5 Signs Your Skin Barrier Is Damaged And How To Fix It

Keeping your body healthy is important, and that includes your skin. When your skin barrier is strong, it protects your skin from external stressors and locks in moisture; when it’s damaged, irritants and allergens seep in and water evaporates, leaving your skin barrier compromised. That’s when issues can arise, leading to skin that is dull, dry and dehydrated. We’re going to explore the five telltale signs of a damaged skin barrier: increased sensitivity, dryness, dehydration, flakiness, redness and irritation as well as fine lines and wrinkles. Understanding these signs is vital to recognizing when your skin needs extra care. Here’s everything you need to know about your skin barrier plus our tips to protect it and repair it.

What Is Your Skin Barrier?

An easy way to understand how your skin barrier works is to think of your skin as a structure made of bricks and mortar. Dr. Hooman Khorasani, MD, a quadruple board-certified dermatologic and skin cancer surgeon in New York City explains: “The skin barrier is provided by structures called lamellar sheets. These sheets are between the cells of the topmost layer of skin called the stratum corneum. These structures are analogous to the mortar between the bricks in the wall of your house.” Lamellar sheets, which are composed of fatty acids, cholesterol and ceramides, hold your skin cells in place and keep your stratum corneum intact. 

What Does It Do?

Your skin barrier acts like a security guard for your skin. It shields your skin from bacteria and irritants and seals in moisture and hydration. Skin with a healthy barrier is well-hydrated, moisturized, resilient and flexible. It can better withstand the negative effects of environmental stress and ages gracefully. On the other hand, a thin or weak barrier allows irritants in and hydration out. This causes dullness, dryness and sensitivity and can lead to inflammation and premature aging.

How Does The Skin Barrier Become Damaged?

Over time, your skin barrier can become impaired. Aging, exposure to environmental stressors and everyday activities like over-cleansing cause cumulative damage that compromises its structure. Remember our brick-and-mortar analogy? Without proper care, the mortar between the bricks weakens and cracks begin to emerge. These make space for bacteria and irritants to enter the skin and for moisture and hydration to escape. 

Here are a few things that can cause your skin barrier to become damaged:

  • Natural aging
  • Pollution
  • UV exposure
  • Blue light
  • Bacteria
  • Stress
  • Poor diet
  • Harsh chemical skin care
  • Over-cleansing and over-exfoliating
  • Extreme temperatures
  • Genetic conditions such as psoriasis

What Happens When It’s Damaged?

One of the primary effects of skin barrier damage is transepidermal water loss (TEWL). Through this process, hydration and moisture passively evaporate through the compromised barrier, leading to dryness and dehydration. This compounds the visible signs of aging and contributes to inflammation, sensitivity and a dull-looking complexion.

In addition to loss of moisture, skin with a damaged barrier is left bare to environmental assaults by pollution, UV rays and blue light. These are three key contributors to accelerated aging, causing the skin to develop fine lines and wrinkles as well as lose volume and elasticity. 

With a weakened barrier, your skin also becomes exposed to irritants, microbes and allergens. When these penetrate the stratum corneum, they can cause inflammation, redness and sensitivity. For those with genetic conditions such as eczema and rosacea, an impaired barrier can exacerbate symptoms.

5 Signs Your Skin Barrier Is Damaged

How can you tell if your skin barrier is damaged? These are a few telltale signs that your skin barrier has weakened:

  • Dryness
  • Dehydration
  • Flakiness
  • Redness and irritation
  • Fine lines and wrinkles

1. Dryness

When your skin barrier is damaged, it struggles to retain moisture, leading to dryness. Dry skin often feels rough and appears flaky, making it difficult to maintain a smooth and hydrated appearance. This dryness is not just a surface-level concern; it reflects a deeper inability of the skin to hold onto essential moisture, necessitating a more nurturing and moisture-rich skin care routine. 

2. Dehydration

Dehydration goes beyond just dryness; it’s a lack of water in the skin. This can make your skin feel tight and look dull. Dehydrated skin loses its plumpness and elasticity, leading to a less youthful appearance. It’s important to hydrate the skin both internally, by drinking plenty of water, and externally, through hydrating skin care products.

3. Flakiness

A visible sign of a compromised skin barrier is flakiness. This occurs when the skin loses its ability to self-exfoliate and shed dead skin cells effectively, resulting in a buildup that appears as flaky patches. It’s a sign that your skin needs gentle exfoliation and deep hydration to restore its smooth texture.

4. Redness and Irritation

Damaged skin barriers are more susceptible to irritation, leading to redness and a feeling of discomfort. This can be exacerbated by environmental factors, harsh skin care products or even stress. It’s crucial to use gentle, soothing products that reduce irritation and help the skin barrier recover.

5. Fine Lines and Wrinkles

While some fine lines and wrinkles are a natural part of aging, a sudden increase in their visibility can be a sign of dehydration and a damaged skin barrier. Dehydrated skin can accentuate these lines, making them more pronounced. Hydrating the skin can plump it up and reduce the appearance of these lines.

How Can You Protect And Repair It?

Now that you know what skin barrier damage does to your complexion, how can you protect and repair it?

1. Apply Sunscreen Daily

Rule number one for a healthy skin barrier: Apply sunscreen every single day. Dr. Khorasani recommends applying a daily sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher and avoiding sun exposure when the UV index is at its highest (from 10am to 4pm). We recommend our Lilikoi Daily Defense Moisturizer SPF 40. This moisturizer is formulated with cocoa seed extract, satsuma mandarin peel and SPF 40 all-mineral protection to improve the appearance of skin exposed to blue light stress and pollution. Your skin will also enjoy the hydrating feel of the Radiant Protection SPF Fluid which contains zinc oxide to shield your skin from UVA and UVB rays. It also contains bakuchiol, a retinol alternative that smooths out the skin’s texture to minimize the visible signs of aging, and niacinamide, an ingredient that retains hydration and supports the skin barrier.  

2. Keep Skin Moisturized

Another way to protect your skin barrier is to keep the skin moisturized and hydrated. In addition to keeping your skin hydrated internally by drinking plenty of water, you can apply skin care with ingredients that replenish and retain your skin’s natural moisture. Snow mushroom is one such ingredient that rivals the humectant properties of hyaluronic acid. You can find this deeply hydrating ingredient in our Birch Water Purifying Essence, Snow Mushroom & Reishi Masque and Snow Mushroom Moisture Cloud Eye Cream.

3. Look For Antioxidant-Rich Ingredients

You can protect your skin against the drying effects of environmental stressors by loading up on antioxidants — both in your diet and your skin care. Antioxidants fight free radicals to minimize the visible signs of aging brought on by oxidative damage. Look for ingredients like Vitamin C, mangosteen, birch water and lilikoi for a potent dose of antioxidants. We recommend applying our Citrus & Kale Potent C+E Serum which is rich in Vitamins C and  E and ferulic acid.

4. Choose Organic Skin Care

Avoid chemical skin care that can disrupt your skin barrier. Instead, seek out natural, organic and Biodynamic® products that maintain strength and integrity. These types of ingredients infuse the skin with beneficial nutrients that optimize its health and fortify its barrier. When shopping for your favorite skin care products, beware of counterfeit cosmetics masquerading as the real thing. These often include ineffective and even harmful ingredients that won’t do your skin barrier any favors.

5. Protect The Skin Microbiome

Part of maintaining a healthy skin barrier is keeping your skin microbiome balanced. The microbiome is a community of bacteria that lives on the surface of your skin. Environmental stressors can disturb our skin’s microbiome, affecting the skin’s moisture barrier and leading to dry, dull and reactive skin. Gently prime your skin and restore its natural balance with the nourishing Kombucha Microbiome Balancing Essence. A blend of pre, pro* and postbiotics work harmoniously to enhance luminosity while key ingredients like white tea and jasmine flower soothe dry, dull skin for a healthy-looking glow. You can also use the Kombucha Microbiome Foaming Cleanser. This lightweight liquid-to-foam cleanser is crafted with targeted micellar technology to gently remove impurities without over-stripping the skin.

Curious about which products to use to keep your skin barrier intact? Chat with a licensed esthetician at an Eminence Organics Spa Partner to find the best products for your skin type and skin concerns.

*These products do not contain live probiotic cultures. 

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