Understanding Damaged Skin Barrier: Signs & Solutions

July 8, 2024

You’ve likely seen skincare marketing or packaging touting the importance of the skin barrier. If you’re not sure what that means or what you need to do to keep you skin barrier healthy, you’re not alone. According to Dr. Jennifer Holman of U.S. Dermatology Partners in Tyler, Texas, “Skin is the body’s largest organ. The main function is to protect the body from external sources of damage like bacteria, allergens, and irritants. Keeping this skin barrier healthy improves general skin health and overall health.” In this blog, Dr. Holman discusses what the skin barrier is, its role in keeping the skin and the whole body healthy, and how to keep the skin barrier strong.

What Is the Skin Barrier?

The skin barrier, which is known clinically as the stratum corneum, provides a protective shield for the skin. It’s made up of keratinocytes held together with lipids and proteins to create a smooth, complete barrier. Keeping the skin healthy and hydrated is essential to ensure it can perform its role in our overall health and wellbeing, and that all starts with strengthening the skin barrier.

Importance of the Skin Barrier

The stratum corneum provides three key benefits for skin and whole-body health:

  1. Maintain hydration – a complete and healthy skin barrier ensures the moisture we add to our skin is retained for the long-term.
  2. Boost health – viruses, bacteria, and other environmental issues that could potentially lead to skin health issues as well as whole body health concerns are often blocked by the skin’s barrier, which is our body’s first line of defense.
  3. Protect from damagesun damage starts on the skin’s surface. A healthy skin barrier can prevent this damage from penetrating to the deeper layers of skin. Short term damage to the stratum corneum leads to sunburn and tanning. Long term damage that penetrates deeper into skin’s layers can cause premature signs of aging, hyperpigmentation, and even skin cancer. Additionally, injury from environmental allergens, pollutants, and irritants can be prevented from causing damage with a healthy skin barrier.

Signs of a Damaged Skin Barrier

Not sure if your skin barrier is healthy or damaged? Consider the following common symptoms of skin barrier damage:

  • General skin sensitivity when exposed to certain products or environmental allergens, irritants, and aggressors.
  • Frequent inflammation or swelling of skin.
  • Skin redness and discoloration that occurs frequently.
  • Dry, itchy, or generally irritated skin.
  • Flaky, thick patches of skin.
  • Chronic or prolonged skin infections.
  • More frequent flareups in chronic skin conditions.

Common Skin Barrier Disorders

Dr. Holman says, “When the skin barrier is damaged, people are more likely to develop chronic skin conditions or struggle with skin health issues like dry skin, frequent infections, or generally poor wound healing. Without an effective skin barrier, there are numerous skin health issues that may develop.” Some common skin barrier disorders include:

Causes of Skin Barrier Damage

When it comes to skin barrier damage, Dr. Holman says, “There’s not necessarily one specific cause of skin barrier damage. Skin can be weakened in a variety of ways. If you notice skin barrier damage, your dermatologist can guide you to uncover potential triggers and offer options to address skin health concerns. Genetics and aging also have a role to play in skin barrier damage. Certain people are genetically predisposed to experience a damaged skin barrier because they have naturally more sensitive skin. Aging also increases the chances for skin barrier damage because skin becomes thinner with age.”

Some of the most common causes of skin barrier damage include:

  • Severe weather (cold, heat, wind)
  • Skin damage (burns, cuts, bruises)
  • Environmental allergens and irritants
  • Sun damage
  • Irritating skincare and cleaning products
  • Over-washing or over exfoliation

How to Maintain a Healthy Skin Barrier

Maintaining a healthy skin barrier requires a commitment to make some changes to your daily skincare routine and lifestyle. Some of the most important steps to maintain a healthy skin barrier include:

  • Skip harsh products and practices – remove any harsh skincare products from your daily routine and skip the use of exfoliants or abrasive skincare products or application methods.
  • Create a moisture barrier – if you notice a damaged area of the skin barrier, apply a barrier moisturizer like petrolatum (petroleum jelly or Aquaphor) to the skin to protect the damaged area as it heals.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle – this means staying hydrated, eating a nutrient-dense diet, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep. This ensures the body had adequate nutrients and energy to maintain healthy skin. You should also manage stress. Chronic, severe, or prolonged stress leads to an increase in stress hormone production, leading to skin inflammation, itching, redness, and other forms of skin barrier damage.

Skincare Routine for a Healthy Skin Barrier

A dermatologist can help you develop an effective skincare routine that is personalized to your unique needs, but a good general routine to maintain a health skin barrier should include:

  • Cleanser – choose a gentle cleanser to use morning and evening to remove dirt, oil, and grime from skin.
  • Antioxidants – apply an antioxidant serum in the morning. Antioxidants help to prevent damage from the sun, pollutants, and other environmental aggressors that can lead to barrier damage.
  • Moisturizer – apply a moisturizer that is easily absorbed and free of fragrance, dyes, and other potential irritants morning and evening. You can use the same moisturizer or choose a lightweight product for the daytime and a thicker cream-based moisturizer in the evening.
  • Sun protection – apply sunscreen to skin every morning. Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher.

How to Repair an Already Damaged Skin Barrier

When it comes to repairing damaged skin, Dr. Holman says, “Soothing skincare is essential when the skin barrier is damaged. Choose products that have no added dyes, fragrances, parabens, or other potentially irritating ingredients. You should also stop exfoliating skin or reduce the number of days a week you’re exfoliating to prevent irritation. Hydration is key to repairing a broken skin barrier. Apply moisturizer at least twice a day. Use moisturizers with ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids to fill the gaps in the skin’s barrier. A hyaluronic acid serum or moisturizer with hyaluronic acid will continue to attract hydration to skin for the long term.”

Timeline for Repairing a Damaged Skin Barrier

According to Dr. Holman, “It can be very frustrating to repair a damaged skin barrier. There’s no fast solution. You’ll have to develop a skincare routine and stick with it consistently for a week or longer to see the desired results. For more serious skin barrier damage, it may take longer for skin to heal. The key is to stick with your treatment and maintain your skincare routine until you achieve your desired results.”

Visit Us to Learn More About Keeping Skin Healthy

If you’ve experienced chronic skin barrier damage, there may be an element of your skincare routine that needs to be adjusted, or it may be a sign that you’re struggling with a skin condition that needs to be managed. From improving your skincare routine to taking steps to repair or prevent skin barrier damage, a dermatologist can help you keep skin looking and feeling its best. If you’re interested in learning more, don’t hesitate to reach out to a U.S. Dermatology Partners location near you. We make working with us simple. Take a few moments to complete our scheduling request form. Once we receive your request, we’ll be in touch to finalize the details of your upcoming visit.

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