The year 2023 has brought to light the importance of good skin health through a robust skin barrier. The prevalence of red, itchy skin as a result of the excessive use of actives or harsh skincare routines, along with a desire for more intuitive approaches to skincare, has led to a growing trend in skin barrier health. With a staggering 129.5 million views on TikTok for the search term “skin barrier repair”, it is no wonder dermatologists and skin care professionals are urging their clients to prioritize skin barrier health.
Intrinsic and extrinsic factors can cause skin barrier disruption. Intrinsic factors include skin barrier diseases that have a genetic component, such as eczema and ichthyosis, as well as high levels of stress and illness. Extrinsic factors include excessive exposure to harsh weather elements such as too much sun or wind, exposure to potential chemical irritants such as certain active skin-care ingredients like AHAs and retinoids, and soaps containing SLS or physical irritants that can scrub the skin. Pollution, smoking, poor sleep, and allergens can also damage the skin barrier.
According to consultant dermatologist Dr. Anjali Mahto, the overuse of actives and using too many products simultaneously is the most common reason for skin barrier impairment. When the skin is overwhelmed, the barrier becomes compromised. Signs of an impaired skin barrier include the inability to retain moisture, dryness, tightness, ashy or flaky skin, irritation or stinging upon applying any chemical formula, acne breakouts, rosacea, and eczema. The skin may also appear redder or darker than its original color, and itchiness is a common symptom. The texture of the skin may become bumpier and rougher.
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Sensitive skin is more predisposed to skin barrier impairment, making it essential to keep the skin barrier strong and healthy. Age is also a factor in skin barrier health as the skin slows down its production of lipids, ceramides, and hydration as we get older.
To repair an impaired skin barrier, one must first identify and eliminate any triggers that may contribute to skin barrier damage. Simplify the skincare routine and avoid retinoids or acids in particular. Opt for a nourishing, calming, and fragrance-free cleansing milk or cream. Continue with the skincare routine and avoid changing it too much since it takes time to get things under control.
Ceramide-rich moisturizers that incorporate hyaluronic acid can help soothe and hydrate the skin. Dr. Mary Sommerlad recommends Vichy Mineral 89 as a good serum, followed by a comforting moisturizer. Several restorative moisturizers that cater to every budget are on the market, including La Roche-Posay’s Cicplast Baume B5, Cetaphil’s Rich Night Cream, and SkinCeuticals’s Epidermal Repair, which can help restore the skin barrier to its former self. Barrier-building ingredients like ceramides, niacinamide, and fatty acids help improve dryness and strengthen the barrier. Facialist Shane Cooper suggests using red light therapy to take down the inflammation and initiate the reparative process. It can be done using an at-home LED mask or by visiting a facialist. He combines this treatment with several rich skincare formulas to restore moisture.
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Besides simplifying the skincare routine, it is crucial to avoid anything that manually exfoliates the skin, like overly rough face cloths or scrubs. Additionally, use lukewarm water to avoid further irritation. It is vital to note that there is no quick fix, but if one incorporates these tips, the skin should heal as quickly as possible. Long-term damage can take upwards of three months to repair.