How to protect, strengthen, and fix a damaged skin barrier: Tips, tricks, and techniques to try

How to protect, strengthen, and fix a damaged skin barrier: Tips, tricks, and techniques to try

Keep it simple

Text: Emily Heng

In a desperate bid to resemble a glistening dolphin and/or, uh, a sheet of glass, the beauty community has collectively deemed scrubbing, peeling, and sloughing away the top layer of skin as a worthy solution. It explains why retinol and chemical exfoliants have become an integral part of many a routine: they work to expel an accumulation of dead skin cells; a purge, of sorts, to reveal a brighter and younger complexion beneath. And while that's well-and-good, it stands to reason that there some repercussions to scraping off your mien's membrane.

From rosacea to a rough, crepe-like texture, consumers worldwide are speaking out on the adverse effects garnered from using such potent ingredients. The question remains, however: how can you tell when you've crossed the line from healthy to harmful exfoliation? And why is it all happening in the first place? We answer your burning questions, below.

Why is this all happening in the first place?

It all boils down to your skin barrier. That is, the topmost layer of your epidermis; the stratum corneum designed to protect your body from external aggressors such as the sun and pollution. Everything from debris to older skin cells are known amass upon it, which, thus causes skin to look dull and sallow. Enter: exfoliants, retinol, and vitamin C serums to address just that. Except, sometimes, overdoing it causes damage to the barrier which translates to a whole host of other complexion concerns.


How can you tell if you're overdoing it?

Some of the common symptoms include:

  • Heightened skin sensitivity
  • Rosacea
  • Redness
  • Flaking
  • Peeling
  • Skin tightness
  • Itchiness
  • Fine lines
  • Rashes
  • Increased breakouts

It doesn't help if you're living in a dry, humid environment. Or, if you have family members suffering from skin conditions in the vein of eczema and psoriasis, as it means your skin barrier is more fragile which, thus, makes it more prone to damage.

Is there a right way to be using these powerful ingredients?

Yes. The general consensus amongst skincare professionals is to integrate your retinols, chemical exfoliants, and microdermabrasion tools gradually. Begin by using them once or twice a week, and only increase the usage should you feel that its effects aren't as discernable as you'd like. Another pro tip: do not use your exfoliators and retinols in tandem, as it could seriously heighten skin sensitivity — especially if it's done on a daily basis. When in doubt, refer to the product's usage instructions or consult your dermatologist.

What you can you do to heal your skin barrier?

Lucky for you, none of aforementioned effects are incurable. That's not to say that you should just slap on some moisturiser and hope for the best, though. First things first: cut down on the number of products you're using. Ditch any heavily fragranced goods, as well as non-essentials such as toner or serum to reduce the likelihood of irritation. Instead, keep it simple with a gentle cleanser, moisturiser, and sunscreen. When it comes to washing your face, look for a formula that is close to your skin's natural PH (5.7).

Moisturiser-wise, hydrating options that contain ceramides and niacinamides are your best bet. Celebrity aesthetician — and founder of eponymous skincare label — Renée Rouleau also swears by plant oils, where she finds that those rich in fatty acids (e.g. carrot, sunflower, soybean) does wonders for the healing process.

Beyond that, users can also attempt slugging: a viral TikTok trend that comprises "sealing" the skin with an occlusive agent. Simply apply a thin layer of Vaseline after your full skincare routine, and leave it to work its magic overnight. It should be noted, however, that it's not the best route for anyone already suffering from acne-prone skin. In that case, it's probably better to look to products that are actually crafted to mend your skin barrier.

How long does it take for your skin barrier to heal?

On average, it takes about a month for your skin barrier to bounce back. The best way to go about it is to stick to a strict minimalistic regimen, and practice patience in the meantime.