The human body is an amazing thing. We have all kinds of built-in defenses, from our noses that protect us from bacteria to white blood cells that chase down bad guys and destroy them. Your skin, too, has superpowers — including a skin moisture barrier that locks in moisture while shielding against bacteria and pollutants.
Take a big step — leap, even — towards health skin by understanding what compromises the skin moisture barrier. Recognizing the signs and learning how to repair the damage are essential to maintaining healthy skin.
What Damages Your Skin Moisture Barrier?
Before we get into signs of damage and fixes, let’s talk about what causes the damage in the first place. Unfortunately, there’s no single source of moisture barrier damage. The most common culprits are:
- Using a harsh cleanser that strips your skin
- Forced air heating and air conditioning
- Extremely cold or dry weather
- Exposure to UVA and UVB rays
- Using too many products with active ingredients (AHAs, BHAs, vitamin C, retinoids, acne treatments, etc.). If you are dabbling in this category, stick with just one product at a time — we love Paula’s Choice.
Signs Your Moisture Barrier Is Damaged
Since a damaged moisture barrier means loss of moisture, all signs can be linked back to dehydration. Dehydrated skin isn’t a skin type, but a skin condition. The distinction is important, because you can have dry, oily, normal, or combination skin, and still also have dehydrated skin. Dryness is due to a lack of oil, while dehydration is due to a lack of moisture.
Here are some signs to help you diagnose what’s going on with your skin.
1. Your skin is oily and dry
If your skin is oily on the surface, especially not long after you’ve washed your face, but feels dry and flaky underneath, that’s dehydration at work. Your skin is producing excess oil to compensate for the loss of moisture
2. Your skin is super sensitive
Say you’ve been following the same Roc skincare regimen for years without a hint of redness. And suddenly, the breakouts just won’t stop. That’s a skin of damage. Even the most gentle products can irritate dehydrated skin, causing burning, redness, and pimple-like bumps that don’t respond to treatment. Even using water on your face can inflame your skin.
3. Your skin is congested
Dehydrated skin is often congested, especially with closed comedones or clogged pores. Unlike regular acne, this type of congestion usually persists until you’ve healed your moisture barrier, making acne treatments useless and often more harmful to an already damaged barrier.
4. Your face feels tight and dry
You know that feeling when you’ve left your clay mask on too long and you smile and it cracks? Sometimes dehydrated skin feels like that all the time, especially after you’ve just washed your face. Even piling on the thickest creams in the world only seems to help temporarily.
Healing Your Damaged Skin Moisture Barrier
If your moisture barrier is damaged, don’t panic — it can be fixed, and it’s usually not that hard. Patience is going to be key, but you’ve got this!
1. Back to basics
So you’ve probably spent years perfecting your skincare routine. Unfortunately, you’ll have to put it on pause for a bit. To give your skin a shot recovery, you must go back to the basics. All you should be using until your barrier is healed is:
- A gentle cleanser such as CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser, Neutrogena Ultra Gentle Daily Cleanser, or Vanicream’s Gentle Cleanser which is a great option for oily and acne-prone skin.
- A simple yet effective moisturizer such as CeraVe Moisturizing Cream, Avène Skin Recovery Cream, or La Roche Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer.
- A gentle broad-spectrum sunscreen (though if your barrier is severely compromised, this could be too much) such as EltaMD UV Clear or La Roche-Posay Anthelios Mineral Face Sunscreen.
2. Be gentle
You may be tempted to throw more products at the problem to speed up the recovery process. But that will be counterproductive. Using gentle products and a gentle touch are crucial.
Set aside your physical exfoliation methods, like a washcloth or Clarisonic, for now. They’ll only cause more irritation and take your moisture barrier longer to heal.
3. Be patient
For most people, sticking with a simple and gentle regimen can return your skin to normal in a couple of weeks. In severe cases, it can take several months — especially if you’re fighting through a harsh, cold winter. Be patient and ride it out.
4. Add a hydration booster
Some products can help speed up healing without causing irritation. Look for anti-aging skincare serums and lotions with hyaluronic acid. These are hydration-boosting powerhouses. Use them before your moisturizer on slightly damp skin to lock in moisture.
5. Ease back in
When your skin is beautifully hydrated and back to normal, it’s tempting to rush back into your old routine. Don’t be in a hurry to undo all of your hard work. Slowly reintroduce the most important products one at a time. This has the benefit of helping your skin readjust, and tips you off if one of your fav products is the culprit of your skincare woes.