HOW TO: Heal Your Moisture Barrier

The skin is our body’s largest organ and our first line of defense against external irritants.  The outermost layer of your skin is the natural moisture barrier, which is a hydrolipidic film made up of water, fat, and sebum.  This barrier is your skin’s natural protection against dehydration, and damage caused by irritants in the outside environment.  

Why is a healthy moisture barrier important?

When your natural moisture barrier is healthy it retains a balanced amount of water, electrolytes, and lipids (fat and sebum).  Your skin’s elasticity is at its peak, it looks and feels plump and hydrated.  When your moisture barrier is damaged your skin becomes much more sensitive and is susceptible to irritation and infections.

Symptoms of a damaged moisture barrier include:

  • Redness
  • Rosacea
  • Flakiness & peeling
  • Tightness
  • Crepiness & fine lines
  • Dehydrated skin
  • Itchiness
  • Dull, rough & uneven skintone
  • Acne
  • Sensitivity 
  • Stinging & burning when products are applied 

What can damage your skin’s moisture barrier?

Your skin’s moisture barrier can be damaged by a number of things, from improper cleansing and excessive exfoliation to harsh ingredients and environmental factors.  Environmental factors that can damage your moisture barrier are dry climates, too much sun exposure, and pollution.  Medications like antihistamines and acne treatments (pills and lotions) can also be damaging.

How cleansing & exfoliating can be damaging

The most common culprits of a damaged moisture barrier are harsh cleansing and over-exfoliating.  Some cleansers contain harsh ingredients that can strip your skin of its natural moisturizers.  Ingredients like sulfates, some alcohols (like alcohol denat. or denatured alcohol), and fragrance (artificial and some essential oils) can be very drying, especially when used daily. 

Exfoliating too often or with potent ingredients can also be very damaging to your skin’s moisture barrier.  Be careful with physical exfoliants, which can be too abrasive for some skin types.  Facial scrubs, brushes, and devices like the Clarisonic or Foreo (many people think of these as cleansers but they are exfoliators!) are often too much for daily use, and should also not be used with products with active ingredients (like acids and retinoids). 

Chemical exfoliants and peels can be seriously damaging when used improperly.  AHAs (alpha-hydroxy acids) and BHAs (beta-hydroxy acids), like glycolic, lactic and salicylic acids, should only be used two to three times a week (or every other day at most).  Some chemical peels (like The Ordinary AHA + BHA Peeling Solution) are so potent they should be used even less frequently (one to two times a week, or even bi-weekly is best for some skin types).

How to repair a damaged moisture barrier

The first (and maybe even the most important) thing you will need is patience! Depending on how much damage has been done, it can take about one to six months for your moisture barrier to recover.  Some people see significant healing in as little as two weeks, but I would give your skin at least four to fully recover.  You can never show your skin too much TLC! 

The next thing you’ll need to do is scale your routine back down to the basics.  Stop using any products containing active ingredients like acids (AHAs and BHAs), retinoids/retinol, and vitamin C.  You should also stop using any physical exfoliants, like scrubs and brushes.  It’s best to cut out all exfoliation during this time, to prevent further damage and to allow your skin to heal. 

Try to avoid products that contain a high concentration of ingredients that could be irritating.  Some examples include alcohol denat. (or denatured alcohol), fragrance and essential oils.  Avoid using topical acne treatments as well, like benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid.

 On the other hand, products containing ingredients like ceramides, hyaluronic acid, vitamin B, squalane and occlusives (like petrolatum aka Vaseline/Aquaphor) will be your best friends! 

The last step to remember is SUNSCREEN!!! SPF is an extremely important part of protecting your skin from damage, so skin care professionals recommend wearing at least SPF 30 every day (yes, cloudy days included). Wearing SPF daily will protect your progress! It will also prevent further damage including hyperpigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles, and a decrease in collagen production (not to mention reduce your risk of skin cancer!).  

Less is more when it comes to healing your moisture barrier, so go back to the basics and focus on nourishing and protecting your skin. Remember that it can take anywhere from one to six months for your skin to heal, so just be gentle and patient with your beautiful self.🥰

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