Complete guide to skin barrier repair [restore damaged skin lipid barrier with these proven steps]

Complete guide to skin barrier repair [restore damaged skin lipid barrier with these proven steps]

A damaged skin barrier leaves no one untouched. Not only will it make your skin more sensitive and dry. It can also cause intense redness, scaling, and burning sensation on the face. Affecting your everyday life.

This post will explain why this happens. And most importantly, give you a step by step guide on how to heal the damaged skin barrier as quickly as possible. And restore the skin lipids that are needed for healthy skin. 

This is what I’ll cover:

  • What is Skin Barrier, and how does it get damaged?
  • Skin Barrier repair step 1 – Remodel your skincare regimen
  • Skin Barrier repair step 2 – The ingredients to stop using completely
  • Skin Barrier repair step 3 – Use sunscreen wisely
  • Skin Barrier repair step 4 – Heal your skin from the inside
  • Skin Barrier repair step 5 – Control cortisol 
  • How long does it take?
  • Summary 

What is Skin Barrier, and how does it get damaged?

The skin barrier is the outermost part of the outermost layer of the skin (the epidermis). 

This shield is the first protection against harsh elements from the environment. And it also plays an important role in keeping moisture in your skin. Preventing it from dehydration.

To be even more specific, the skin barrier itself consists of several organizations. It’s quite complex but to make it simple, you can see it as three departments. 

1 – The Chemical Barrier

The outermost is called the chemical barrier, or acid mantle. And consists of a friendly skin microbiome that needs a slightly acid pH to function properly.

This chemical barrier can be disrupted with too much use of antibacterial products. Too many conservatives. Or products with the wrong pH. 

2 – Stratum Corneum

The second institution of the skin barrier is the stratum corneum. And consists of so-called dead skin cells (corneocytes).

These are not really dead at all. They play an important role in protecting the skin. So over-exfoliating is never a good idea. 

3 – The Moisture Barrier

The third part is called the moisture barrier and consists of lipids (a mixture of ceramides, cholesterol, and free fatty acids).

They are very important for preventing water loss. And they are also often damaged by over-exfoliating or over-washing. Sun-exposure is another common culprit. 

The skin barrier repair methods I used to restore my own damaged skin barrier
This post explains the causes to a damaged skin barrier, and how to fix it according to science.

Other things that can disrupt and damage the skin barrier are too many active ingredients in your skincare routine, dry climate, stress, medication, hormonal changes, and intense facial treatments. 

My own skin barrier was a real mess after experimenting with retinol and Retin-A a few years ago. I learned the hard way that those ingredients can be really injurious for my kind of skin type (I explain more in this post about Retinol)

Also, be aware that genetic factors can make you more prone to develop atopic dermatitis and other kinds of eczema. A skin barrier disruption is the first step in developing Atopic dermatitis so it’s important to take it seriously. And to always seek a dermatologist if the condition prolongs or if you know that the condition runs in your family. 

Another thing to be aware of is that your skin barrier will be more prone to disruption with age.

What does a damaged skin barrier look like?

When the skin barrier gets damaged or weakened, you will usually experience increased sensitivity, redness, and dryness. Sometimes itchiness, blemishes, and skin infections can occur too (if that happens, always seek a dermatologist).

The obvious sign is intense redness. And if the lipid barrier is disrupted, water is easily evaporating. Which gives you a dryer skin.  

Since your skin is more exposed and more vulnerable, you will probably start to react to products you are already using and have been using in your beauty routine for a while.

So now that we know what a damaged skin barrier is and can look like. How do we resolve it? The following steps will give you a prompt solution. 

But as mentioned above. Always seek a dermatologist if you are unsure about your condition and/or if you are experiencing skin infections or suspect atopic dermatitis.

With that said, here are the 5 proven steps that will help your skin to restore itself. Including its acid mantle and skin lipid barrier.

Skin barrier repair step 1 – Remodel your skincare regimen

The first step in allowing your skin to heal is to reset your skincare routine to only the essentials. And you have to be really strict about this. 

With a weakened skin lipid barrier, your skin will not be able to handle more than the basics. And you need to be very cautious about the products you use. 

Gentle cleanser

A cleanser is needed but it has to be super mild and without any Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS). Since SLS has a strong alkalizing effect on the skin and also strips your skin of natural lipids. 

My favorite cleanser is this one from Bioderma. It’s one of the few facial cleansers that actually cleanses efficiently but without any stripping. And it also has ingredients that help to strengthen your skin barrier. 

If you want to read my review of this cleanser, you found it here.

Super mild toner

Secondly, you need a mild toner to help improve pH-balance in your skin. I recommend a mild micellar water. Either this one from Bioderma. Or this one from Filorga that I use myself. 

They are both very similar, just as gentle, and both developed for the most sensitive skin types. But Filorgas is a bit more soothing and it also has zinc which helps calm inflammation. 

In the morning you may not even need the regular cleanser and can instead just go with either of these two micellar waters. 

If you want to learn more about micellar waters and the one I use, see this post. And be aware that many other micellar waters can be really irritating and problematic for the skin.

Best cleanser to use when skin barrier is damaged.
My personal favorites when it comes to cleanser (and toner). They are super mild and help lower inflammation and rebuild your skin barrier.

Moisturizer

The next step is a moisturizer, because it’s critical to keep a damaged skin barrier well hydrated. 

The moisturizer should contain the humectant glycerin and some fats to lock in the moisture in your skin. But not any of the ingredients listed in step 3. 

Glycerin is an important ingredient since it improves skin function, accelerates healing, keeps the skin hydrated, and protects against further irritation and inflammation

My favorite moisturizer is this one from Bioderma. And you can read my review of it here. It has helped my skin a ton! And I keep using it every single day now. 

Another cream I can recommend that you combine with during times when the skin is extra vulnerable is this SOS cream from Bioderma. You can read my review on this post

Both of these creams also have great anti aging ingredients without being too active for the skin. Instead, they are calming, healing, and protecting. 

If you want another option I can also recommend this cream from Avene. It is very calming and two of the main ingredients are glycerin and squalane, which provides a very healing effect.

Best moisturizers for skin barrier repair
These are the products I recommend for all sensitive skin types and when the skin barrier is damaged. My favorite is the first one and I use it every day.

Or if your skin barrier is very damaged, this very thick and healing cream from the same brand is a great option too. It is quite similar to the SOS cream from Bioderma. But I personally prefer Bioderma better. 

Make up?

If you can stay away from makeup, or just wear minimal of it, that would be to prefer. At the same time, it is understandable to want to cover up all the redness. 

My best suggestion would be this BB cream from Jane Iredale. It gives a lot of coverage without any irritation. It also has many healing ingredients and SPF 20.

And on top of that, it gives you an amazing glow!

Best foundation for damaged skin barrier.
This BB cream will cover all the redness without irritating your skin barrier further.

A solid sunscreen is also super important in your skincare routine. But I have that covered separately in step 3 below. 

First, let’s explain the ingredients you must avoid when your skin barrier is weakened. 

Skin barrier repair step 2 – The ingredients to stop using completely

During a healing phase, it’s important to not use ingredients that can irritate or dry out your skin further. 

As mentioned in step 1, your skincare routine has to be super simple during this phase. And this list will help you exclude all the ingredients that can make the situation worse. 

Fragrances, essential oils, and physical and chemical exfoliants

First of all. You need to completely cut out all fragrances, essential oils, and exfoliants. Such as salicylic acid (BHA) and the different AHAs like lactic acid, glycolic acid, and malic acid. 

Vitamin C, Retinol, and Peptides

You also need to pause from any Vitamin C, peptides, and Retinol (and other retinoids) since these are very active ingredients. Too active for your skin at this moment of healing and restoring. 

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

You should never ever use SLS in your cleanser. As mentioned already in step one. And that is a good rule to follow regardless of if your skin barrier is damaged or not. It can be the very cause of it (and the same goes for fragrances and many essential oils).

Facial cleansing tools

Also, stay away from facial cleansing tools since they will most likely over-cleanse your skin and cause more irritations. 

The only cleansing device that can be an option is this Foreo Luna. But preferably, just use your fingers. 

DIY

Make sure to also stay away from DIY masks and lotions. At this moment you need professional and allergy tested products and must not experiment.

Hyaluronic acid

Be careful with using Hyaluronic Acid. This powerful humectant is heavily marketed and is included in a lot of skincare products these days.

But if you live in a dry climate it can actually cause dehydration. Since it will pull too much water from your skin layers underneath the surface.

So, unless you live in a humid climate, make sure to avoid Hyaluronic acid or only use it in products where it is listed further down the ingredient list. 

LMW Hyaluronic acid

Stop completely with Low molecular weight Hyaluronic acid. This ingredient has been advertised as the better sort of hyaluronic acid, since it penetrates deeper into your skin. Unfortunately, newer studies have shown it triggers inflammation and I suggest you avoid it completely. Regardless if your skin barrier is disrupted or not.

The best and safest way to increase hyaluronic acid in your skin is to enhance your body’s own production of it. See step 4 and step 5 for how to do that. 

Steroid creams

Other things to be careful with are topical steroid creams. This is something you need to discuss with your dermatologist. But be aware that hydrocortisone creams (which are often prescribed for eczema and allergic reactions) can cause thinning of the skin.

It is also a known trigger of rosacea and perioral dermatitis.

Niacinamide

Another ingredient you may want to be cautious about is Niacinamide. It has some great effects on the skin and can even help improve the barrier function. But if used in high concentrations it can also be very irritating.

It is very individual but you may want to take a rest from that ingredient until your skin is more restored. Or use it in lower concentrations.


Finally. Stop with all kinds of facial treatments at this time. There is one exception, and that is a specific program with the microcurrent device called ZIIP.  

One of the programs that comes with that device is especially made for healing and restoring the skin. And it uses super gentle current that will speed up healing without being too active. 

If you have never heard of microcurrent I recommend you check out this post. 

Skin Barrier Repair step 3 – Use sunscreen wisely

Sun exposure is quite often a cause of damaged skin barrier. And even when it’s not the main cause, exposure to UV-radiation will hinder your skin barrier from healing. And cause even more damage.

Therefore, sun protection is more important than ever. And at the same time, you have to be even more cautious about what ingredients it has. Since many sunscreens can cause irritations. 

I have two sunscreens I can recommend. If you live in Europe I urge you to try the Evy facial mousse sunscreen spf 50. It is my first hand choice for so many reasons. Like for example it gives superior protection against UVA as well as UVB. Which makes it great for anti aging. 

But it also has a patented formula that gives you protection for 8 hours, even when bathing and sweating is involved. And besides the protection from UV-damage, Evy also soothes and moisturizes your skin. And helps the skin barrier to heal. You find it on this link.

If you live in the US I recommend another sunscreen that I have found to be the next best thing (since Evy isn’t distributed in the US yet). And that is Elta MD UV Sport SPF 50.

Elta MD will also give a great UVA protection, as well UVB. But it will need to be reapplied every two hours if you are out in the sun. It is water resistant though, and goes on smoothly. 

Both EVY and Elta MD are developed for the most sensitive skin types. So I highly recommend either one of these. 

You find Elta MD UV Sport SPF 50 on this link.  

And if you’re interested in learning more about sunscreens and their impact on your skin. You can see my in-depth post about anti aging sunscreens

Best sunscreen for sensitive skin or damaged skin barrier.
The best sunscreen to use every day of the year. Since it helps heal the skin barrier and protect it from further damage.

Skin barrier repair step 4 – Heal your skin from the inside

What you fuel your body with will indeed impact your skin (as well as all your other organs). And when working on a skin barrier repair, it’s more important than ever to improve your diet.

Stop completely with refined sugars. And eat well-balanced meals throughout the days. It’s important to eat enough calories since your body has an increased energy need while healing any kind of issue. So make sure you eat plenty of food but stay away from refined sugars, and junk food.

When eating enough calories, you also ensure to get enough of the proteins that are needed for healthy skin.

Besides those general tips. Here are the most crucial nutrients that you must make sure you obtain from your diet in order to speed up the healing process.

Essential fatty acids

Essential fatty acids (EFA) are a type of unsaturated fatty acids that are vital for our bodies. But they can not be produced on their own. They must be obtained through the diet. 

EFAs are a crucial part of healthy cell membranes, and they play many important roles in the body. For the skin, these fatty acids also help with producing the critical skin lipid barrier that I mentioned earlier. The part of the skin barrier that keeps our skin hydrated.

Another important aspect of the essential fatty acids is that they are anti-inflammatory and can help with all kinds of inflammatory triggered skin concerns. 

The essential fatty acids are grouped into omega-3 and omega-6. And you need to eat them daily. 

Omega-3 can be found in oily fish, algae-supplements, flax-seeds, walnuts, and leafy greens. And omega-6 is more easily found in most vegetable oils and most nuts and seeds.

Something to keep in mind though is that these fatty acids need to be fresh since they oxidize easily. So always check the expiration date, and store the oils or nuts/seeds in the fridge. 

Since omega 3 can be a bit more difficult to obtain from the diet, especially if you do not eat fish. I personally like to supplement with this algae supplement. If you want to try it out that link will give you 10 % off your first order. Or 5 % off if you are a returning customer. And they ship worldwide. 

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is not just important for a strong immune system. It is also crucial for any kind of wound healing and to produce collagen.

Vitamin C will also improve skin barrier function. Firstly by improving the structure of the stratum corneum (an important part of the skin barrier, as mentioned above). And also by increasing synthesis of some of the important lipids that we need for our moisture barrier. 

Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant, protecting our skin from further damage. You can read my meaty blog post about all the skin benefits of vitamin C in this post.

The best sources are fruits, berries, and vegetables. Kiwi fruits and citrus fruits have some of the greatest amounts of this vitamin.

If you want to you can add some extra through supplements. Such as this one.

Phytonutrients

Phytonutrients, or phytochemicals, are compounds produced by plants. And they have been shown to have exceptionally positive effects on human health thanks to their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity. 

For the skin, in particular, Phytonutrients aids in keeping the skin barrier healthy thanks to the capacity to lower inflammation and protect from free radical damage. And many of them are also proven to increase collagen- and elastin production. Keeping the skin more youthful and firm.

I have a whole in-depth blog post about one of the most studied and promising groups of phytonutrients. The skin tightening carotenoids. Read it if you want to learn more details.

The carotenoids are proven to boost the body’s own production of Hyaluronic acid. Which is the best and safest way to get hydrated and plump skin. No creams or serums can compensate for the hyaluronic acid that your own cells produce. On the contrary, they can actually be troublesome which I mentioned above. 

The best sources of these phytonutrients are fruits and vegetables. So eat at much of it as you can. And read this post to get even more specific diet tips about them.

If you want to add a supplement, I suggest the carotenoid called astaxanthin. Since it is hard to get through diet. It has been researched quite a lot and has shown really powerful benefits for the skin. It is also perfectly safe to take in supplement form and I take it daily myself.

If you want to give it a try, this is the one I take.

Skin barrier repair step 5 – Control cortisol

Stress is a major cause of skin problems of any kind. It’s proven that psychological stress impairs the skin barrier and slows down the skin healing process. And this is due to the raised cortisol levels. 

With too high cortisol levels, especially over time, your skin will pay a high price. Such as increased inflammation and acne. Decreased production of collagen and elastin. And hindered production of hyaluronic acid. 

In other words. Too much stress (cortisol) will not just slow down any healing process in the skin. It will also age you faster.

So what do we need to do? Well, the most crucial measure to handle cortisol, is to sleep enough.

I have a whole post about Beauty Sleep. And I recommend you read it to learn more about why enough sleep is so important, and how to improve it. 

If you want to try a supplement for better sleep I suggest the amino acid Glycine . Glycine is proven to help you fall asleep faster and to have a more restful sleep. It also happens to be an important building block in collagen and enhances collagen production.

You can find it on iherb which is my favorite supplement store. This link will give you 5-10 percent off. 

Another supplement I recommend before bedtime is Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA). It’s a powerful anti-aging antioxidant. That also helps with lowering inflammation, increasing stress tolerance, and to restore circadian rhythms. I take it myself every night before bedtime. 

If you want to try, this is the product I am taking. 

And lastly, magnesium is also a great supplement to improve the quality of your sleep. Since it will help you relax. You can find magnesium on iherb as well.

All links to iherb will provide you with a discount of 5-10 %.

How long does it take to repair skin barrier?

It depends highly on how severe your skin barrier damage is, to begin with. And how well you treat your skin during this healing phase. 

In general, it can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months for the skin barrier to fully repair. But you should be able to see progress within the first week if you follow all the steps listed above. If not, it’s recommended you see a dermatologist right away.

Remember to be consistent and patient. And your skin barrier will return back to normal.

Summary

Here comes the super short version of this very educational and long blog post.

  • Your skin barrier consists of a chemical barrier, stratum corneum, and a moisture barrier.
  • It can be weakened or damaged by too much cleansing and exfoliating. Too many products in your skincare regimen. Too strong ingredients. Too much UV-radiation without protection. But also other causes such as medications, stress, and hormonal fluctuations.
  • The obvious symptoms are intense redness, increased sensitivity, dryness. And sometimes increased breakouts or infections. 
  • During a healing phase, you need to be strict about limiting your skincare routine. And only use a mild cleanser, toner, moisturizer, and sunscreen.
  • Never use products with sodium lauryl sulfate, fragrances, essential oils, or exfoliants. And also pause from retinol, vitamin C, and peptides during this time.
  • Be careful with Hyaluronic acid if you live in dry climates. And avoid the low molecular Hyaluronic acid regardless of where you live. Since it has been shown to increase inflammation in your skin.  
  • Increase your body’s own production of hyaluronic acid by eating lots of colorful fruits and vegetables every day. That will also provide you with plenty of antioxidants and vitamin C that are crucial for skin barrier repair.
  • Also include the essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6) in your diet everyday. Since they are crucial for healthy skin barrier.
  • Make sure to get your sleep every night. Since too much cortisol will increase inflammation and cause more skin damage.
  • Be patient and consistent. It can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months to have your skin barier fully recovered.

Hope you found this post helpful! Let me know in the comments if you have any questions about skin barrier repair. Or any own experiences that you would like to share.

Until next time, love your skin!

This Post Has 18 Comments

  1. Ruby

    Love this blog post – thanks for sharing 🙂 I struggle most with congestion and open pores, how do you deal with this? Is retinol the answer? Many thanks!

  2. Cheyenne

    Thank you for sharing! I have rosacea, and sensitive skin so restoring my skin barrier is so important to me.

    1. Ann

      You’re very welcome Cheyenne🤗

  3. Linda

    Such a detailed post! I’m good with cleanser and moisturizers. I’ve skipped on the toner: maybe this is something I need to think more about?

    1. Ann

      Thank you Linda 🙂 Yes, toner is good for your skin’s pH. Since tap water is a bit too alkaline. Some people can tolerate it fine since the skin will rebalance itself. But it can also cause irritations and hurt the skin barrier short term. Great to hear you are good with cleanser and moisturizers 😀

  4. Melanie

    I never knew so much about our skin. This is really informative. I need to try something new for skincare products.

    1. Ann

      Thank you Melanie! Happy to help 🙂

  5. Tammy

    I really needed this, thank you so much for such a detailed article~

    1. Ann

      You’re very welcome Tammy 🙂

  6. Cassie

    Your skin looks amazing and this post is so helpful! I have been trying to handle my acne from wearing a mask and working out in a mask so often. I have eczema and sensitive skin, so I am excited to try out some of these products. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Ann

      Thank you so much Cassie! Happy to help 🙂

  7. jeannie

    thank you for the detailed review. I like how you put into details, allowing me to check my skincare and maybe try something new or add to my regimen.

    1. Ann

      You’re very welcome Jeannie 🙂

  8. Alyssa

    This post was really helpful and informative! I struggle with my skin due to blemishes, so advice on restoring my skin is great! Thank you for sharing.

    1. Ann

      Thank you Alyssa, and you’re very welcome 🙂

  9. Aditi Jain|itisaditijain.in

    This is so detailed and interesting. Thank you for sharing. Really needed this.

    1. Ann

      You’re welcome Aditi 🙂

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