What Is the Skin Barrier? Function, Signs of Damage, and How to Care for Yours

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Moisturize Regularly

Your first must-do: Keep your skin well hydrated. “Dry skin is compromised skin,” says Ploch. Choose skin moisturizers that have hydrating ingredients and can keep the skin barrier intact (or repair it when necessary). Top ingredients include hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and glycerin. More on those below.

Another option, says Waldman, is to apply a product on skin that will mimic the stratum corneum. “An ointment, like Vaseline or Aquaphor, will create a bubble around skin that mimics your natural skin and keeps water from escaping,” she says. “This is one of the most effective, cheap, and easy ways to repair the skin barrier.” The downside is these products can feel thick and greasy, which many people don’t enjoy. Choose the products based on the needs of your skin, as well as those you want to use regularly.

Choose a Gentle Cleanser

You may be surprised to hear that commonly used soaps can strip the skin of much-needed moisture and compromise its barrier, says Castilla. Choosing the right face cleanser for your skin type is key. “If you have drier skin, use a cream-based cleanser; for oilier skin, go for a foaming cleanser, which will remove some oil but not strip it altogether,” she says. Also cleanse with lukewarm water, as hot water can also remove oil.

Apply Retinoids With a Light Hand

Retinoids, which are vitamin A derivatives, are used for stimulating collagen to plump up fine lines and wrinkles, as well as increase skin cell turnover, which can lighten discolorations and fight acne. When using retinoids, especially for the first time, be aware that they’ll dry out the skin and cause some irritation.

If you have drier skin, Castilla recommends applying a retinoid once a week; oilier skin types may be able to tolerate application three times per week. Keep in mind that what your skin can handle will also depend on the seasons. Summer, with its humidity, may allow you to apply retinoids or other active ingredients that exfoliate the skin more often without causing irritation. In the wintertime, you may find that the drier indoor and outdoor air means you need to scale back your retinoid.

Soothe Skin With Colloidal Oatmeal

If skin is already red and inflamed, Castilla recommends smoothing on a moisturizer that contains colloidal oatmeal. Research shows that colloidal oats reinforce the skin barrier’s integrity and regulate oil production in the skin, among other functions, which has been shown to improve skin hydration. (The study was done by the Johnson & Johnson Skin Research Center. The brand makes products, such as lotions, with oatmeal as an active ingredient.) Colloidal oatmeal is also commonly used to relieve itching from eczema, according to the National Eczema Association.

Get Serious About Sunscreen

Finally, apply sunscreen every day, even when it’s cloudy outdoors, to protect your skin from damaging ultraviolet rays, Castilla recommends. Choose an SPF 30 or higher. A facial moisturizer with an SPF 30 is suitable for regular day-to-day use, but if you’re spending a lot of time outside sweating or going in the pool or beach, apply a sunscreen that’s designed for sport or swimming.

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