Is My Skin Barrier Damaged? How to Self-diagnose.


While actives such as retinols and exfoliating acids have their place in beauty routines, overzealous use of them can lead to sensitised skin and a compromised skin barrier. The latest emergence is now the restoration and repair of the skin barrier function.

What is the skin barrier and what does it do?

Most references to the skin barrier are focused on the very top layer of the epidermis, the stratum corneum. The skin barrier is also known as the acid mantle or outer most (moisture) layer of your skin and serves to act as a protective barrier. The skin has three main layers – the epidermis (outer layer), the dermis (collagen and elastin plus blood and nerve supply) and the subcutaneous layer (the final barrier between the skin and muscle).

The epidermis layer is made up of four components:

  • Lipids
  • S.A.L.T. (Skin Associated Lymphoid Tissue) – immune function
  • Acid Mantle
  • Microbiome

The epidermis contains three types of cells:

  1. Keratinocytes – sometimes referred to as the bricks with the mortar or glue consisting of natural oils, ceramides, and cholesterols providing the glue that anchor them together into a mostly impermeable wall. 
  2. Melanocytes – produce melanin gives the skin its natural skin tone and serves to absorb ultraviolet radiation and protects underlying structures from UV damage.
  3. Langerhans cells – are cells act as an immune response to fight off bacteria, fungi, and viruses.

Why Is the Skin Barrier Important?

The skin barrier has two general roles – protection (from chemicals, pollutants, and UV radiation) and moisture retention by preventing transepidermal water loss. If the outermost layer - the stratum corneum doesn’t contain sufficient water, the skin loses elasticity and can appear flaky and dry. Skin that is not hydrated, is unable to maintain a proper barrier that protects it from external stressors.

A healthy skin barrier is paramount to maintaining glowing, hydrated and even skin.

Skin Barrier Impairment

If your skin barrier is disrupted it can present as

  • Chronic skin irritation, rosacea, eczema,
  • Itchy, dehydrated dry skin
  • Skin infections and delayed wound healing response
  • Hyperpigmentation

What Can Damage Your Skin Barrier? 

Impairment can be a combination of different factors such as:

  • Environmental – pollution, sun, wind, smoking
  • Incorrect product usage or over usage – cleansers, exfoliants, retinols and other actives
  • Lifestyle – lack of sleep, poor nutrition

How to Treat a Damaged Skin Barrier

Start with the basics and treat your skin with kindness.

  1. Pare Down Your Skincare Routine
    If you’re not sure why you are using something, or you don’t know what it does, then you may need to curate your routine. Ask yourself what your main concerns are and what you are hoping to achieve. It could be hydration, decreasing redness, evening out skin tone or getting acne under control.

    Keep in mind that your skincare routine will likely vary by the season. Look for fragrance-free products and avoid any products or ingredients that may exacerbate inflammation or irritation like drying alcohols, salicylic and glycolic acids, retinoids and harsh exfoliants during winter months when the skin may be more prone to sensitivity.

    Start with a Hydrating Cleanser or Gentle Melt Cleansing Balm that are both gentle and effective. Cleansing removes pollutants, makeup, and dirt without stripping your skin whilst protecting the natural oils and ceramides that form part of your skin barrier.

    Consider a serum and moisturiser that are formulated with your skin barrier in mind.
    Our Barrier Repair Serum contains adaptogens such as Wild Yam and Red Raspberry Seed and has been specifically designed to sooth and calm the skin barrier and is free of fragrance.
    Our Vital B Elixir contains Niacinamide, Panthenol and Hyaluronic Acid and works to restore skin barrier function and skin tone.

    Use a multipurpose moisturiser with a combination of humectants and emollients. Humectants attract and bind water, increasing the skin’s water content. They draw water to the skin or enhance water absorption from the top layer of the skin. Glycerin and hyaluronic acid are probably the best known as well as some glycols that also greatly assist with product penetration.

    Emollients are designed to help soften the skin and include plant oils and butters as well as oils, cocao and shea butters, stearyl, olivate and cetyl alcohols.

    Moisturisers rich in ceramides will help to replace natural ceramides that are depleted throughout the day and with the ongoing ageing process.

    Our Restorative Moisturiser is perfect for daytime use and our Queen of the Night Crème has been specifically formulated to repair your skin barrier as you sleep. If you are prone to redness, eczema and rosacea our Marigold Hydrating Crème acts as a soothing and protective balm.

    All these moisturisers are skin focused with protective and nourishing ingredients.

  2. Minimise Inflammation 
    Skip exfoliating actives until your barrier is less sensitised and use a soothing serum or moisturiser instead. Less products and stimulation will likely always be best for sensitive skin.

  3. Overall Skin Health
    Your skin will reflect your lifestyle. As the largest organ in your body, what you consume, how much your sleep, and how you release stress all impact your overall health and your skin health.

    Your skin barrier is precious protective layer that keeps the good stuff in and the bad stuff out whilst maintaining moisture. Our over complex routines and external environment can easily take their toll. Instilling a simplified routine with the correct nourishing and non-irritating ingredients can assist you in resetting your skin and repairing any previous damage. Persistence and patience are key.

If you are unsure about what products are right for you, we have qualified consultants that can assist you in curating a functional, effective, and gentle routine that’s right for you. Get in touch today.
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By Mukti

Mukti has been actively involved in the beauty and personal care industry for over two decades. Her varied career has encompassed a common thread focusing on health and wellness. Her aim is to reconnect people to nature, creating health and happiness via toxin-free lifestyles and beauty regimes.