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Impaired skin barrier? Let’s fix it!

First things first. Let’s start with what is what.

Is your shield compromised?

Skin barrier?

The skin barrier or hydrolipidic film is comprised of sebum and lipids and as such acts as your skin’s natural protection against environmental damage and water loss. Both functions are paramount for your skin health and radiant skin appearance. If your skin barrier is healthy, it effectively retains water and has the right balance of lipids, it is resilient and flexible. While everybody has a skin barrier, some can have a naturally weaker barrier (dry, sensitive, thinner skin types) but some manage to damage theirs, due to lack of knowledge. Been there, done that….

Is my skin barrier impaired?

You would be surprised how many people have an impaired skin barrier, and the funny thing is – many of them are actually putting some effort in their skincare. Just not the appropriate one…because at the end, the most damaging is inappropriate skincare destroying your skin’s pH balance, with cleansing as one of the main culprits. The skin barrier in general is not such a fragile princess, your skin tends to be resilient and it is eager to recover itself, but if you abuse it repeatedly, with harsh cleansers, exfoliation, excessive use of potent active ingredients, sodium bicarbonate peelings etc. well, at some point, it just can take it anymore, and then it gets really ugly. The most common symptoms of an impaired skin barrier, thus sensitized skin are:

  • Dehydration and tightness from lack of water, because your skin has lost its capability to retain water. Your skin can be dehydrated yet very oily, because it tries to compensate!
  • Acne breakouts due to excess sebum since your skin is struggling really hard to compensate.
  • Itchiness, flakiness, eczema, redness, soreness due to dehydration and lack of shield from external irritants like bacteria, pollution, UV rays, smoke, skincare ingredients etc.
  • Dull, uneven, rough skin, because everything above.

As you may notice, all this symptoms could be easily attributed to sensitive skin but the difference is, sensitive skin is a skin type, whereas sensitized skin is  a result of a damaged skin barrier. Basically the same applies to the difference between dehydrated or dry skin. Dry skin is a type, dehydrated skin is an aquired condition.

So think, was your skin always like this, or it went berserk somewhere along the way?

While with sensitive skin there isn’t much to do, you just have to »get over it« and adapt your skincare accordingly, you can most definitely repair an impaired skin barrier.

Eucerin Atopicontrol Face Care Cream and Eucerin Aquaphor helped me restore my skin barrier

How can I repair my skin barrier?

The first and foremost, you need to be patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your skin barrier wasn’t destroyed in a day either. It needs its time and you have to be willing to give it and take it easy. How long? It depends on your skin type, how long was your skin abused and how much damage it suffered, but I’d say from at least 1 to even 6 months.

I have dry and sensitive skin and I sensitized my skin by abusing active ingredients – I needed a 6 months rehab.

So, how the rehab works:

  • Adapt your cleansing routine, you can read more about it here: click
  • Back to basics: drop all cosmetic products with active ingredients (vitamin C, retinoids, acids). ALL of them, except vitamin B. The only skincare you’re allowed to use are replenishing natural moisturizers, ceramides, vitamin B and different occlusive products that act like a makeshift skin barrier and retain moisture while yours is healing. Avoid any cosmetic products that have higher concentrations of irritants like perfume, alcohol denat, higher concentrations of essential oils, etc.
  • Use sun protection diligently. Choose a product that is intended for sensitive skin.
  • Always avoid (even when your skin becomes healthy): hot water, sun exposure, mechanical peelings, cosmetic products with inappropriate pH.

If you’re afraid you’re going to become granny material during this rehab (like I did), don’t. You can still use replenishing moisturizers or serums with peptides that have also anti-aging proprieties and after the worst is behind you, you can also use some gentler and less potent forms of actives and enzyme peelings.

And don’t forget. Once you are »out of the woods« keep your freshly acquired skincare habits and don’t rush into too much, too soon. Less is always more. Check my other skincare basics posts for more information!

NIOD CAIS serum and The Ordinary 10% Niacinamide, also helped me with skin regeneration and added the missing anti-aging touch

I think I hear your thoughts now. You would like to know which products are in the skin barrier approved bandwagon, right? Here are some suggestions for the back to basics skincare:

Cleansing:

  • Skintegra Atomic, 200 ml, 20€, Superskin
  • Hada Labo Super Hyaluronic Acid Cleansing Foam, 160 ml, 10€, Ebay
  • Jessa Intimpflege Parfumfrei, 300 ml 2,50€, Drogerie Markt

Lighter moisturizers (hydration, replenishing)

  • Near Skin Total Ceramide Cream, 50 ml, 25€, Missha Slovenija (my review: click)
  • Skintegra Lunar, 30 ml, 22€, Superskin (has anti-aging proprieties too!)
  • Eucerin Atopicontrol Face Care Cream, 50 ml, 15€, Pharmacy

Heavier moisturizers / occlusives (a makeshift skin barrier)

  • COSRX Ultimate Nourishing Rice Overnight Spa Mask, 110 ml, 21€, Lookfantastic
  • Eucerin Aquaphor Repairing Ointment, 45ml, 9€, 45 ml, Pharmacy
  • Bioderma Cicabio Crème Réparatrice, 40 ml, 9€, Pharmacy

Serums with skin-regeneration proprieties (regeneration, resilience)

  • Copper Amino Isolate Serum 2:1 (CAIS2), 15 ml, 47€, Superskin
  • Skintegra Hydra B Advanced Hydration Serum, 30 ml, 15€, Superskin
  • The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc, 30 ml, 8€, Superskin

The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%, so far my favourite vitamin B

As always, if you have any questions – shoot!

Ciao!

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Hi there,

    I severely damaged my moisture barrier by using harsh topicals and cleansers and over-washing for nearly 10 years, with sporadic breaks from doing anything to my skin. Dermatologists just kept prescribing different topicals and never told me that my skin was chronically dehydrated. I discovered what was going on about 3 years ago, and for a long time did absolutely nothing to my skin to let it recover. And then over 1 YEAR ago, I started using hyrdrating products like niacin, urea, vitamin c, snail cream, etc and also dermarolling occasionally to help with product absorption. My skin is definitely improving, but it’s still really inflamed and the skin is still orange-peel like. I’m worried that complete recovery will never happen because I damaged my skin for so long. Do you have any advice? Is this normal? How much longer do you think it will take? Are there any ways to speed the process up?

    Thank you so much. Any feedback you can give is appreciated!

    1. Hi Zach!
      .
      Ditch the dermarolling right now. Needles are just for doctors and qualified personnel in a sterile and safe environment to use. With home devices at the end you do more harm than good – just making small, UNEVEN wounds and TEARS that actually don’t have any real purpose in terms of promoting collagen production or product absorption, it just exposes your skin to deeper inflammation. Even on healthy skin is not recommended, so just put it away. Your products will absorb just OK without it.
      .
      Go back to basics – you listed nice products, but if you put them all on your skin at the same time you also put many preservatives and mix ingredients that are not compatible. Too many preservatives and active ingredients that don’t match together harm your skin (please read my post about layering products). Ditch the Vitamin C if you use it in an acidic form (ascorbic acid) and any other active ingredients that are acidic or strong. Use only Niacinamide, Panthenol or Copper Peptides. If you’re really fond of Vitamin C at this point opt out for the non-acidic Tetra form. Snail mucus is also OK if you have a quality product – check the ingredient list, make sure it doesn’t contain perfumes, alcohol denat, or too many ingredients in general.
      .
      Keep it simple in terms of layering and in terms of products. Short ingredients lists, no perfumes, no harsh ingredients whatsoever. Don’t layer more than 3 products at the time. Example routines:
      .
      Morning:
      – Gentle cleansing with a gentle cleanser (e.g. Hada Labo Foam)
      – Niacinamide Serum (Paula’s Choice Niacinamide Booster or The Ordinary Niacinamide 10%)
      – Replenishing simple moisturizers for sensitive / eczema skin, like Eucerin Atopicontrol, Missha Total Cearamides, Bioderma Cicabio, Paula’s Choice Omega cream, or any products you have with Urea if it is for sensitive/damaged skin
      – SPF cream with physical sunscreen (important for redness and reducing inflammation due to heat)
      .
      Evening:
      – Gentle DOUBLE cleansing (Hada Labo Oil + Foam)
      – Restoring serum with Copper Peptides (The Ordinary or NIOD) or Paula’s Choice Calm serum
      – Replenishing simple moisturizer (stated above)
      – Vaseline as a mask! To close in the moisture and other restoring goodies and to promote better absorption (a safe and gentle alternative to dermarolling). You can soak off the excess with a towel before sleep, leave it overnight and wash it in the morning. Vaseline acts as a healthy skin barrier and helps close all the moisture in your skin. But don’t use it during the day, because it also blocks the moisture from the atmosphere to get in your skin. It is just a nigh time mask!
      .
      You can use enzyme peelings if your skin feels rough or in need of exfoliation, but just once a week.
      .
      You shall see improvement fairly quickly if you’ll stick to a simple routine without too much layering and with simple sensitive skin products. I’m not sure how your routine looks now – but if it is more elaborated than the listed above this might be the reason your recovery is not going as it should be. There’s also that you might have some underlying skin conditions like eczema, rosacea etc. – if even after you simplify everything your skin doesn’t improve go to see a doctor to exclude any skin conditions. Otherwise, after a long abuse your skin needs a long recovery, so don’t give up! It is normal and it can be undone, just stick to the less is more protocol and keep it simple, don’t experiment, don’t rotate different products, make sure your products don’t contain ANY harsh ingredients,etc.
      .
      Check also my other posts about cleansing, rinsing the micellar water (if you’re using it), layering skincare products and SPF – they are full of useful information for your condition.
      .
      Keep me posted!

  2. Hi Tika,

    Very helpful article.

    I ended up with a compromised skin barrier thanks to laser hair removal which also left me with hyperpigmentation.

    I’ve been using stratia products, mainly liquid gold and other repair snail creams and it helped but still stuck with dull uneven skin which is prone to redness.

    I’ve been told that once the skin barrier has been compromised, although you can “repair” the damage, it will never be as good as it was before.

    I never used to use any moisturiser or SPF and had glowing skin whereas now I use everything beneficial to skin and skin looks dull and uneven.

    Any advice?

    Oh I forgot to say I’m treating the hyperpigmentation with mandelic acid.

    1. Hi Monzah! Stratia Liquid Gold is actually one of the most effective products for restoring an impaired skin barrier, so this is definitely a good choice. It is partially true about the permanent damage – partially because it depends on what caused the damage and if you have any underlying skin conditions – e.g. like rosacea. But mostly it can actually be undone if you’re diligent and patient.
      .
      I have Atopic dermatitis and my barrier will never be as strong as a normal skin barrier on healthy skin, but I can still manage to live without any noticeable problems. I’ll suggest you to really SIMPLFY your skincare routines for at least six months, don’t switch products, don’t layer too much, DITCH any product that is not necessary. While snail mucus has some beneficial proprieties for sensitized skin it also comes mixed up with ingredients that are not all that good (it depends on which product you use, but it is better safe than sorry…). Don’t layer too many products – especially the watery ones because they contain lots of preservatives that have a deteriorating effect on your barrier and skin (please check out my post about layering skincare products – I’ve explained why less is more especially when you’re dealing with an impaired skin barrier or sensitive skin). As you noticed before you had lovely skin despite not having any proper skincare routine – this is often the case when you start using too many products in an attempt to save the skin. Not a good protocol, so cut everything that is not necessary and keep it simple. Regarding SPF – while it might seem redundant when you’re younger and healthy it is actually paramount for healthy skin, because the damage accumulates through years and one day you wake up with all that damage on your face with interests – it is like drinking too much. You feel okay for hours and then the last shot knocks you off – is the same with skin and accumulated sun damage, one day is just enough and everything comes out. If you have hyperpigmentations it is really necessary to find a good SPF product to use everyday (read my posts about SPF).
      .
      Basically, get back to basics and simplify. Use Stratia LG and in the evening cover it up with some vaseline to close all the goodies and moist in your skin. Use Vaseline as a mask and just soak the excess with a towel before sleeping, wash it off in the morning with a gentle cleanser. If you use micellar water make sure you ALWAYS wash it off (I have a post about that too). Use a PHYSICAL (not chemical!) sunscreen (Like Niod Survival 30 or Neostrata Sheer Protection). Consider double cleansing with very gentle products – Hada Labo has some good options. Check my posts about double cleansing and rinsing the micellar water. Consider including some NIACINAMIDE and COPPER PEPTIDES in your routine to use it under Stratia. Layer maximum of 3 products at the time and only one can be “watery” (serum).
      .
      Ditch the Mandelic for some time (and any other acids). While mandelic is quite gentle could be anyway too stripping. I know hyperpigmentations can be a bi*ch to deal with, but consider this option – switch the acid with Vitamin C in the non-acidic tetra from which can have also healing proprieties (check The Ordinary for the Tetra form) to address the hyperpigmentation. Use it in the mornings over some Copper peptides or Niacinamide.
      .
      For exfoliation purposes opt-out for enzyme peelings – they are well tolerated and much more gentle compared to acids with the basically same effect. Use them only once a week, the best ones are usually in a powder form.
      .
      I hope this helps a little bit! Keep it simple and keep me posted.

  3. Hi I damaged my skin barrier in January with a harsh toner. Ever since
    I’m having breakout sensitised skin . Been to dermatologist to just be prescribed antibiotic or protopics. I have had a skin analysis that shows my skin is tipid dry. My skin is in a terrible dull way n sensitised with spots. X

    1. Hi Fallon,
      .
      try with the damaged barrier protocol, avoid any harsh ingredients, and keep it really simple.
      Did your doctor check if you have any underlying skin conditions? Because antibiotics can be an overkill if there’s only the damaged barrier issue. I’d suggest you to be very patient and don’t do any experiments or use too many products in an attempt to speed the healing process, just use a quality neutral moisturizer (Check also for CeraVe) with some occlusives in the evening, check my cleansing and SPF protection posts – like suggested in the article. Some of my answers above might be useful too. I can’t suggest you anything more than that because I’m not sure what you’re dealing with and if you got any diagnosis from your doctor.

  4. Hi again, just that I was having breakouts my mum also is suffering with this from the same product. I need some kind of routine that won’t clog my pores but will help because I feel my skin is now overproducing oil but dry at the same time

    1. Hi Fallon, it looks like it could be an impaired skin barrier but when it comes to skin the problem can be really complex and it can not be dealt with only through comments and my guesswork.
      .
      If you have breakouts you could try with azelaic acid and niacinamide. The latter controls sebum AND heals your skin at the same time. Nevertheless, you’ll need some moisturizer and occlusives to seal the moisture in your skin at least on evenings (not during the day). Which product will clog your pores it is not easy to predict, because this depends on each skin specifically. All this is VERY “in general”, as said you need a personalized approach and some testing. How about visiting some Esthetician? If you’re from the US you shall have some good options.
      .
      In general, you can start with considering:
      .
      Niacinamide AM
      Azelaic acid (at least 10%) PM if your skin tolerates it
      A light moisturizer PM (find something that doesn’t clog your pores, – this is very individual, something neutral, non-scented)
      An occlusive moisturizer as a mask PM – if your skin barrier is impaired Vaseline is the best option – wear it like a mask before sleeping to retain all the moisture.
      .
      Check out my post about skin cleansing. It is very important! And SPF during the day.
      .
      I hope you’ll find a solution soon.

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