"Your skin barrier is the protective layer that guards you from the environment and stops your skin from losing fluids," explains Purvisha Patel, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Visha Skincare. "It's made up of lipids and cells." When it's not functioning at its best, it can't do its job at an optimal level, which means your skin can get damaged.
"The more irritated or damaged it is, the less effectively it maintains the moisture barrier," says Rachel Nazarian, MD, a New York-based dermatologist. This results in things like dryness, inflammation, and sensitized skin. "A normal, healthy skin barrier means your skin is even, toned, and smooth, with no redness or inflammation," says Dr. Patel. Yes, please. Keep reading for the four expert-approved ways to keep your skin barrier thriving.
1. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
Keeping your skin moisturized is essential for happy skin, and it's also a key part of maintaining your barrier. "Ceramides, glycerin, and other lipophilic agents act like cement and help heal the cracks to restore moisture," says Dr. Patel, who stresses that you should moisturize your skin daily with these ingredients. Gentle moisturizer options include this Skinfix Barrier+ Lipid-Peptide Lotion ($38) or La Roche-Posay Toleriane Moisturizer ($20).
2. Don't overdo it with your products
Less is more when we're talking about your skin's barrier, so try to keep your active ingredients in check and don't strip skin of its natural oils. "Overly exfoliating with products that use strong acids or harsh ingredients can strip the skin barrier and make your skin worse," says Dr. Patel. Too much stimulation will just make your skin angry, so it's all about being gentle and giving your skin room to do its own healing (which it's totally capable of, BTW). "Remember to treat your skin delicately—not over-washing, over-scrubbing, or using random products, so that you don't destruct the sensitive acid mantle barrier," says Dr. Nazarian, adding that you should stay away from abrasive scrubs. It's still important to exfoliate though, so that you rid your face of built-up gunk and debris. Dr. Patel's advice? Exfoliate about once a week.
3. Stay sun protected
Another seemingly obvious tip is to wear sunscreen, because your skin's barrier can actually get really damaged if you're not slathering on the SPF 24/7. "Sunscreen or an SPF that's greater than 30 should be worn everyday as part of a skin-care routine to protect from ultraviolet radiation from the sun and from HEV radiation from computers and inside devices," says Dr. Patel. "If you don't wear SPF regularly, there's exposure of your skin to ultraviolet radiation and the cells in the skin get damaged, leading to photo-aging and even skin cancers. The collagen breaks down." You're even prone to this damage when it's rainy or snowy, because, as Dr. Patel points out, UV radiation bounces off of surfaces to then hit your skin.
4. Balance your pH
Having a well-balanced pH level is one of the secrets to a healthy skin barrier, but it's also tricky to stay on top of. "Skin maintains its barrier best around 5.5, which is slightly acidic," says Dr. Nazarian. "Any great deviation, either too high of a pH or too low, throws the ecosystem of skin off, and causes inflammation and irritation." To guard against this, Dr. Nazarian recommends reading skin-care product labels for stating it's "pH balanced."
Also important? "Classic soaps are too alkaline," she says. Steer clear of sulfates in cleansers, since these strip your skin of its natural oils, and instead suds up with our beauty editors' fave pH-balanced face wash: the Fresh Soy Cleanser ($38). Then feed your skin with nourishing, barrier-backing serums like Marie Veronique's Soothing B3 Serum ($90) and Neutrogena's Hydro Boost Vitamin E & Hyaluronic Acid Serum ($18). Your skin's barrier will show you thanks with a gorgeous, healthy glow.
To stay hydrated, here are some editor-approved dry skin moisturizers to stock up on. And this is what to know about "The Big Four," AKA the most important skin-care products that you really need, according to derms.
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