What Is Your Skin Barrier & How To Protect It

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What Is Your Skin Barrier & How To Protect It

Written By:

Alisha Whitley

Keeping your body healthy is important, and that includes your skin. When your skin barrier is strong, it protects your skin from external stressors and locks in moisture; when it’s damaged, irritants and allergens seep in and water evaporates, leaving your skin dull, dry and dehydrated. Here’s everything you need to know about your skin barrier plus our tips to protect it and repair it when it’s damaged. 

What Is Your Skin Barrier

An easy way to understand how your skin barrier works is to think of your skin as a structure made of bricks and mortar. Dr. Hooman Khorasani, MD, a quadruple board-certified dermatologic and skin cancer surgeon in New York City explains: “The skin barrier is provided by structures called lamellar sheets. These sheets are between the cells of the top-most layer of skin called the stratum corneum. These structures are analogous to the mortar between the bricks in the wall of your house.” Lamellar sheets, which are composed of fatty acids, cholesterol and ceramides, hold your skin cells in place and keep your stratum corneum intact. 

These structures are analogous to the mortar between the bricks in the wall of your house.

What Does It Do?

Your skin barrier acts like a security guard for your skin. It shields your skin from bacteria and irritants and seals in moisture and hydration. Skin with a healthy barrier is well hydrated, moisturized, resilient and flexible. It can better withstand the negative effects of environmental stress and ages gracefully. On the other hand, a thin or weak barrier allows irritants in and hydration out. This causes dullness, dryness and sensitivity and can lead to inflammation and premature aging.

How Does It Become Damaged?

Over time, your skin barrier can become impaired. Aging, exposure to environmental stressors and everyday activities like over cleansing cause cumulative damage that compromises its structure. Remember our brick and mortar analogy? Without proper care, the mortar between the bricks weakens and cracks begin to emerge. These make space for bacteria and irritants to enter the skin and for moisture and hydration to escape. 

Here are a few things that can cause your skin barrier to become damaged:

  • Natural aging
  • Pollution
  • UV exposure
  • Blue light
  • Bacteria
  • Stress
  • Poor diet
  • Harsh chemical skin care
  • Over cleansing and over exfoliating
  • Extreme temperatures
  • Genetic conditions such as psoriasis

What Happens When It’s Damaged?

One of the primary effects of skin barrier damage is transepidermal water loss (TEWL). Through this process, hydration and moisture passively evaporate through the compromised barrier, leading to dryness and dehydration. This compounds the visible signs of aging and contributes to inflammation, sensitivity and a dull-looking complexion.

In addition to loss of moisture, skin with a damaged barrier is left bare to environmental assaults by pollution, UV rays and blue light. These are three key contributors to accelerated aging, causing the skin to develop fine lines and wrinkles as well as lose volume and elasticity. 

With a weakened barrier, your skin also becomes exposed to irritants, microbes and allergens. When these penetrate the stratum corneum, they can cause inflammation, redness and sensitivity. For those with genetic conditions such as eczema and rosacea, an impaired barrier can exacerbate symptoms.

Healthy vs unhealthy skin barrier graphic


How can you tell if your skin barrier is damaged? These are a few telltale signs that your skin barrier has weakened:

  • Dryness
  • Dehydration
  • Flakiness
  • Redness
  • Irritation
  • Fine lines and wrinkles

How Can You Protect And Repair It?

Now that you know skin barrier damage does to your complexion, how can you protect and repair it?

1. Apply Sunscreen Daily

Rule number one for a healthy skin barrier: Apply sunscreen every single day. Dr. Khorasani recommends applying a daily sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher and avoiding sun exposure when the UV index is at its highest (from 10am to 4pm).

We recommend our Lilikoi Mineral Defense Moisturizer SPF 40. This mineral sunscreen provides lightweight protection from UV rays as well as an additional defense against the drying effects of exposure to pollution and other environmental stressors.

2. Keep Skin Moisturized

Another way to protect your skin barrier is to keep it moisturized and hydrated. In addition to keeping your skin hydrated internally by drinking plenty of water, you can apply skin care with ingredients that replenish and retain your skin’s natural moisture.

Snow mushroom is one such ingredient that rivals the humectant properties of hyaluronic acid. You can find this deeply hydrating ingredient in our Birch Water Purifying Essence, Snow Mushroom & Reishi Masque and Snow Mushroom Moisture Cloud Eye Cream.

3. Look For Antioxidant-Rich Ingredients

You can protect your skin against the drying effects of environmental stressors by loading up on antioxidants – both in your diet and your skin care. Antioxidants fight free radicals to minimize the visible signs of aging brought on by oxidative damage.

Look for ingredients like Vitamin C, mangosteen, birch water and lilikoi for a potent dose of antioxidants. We recommend applying our Citrus & Kale Potent C+E Serum which is rich in Vitamin C, E and ferulic acid.

4. Choose Organic Skin Care

Avoid chemical skin care that can disrupt your skin barrier. Instead, seek out natural, organic and biodynamic products that maintain strength and integrity. These types of ingredients infuse the skin with beneficial nutrients that optimize its health and fortify its barrier.

When shopping for your favorite skin care products, beware of counterfeit cosmetics masquerading as the real thing. These often include ineffective and even harmful ingredients – that won’t do your skin barrier any favors.

5. Protect The Skin Microbiome

Part of maintaining a healthy skin barrier is keeping your skin microbiome balanced. The microbiome is a community of bacteria that live on the surface of your skin. Environmental stressors can disturb our skin’s microbiome, affecting the skin’s moisture barrier and leading to dry, dull, and reactive skin. Gently prime your skin and restore its natural balance with the nourishing Kombucha Microbiome Balancing Essence. A blend of pre, pro* and postbiotics work harmoniously to enhance luminosity while key ingredients like white tea and jasmine flower soothe dry, dull skin for a healthy-looking glow. You can also use the Kombucha Microbiome Foaming Cleanser. This lightweight liquid-to-foam cleanser is crafted with targeted micellar technology to gently remove impurities without over-stripping the skin.

Curious about which products to use to keep your skin barrier intact? Chat with a licensed esthetician at an Eminence Organics Spa Partner to find the best products for your skin type and skin concerns.

*These products do not contain live probiotic cultures. 

This article was originally written in October 2019. 

Product picks first

Kombucha Microbiome Foaming Cleanser Kombucha Microbiome Balancing Essence

Updated By

Thea Christie

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