skin and helps visibly reduce the appearance of dark spots, while smoothing fine line and wrinkles.

Moisturizing ingredients are essential for the health of skin’s natural barrier. Not only do they strengthen the skin moisture barrier, but they also work to retain water in skin and thus, reduce trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL). To help fortify the skin barrier, look for lipids, such as ceramides or fatty acids. To offset TEWL, look for humectants, such as hyaluronic acid or glycerin. Lipids replenish moisture, humectants replenish hydration, and in turn, they work together to protect and maintain skin barrier wellbeing.

Rénergie H.P.N. 300-Peptide Cream is one of our best moisturizers to target the visible signs of aging, like dryness, lines & wrinkles, and sagging, caused in part by a damaged or fragile skin barrier. The formula is rich in high-performance humectants and proteins, fractionated to provide advanced penetration to help reduce TEWL, strengthen the moisture barrier, and provide enhanced benefits on visible wrinkles and skin texture for hydrated, smooth, firm skin.

During the day, always wear sunscreen, such as UV Expert Defense SPF 50+ Primer & Moisturizer, to help defend against oxidative stress from sunlight while taking other sun protection measures.

And as the last step in your nighttime skincare routine, reach for a moisturizer that will lock in the good stuff all night long. Our Advanced Génifique Night Cream contains 10% Bifidus Prebiotic to support the microbiome, humectants such as Hyaluronic Acid to improve skin’s ability to retain water, and lipids such as a Triple Ceramide Complex to help restore and replenish the moisture barrier. In just 1 hour after application, skin water loss is reduced by -18%* while locking in hydration for up to 72 hours.**

6 Quick Tips for a Strong and Resilient Skin Barrier

1. Drink lots of water to stay hydrated from the inside out
2. Stay active and eat a healthy diet
3. Avoid over washing and over exfoliating, and exfoliating with harsh acids
4. Use lukewarm instead of hot water when rinsing
5. Look for moisturizing and antioxidant ingredients in your skincare
6. Refresh your skincare routine with skin barrier supportive products

*In a clinical study on 24 women, 1 hour after application
**In a clinical study on 24 women, after 72 hours

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