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Your Skin Barrier and How to Strengthen it
Your Skin Barrier and How to Strengthen it


Your Skin Barrier and How to Strengthen it


The skin is the largest organ in the body – and it needs proper care to keep it healthy. Your skin has three layers, and the upper layer of the epidermis acts as a barrier. If this barrier becomes damaged, it can result in dry and itchy skin. There are some ways that you can repair a damaged skin barrier and restore your skin back to a healthy state.

With our helpful skincare guide, you’ll learn what the skin barrier is, the different causes and symptoms of damage to it, and how you can protect, strengthen and even repair it.

In this guide:

What is the skin barrier?

Known as the stratum corneum, the upper layer of the epidermis contains cells called corneocytes. These are tightly bound together with fats, fatty acids, and cholesterol – making a brick-wall like structure which forms your skin barrier. This system works to identify and keep out intruding substances and organisms, while keeping in essential water .

The protective skin barrier helps to retain moisture and keep you hydrated and acts as your body’s first line of defence from:

  • Pollution
  • Damaging UV rays
  • Toxins
  • Inflammation and infection.

What causes a damaged skin barrier?

A damaged skin barrier can lead to dry, itchy, and flaky skin. Natural Moisturising Factors (NMF) are essential for skin barrier health and hydration, but they deplete over time with exposure to external aggressors.

There are a number of potential causes of damage to the skin barrier, such as:

  • Hot, cold, or humid environments.
  • Irritants, pollutants, and allergens.
  • Bathing for too long, overwashing/exfoliating, or using harsh soaps.
  • Injuries or cuts.
  • Poor skincare.
  • Certain medications, e.g. steroids.
  • Smoking.
  • A family history of skin conditions.
  • Mental and physical stress.
  • Poor sleep.
  • Ageing.

Damaged skin barrier symptoms

If your skin barrier is damaged, there will be a number of signs and symptoms, which can include a change in the appearance of the outer layer of skin. Recognising these symptoms is the first step to working out how to strengthen and repair the skin barrier.

Here are a few damaged skin barrier symptoms that you should look out for:

  • Dry, itchy, and flaky skin.
  • Inflammation and irritation.
  • Loss in skin elasticity.
  • Skin thinning.
  • Wrinkles.
  • Discolouration.
  • Rough patches.
  • Sensitivity and stinging (especially after applying skincare products).

How to protect the skin barrier

If you’ve noticed signs and symptoms that your skin barrier has become damaged – or you just want to make an effort to improve it – there are a few ways that you can protect and strengthen the skin barrier. These include:

Moisturising regularly.

Moisturisers help to hold water in the skin barrier – with some ingredients like glycerin and lactic acid even helping to pull water into the skin, keeping it smooth and elastic. Ceramides, fatty acids, and lipids are good ingredients to look for in a moisturiser, as these naturally make up a large percentage of your skin barrier. As well as hydrating and smoothing, some moisturisers form an artificial skin barrier to help lock moisture in.

Moisturising daily is very important, and your skin will absorb the moisture best when it’s damp. The effects of some moisturisers may only last a few hours, so they may need to be reapplied several times a day. If you have significantly dry skin, you may find that thick creams and ointments are the best options to help moisturise and protect your skin from dryness and irritants.

Products like the NEUTROGENA® Hydro Boost Water Gel Moisturiser have hydrating ingredients like glycerine and are supercharged with NMF – making it a great solution for building a strong skin barrier.

Minimising your exposure to irritants.

Irritants, allergens, and pollutants can all cause damage to the skin barrier, so it's important to try to avoid them where possible. Common triggers include:

  • Pet dander
  • Pollen
  • Smoke
  • Fragrances
  • Some soaps and cleaners

Did you know that stress is also an irritant? Stress can affect your hormones and trigger skin issues and spots. So, try your best to manage your stress levels, as this can also help to keep your skin barrier protected.

Protecting yourself from the sun.

UV rays can be damaging to your skin barrier, as well as contributing to signs of ageing. Therefore, it’s essential to protect your skin from the sun. You should aim to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen on a daily basis, with an SPF of at least factor 30. You should also spend time in the shade when the sun is at its strongest – usually between 11am and 3pm from March to October.

Being gentle with bathing and skincare.

When it comes to bathing and skincare, use a gentler approach to prevent damage to your skin barrier. For example, try to avoid taking long showers or baths in hot water. Instead, soak in lukewarm water for between 10 to 15 minutes – this is long enough to hydrate skin without significantly weakening the skin barrier.

Also, use gentle soaps and cleansers – such as NEUTROGENA® Hydro Boost Water Gel Cleanser – and pat dry your skin with a towel afterwards.

If exfoliating is part of your skincare routine, aim to do this as gently as possible (with a mild chemical exfoliant rather than physical exfoliants which can damage the skin) and avoid over cleansing.

Making healthy lifestyle changes.

An unhealthy diet, smoking, and lack of sleep can all contribute to skin barrier damage. Therefore, eating lots of healthy fats and whole foods – as well as staying hydrated – can be beneficial for your skin. Diets rich in fish oil and antioxidants, leafy green vegetables and yellow or orange fruits can help with skin elasticity and keep your skin looking younger. Be sure to also drink plenty of water to keep your skin hydrated.

If you’re a smoker, it’s worth bearing in mind that smoking restricts blood flow, which cuts down oxygen supply to the skin, as well as affecting collagen and elastin levels. To keep your skin healthy and looking its best, you should try to stop smoking.