HomeHealthHow to strengthen your skin barrier for a healthy complexion

How to strengthen your skin barrier for a healthy complexion

Have you been struggling with your skin recently?

A whole host of problems can arise when the skin barrier is compromised, from dryness and sensitivity, to itching and inflammation.

That’s why it’s crucial to protect this delicate layer – also called the stratum corneum – and give it some TLC it when it’s weakened.

Here, dermatology experts talk through everything you need to know about the skin barrier.

Complex network


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“The skin barrier, also known as the epidermal barrier, is the outermost layer of the skin that acts as a protective barrier between the body and the environment,” says Dr Catriona Maybury, consultant dermatologist at Dermatica.

“It consists of a complex network of lipids, proteins and skin cells that work together to keep the skin hydrated, healthy, and protected from external stressors.”

Skin and cosmetics doctor Dr Ewoma Ukeleghe explains that the other key function is to “control the movement of chemicals and water across the skin”.

A bit like a row of security guards at a VIP party, the outer layer welcomes invited guests and keeps out undesirables.

Dr Maybury explains: “A healthy skin barrier prevents transepidermal water loss, protects the skin from UV radiation, pollution, and other environmental stressors, and prevents the entry of harmful microorganisms into the skin.”

What causes damage?

There are several reasons why a usually beefy barrier can become weak.

“Environmental factors play an important role, with sun exposure, smoking and pollution all leading to damage,” says Dr Ben Esdaile, consultant dermatologist at Skin + Me.

“The weather can also damage the skin barrier, with dry climates causing water loss through the skin.”

An overzealous skincare routine can also be a problem.

“The main offenders are usually over-exfoliating – chemical or physical,” says Dr Ukeleghe, meaning liquid peels or scrubs.

“Or stripping the skin with drying products containing drying alcohol and sulphates.”

Other skin issues can contribute, Dr Maybury says: “Some medical conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and rosacea can also disrupt the skin barrier function.”

Beware a dull, itchy complexion


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Pay attention to the texture of your skin to determine the status of your stratum corneum.

“When your skin barrier is damaged or compromised, the outer layer of your skin tends to look dull and can feel rough and dry,” Dr Esdaile says.

The loss of hydration can also lead to flakiness, itching or tightness.

“Inflammation, redness and breakouts are also further telltale signs that your skin is damaged and in need of some attention,” Dr Ukeleghe says.

“I’d also look out for sensory changes, such as tingling, burning or stinging.”

How to get that glowing complexion

“Maintaining a healthy skin barrier is an ongoing process that requires a consistent skincare routine and a healthy lifestyle,” Dr Maybury says.

“Eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, and reducing stress can also contribute to overall skin health.”

Dr Esdaile recommends “a simple, stripped-back skincare routine consisting of a moisturiser, cleanser and sunscreen”, particularly if you use retinol regularly.

“Retinoids can make the skin photosensitive, so it’s important to use SPF 30+ (ideally 50) daily and wear protective clothing where appropriate.”

Dr Maybury advises: “If you have persistent skin issues despite your efforts, it is essential to consult a dermatologist to rule out any underlying medical conditions.”

How can you repair dryness or damage?


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To rehabilitate the skin barrier, it’s best to go cold turkey on potent products and flood your cells with hydration.

“Start by stripping back your skincare routine to give skin time to rest and recover,” Dr Esdaile says.

“Pause your actives until your skin is back to normal and then re-introduce them slowly.”

Dr Maybury agrees: “Avoid using harsh exfoliants, fragrances, and alcohol-based products that can strip the skin of its natural oils and disrupt the skin barrier.”

A simple routine can prevent flare-ups and breakouts. (Alamy/PA)

At the same time, hydrate from within by sipping lots of liquids – and don’t forget your sunscreen.

“Keep the skin hydrated by drinking plenty of water, avoiding excessive exposure to hot water, and using a moisturiser regularly,” she continues, recommending SPF 30 or above.

“Once you’ve done that, shop for products that are rich in actives that support the skin barrier function,” Dr Ukeleghe advises. “Namely niacinamide, ceramides and fatty acids.”

Have you been struggling with your skin recently? What steps have you taken to fix it? Let us know in the comments section below.

Also read: The five steps you should never skip in your evening skincare routine

– With PA

Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

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