6 ways to fix all the skin barrier concerns you’ll ever have

After all, a damaged and compromised barrier is never a good idea for your skin’s inside-out health in the long run.

Harper's Bazaar India

Look up any beauty community on the Internet—from TikTok and Instagram to Reddit and Twitter—and you’ll find people talking about ‘barrier’ Skin barrier is the trending topic in the beauty circle today. It has suddenly become everyone’s passion project. Today, both brands and consumers are more conscious about the well-being of the skin barrier, which is the foundation of great skin health. This elevated interest, and the abundant information can sometimes get confusing and overwhelming. So, scroll down and bookmark the best six practices to reverse all the agony that your barrier can ever go through.

But first, what exactly damages the barrier?

“Skin barrier, the outermost layer of the skin, is the epidermis or stratum corneum. Skin is composed of interconnected cells and structures such as ceramides, lipids, fatty acids, and natural moisturising factors,” says Mumbai-based celebrity dermatologist Dr Madhuri Agarwal. Thus, for overall skin health, it is of utmost importance to maintain a healthy skin barrier. But before that we need to understand what can disturb a balanced barrier. “Everything that comes in contact with the skin,” says Dr Renita Rajan, dermatologist, Render Skin Clinic. “The sun, wind, skin care products, air conditioning, and also regular scrubbing and rubbing can damage the barrier. Conditions like atopy and psoriasis also cause an inflamed or impaired skin barrier,” she adds. Though the skin barrier plays a solid role in maintaining your internal skin’s health, it’s prone to sensitivity, courtesy of all the aggressors that we expose it to. And, both Dr Agarwal and Dr Rajan believe that barrier damage only worsens with age, given the snowballing dryness as your skin matures. “Ageing also reduces the ability of the skin to recover from barrier damage,” affirms Dr Rajan, giving you enough reason to take charge of your barrier health now. 

6 ways to minimise, and perhaps, undo barrier damage

Identify the trigger

You must first be cognizant of the triggers that potentially stimulate irritation, dryness, or other barrier woes. According to Dr Rajan, this is the most important measure. To help you narrow down on your trigger, she enumerates some common ones, “Smoke contains components which cause acute skin dehydration, recruitment of irritant chemokines and reduced skin barrier repair. Next in line is a high-sugar diet, a poor diet, i.e. lacking in iron and antioxidants; emotional stress and ; sun exposure, are all big contributors to an unhappy skin barrier,” she says.

Limit the frequency of cleansing your face

Let’s admit it: we’re all a little obsessed with that squeaky clean skin. No matter how gentle your face wash is, it’s best to restrict the frequency to twice a day, as excessive cleaning will strip the skin of natural oils and lipids that are essential for protecting the skin barrier, shares Dr Agarwal. Dr Rajan’s rule of thumb is to deeply cleanse if you were exposed to dirt and pollution, and a gentle cleanser when you wash your face in the morning. 

 Keep a tight rein on exfoliation

We cannot stress enough the importance of indulging in exfoliation—both chemical and physical—mindfully. As much as you love the smooth after-feel, you could be putting your skin through a lot. Dr Agarwal tells us that while over-using physical granules can cause microtears in the skin, chemical exfoliation, which usually employs intense acids, can strip the skin lipids. “Physical exfoliation increases skin roughening and pigmentation in Indian skin types. Thus, chemical exfoliation is the only way forward. However, it needs to be short contact. Most chemical exfoliants would complete the exfoliation action in a matter of seconds to minutes. Leaving them longer on the skin in the form of toners does nothing to enhance exfoliation, but instead damages the barrier thoroughly. Exfoliators need to be removed off the skin to reduce barrier damage once their job is done,” advises Dr Rajan.

Cop creams rich in moisture

No matter what serum, toner or essence you use, topping it up with a rich, luxuriously moisturising and skin-enriching moisturiser is non-negotiable, especially when you’re aiming for a fortified barrier. Look for ingredients such as ceramides, hyaluronic acid, panthenol, shea butter, glycerin, colloidal oatmeal, niacinamide, and company. Dr Agarwal explains that while ceramides and other lipids imitate the natural skin barrier actions and repair it, ingredients such as hyaluronic acid and glycerin are humectants that hydrate the barrier by absorbing water from the deeper dermis.

Subscribe to collagen supplements

While collagen isn’t the knight in shining armour, it’s definitely a catalyst that can accelerate the barrier repair journey. “Studies have shown an increase in ceramide content, NMF content, and skin hydration with collagen supplementation, all of which represent improved barrier function. Collagen supplementation has been proven to reduce skin’s fragility and improve its tensile strength and elasticity,” reveals Dr Rajan. Today, a slew of home-grown brands like Cosmix, Inja Wellness, Pure Nutrition, and Oziva offer collagen powders and supplements in interesting flavours.

Keep it simple

There’s an overdose of chemical actives in the market today, but that doesn’t mean you engage with each one of them, unmonitored, just to feed your curiosity at the cost of your skin barrier’s health. “There may be no limit to the number of actives introduced in the market, but there is a limit to how much the skin can accommodate. You can always switch between actives, but should avoid loading too many at the same time,” suggests Dr Rajan. She further adds, “A sunscreen, moisturiser, cleanser, exfoliator, and one or two actives at best, depending on your skin goals are more than sufficient. Support that with internal antioxidants, a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.” According to her, you must skim over awful habits like unnecessary usage of toner, leaving exfoliating acids on the skin for too long, skin bleaching with hydroquinone, tretinoin and vitamin C abuse.