Close your eyes and imagine your dream skin situation. If you’re anything like me, you’re picturing a clear, fresh-looking face illuminated by sunlight — yet miraculously protected from sun damage — makeup-free and glowing, all on its own. Well, dermatologists say that fantasy can be a reality with just one little change to your spring skincare routine: Start focusing on your skin’s barrier.
“The main function of the skin is to protect us from things like UV radiation, toxins, pathogens, and anything in the external environment that can harm us,” Dr. Aanand Geria, a dermatologist with Geria Dermatology in New Jersey, tells The Zoe Report. Every layer of skin, from the dermis to the epidermis, plays a part in protection; but the outermost coating of the skin, known as the barrier, is the first line of defense — and when that gets compromised, every other layer feels the effects.
“A damaged skin barrier is the culprit of nearly every skin problem, including dehydration, dryness, inflammatory acne, rosacea, eczema, and so much more,” Liah Yoo and her team at KraveBeauty — the brand behind Great Barrier Relief, a new serum completely dedicated to barrier repair — tell TZR. It makes sense: The barrier’s job is to keep irritants, allergens, and bacteria out and keep moisture in. When it’s not working properly, skin becomes sensitive to all kinds of irritation, and boom. Hello, breakouts and flare ups. This can happen year-round, but winter skin is particularly susceptible to barrier damage, thanks to cold temps, dry air, and harsh wind. “Spring is the ideal season to repair your compromised skin barrier,” Dr. Geria says.
Luckily, a new crop of skincare products makes that so easy, including Great Barrier Relief and First Aid Beauty’s Ultra Repair BarriAIR Cream. The skin barrier is made up of naturally occurring ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids, and both products aim to supplement the skin’s current supply. “Great Barrier Relief uses ingredients that mimic a healthy barrier; like plant-based cholesterol, ceramides, and squalane; to replenish what a damaged skin barrier lacks,” the KraveBeauty team says. “These ingredients naturally exist in one's skin when it is healthy and operating at its best, so Great Barrier Relief aims to put back in your skin what should already be there.” Similarly, First Aid Beauty’s barrier-repairing moisturizer features ceramides and hyaluronic acid, both of which help plump and protect.
Another way to boost your barrier? With a healthy dose of probiotics — aka, good bacteria. “There are billions of bugs — bacteria, fungi, viruses — that live on our skin happily,” Dr. Jennifer Herrmann, a board-certified dermatologist based in Beverly Hills, tells The Zoe Report. “The microbiome, or skin’s habitat of these symbiotic microorganisms, is essential for promoting a healthy skin barrier.” As, er, not pretty as that sounds, these bacteria and fungi serve to “inhibit the growth of pathogenic or disease-causing bugs, help boost both the innate and adaptive immune systems, help keep the skin’s barrier healthy by maintaining skin cells called keratinocytes, and help limit inflammation,” Dr. Herrmann says. Essentially, they save your skin.
“When the natural microbiome is disrupted, skin is more likely to suffer from inflammatory conditions like eczema and acne, and is more prone to infections and water loss (think dryness and irritation),” the dermatologist continues. To remedy this, stock up on skincare products fortified with good bacteria (probiotics) and food for that good bacteria (prebiotics). Mother Dirt’s skincare range is a personal favorite, and Eraclea just released two new moisturizers packed with the sweet stuff.
Keeping your barrier and microbiome in tact is about more than what you add to your skincare routine, though — it’s also about what to avoid. “Disruption of the skin barrier is frequently due to our cleansing behaviors,” Dr. Geria says. “Washing more than twice a day or using harsh cleansers containing sulfates or salicylic acid are usually to blame.” He adds that chemical exfoliants, like glycolic acid, and physical exfoliants, like a Clarisonic, can also disrupt the skin barrier if used in excess. “In general, exfoliation should be limited to once or twice a week,” he tells TZR.
“Using charcoal or gritty masks frequently, using topical antibiotics (as in many acne medications), using alcohol-based toner, or doing microdermabrasion too often can also strip the skin’s barrier,” Dr. Herrmann says. Instead, the derm suggests sticking to gentle cleansers (Peach & Lily’s new Power Calm Cleanser is perfect, since it’s pH-balanced), avoiding harsh acid exfoliators, minimizing use of topical antibiotics, and opting for moisturizers with barrier-enhancing ingredients.
Ahead, 12 gentle, soothing, and (sometimes) bacteria-filled products to get your barrier back on track for spring.