As a sensible 20-something, I've accumulated a few beauty lessons over the years, like that pimples should be left alone, hair should be shaved in the direction it grows (not against the grain), and that a flat iron should never come anywhere near damp hair (to this day, I still think the bottom layer of my hair is fried!). But perhaps the most important truth I discovered, admittedly a little later than I would've liked, is that neglecting the skin barrier will lead to a lineage of skin concerns. Allow my ignorance to be your cautionary tale: sensitive, flaky skin shouldn't be ignored. Luckily, repairing that damage is a bit easier than reversing my sad sizzled hair.
What Is the Skin Barrier?
The skin is made up of several layers, but the one that you deal with on a day-to-day basis is the outermost layer called the stratum corneum, also known as the skin barrier. The skin barrier is made up of dead skin cells (corneocytes) bound together by a lipid matrix that, together, help protect the skin from external stressors that may disrupt skin barrier function.
Contributing to that lipid matrix are ceramides, which are naturally produced by your body. Grout, glue, mortar — whatever you want to liken it to, ceramides are needed to help retain moisture and strengthen the skin barrier; they're what help hold it all together. When the skin barrier is weak — when ceramide production is depleted — tiny cracks can form in the skin, allowing water to easily escape and irritants to sneak in. This process is called transepidermal water loss (TEWL). TEWL can lead to flaking, peeling, pronounced fine lines, and visible irritation. You may also experience a stinging sensation. These are just some of the tell-tale signs that your skin barrier is damaged — and needs some help.
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What Ingredients Help Strengthen the Skin Barrier?
If you notice that your skin barrier is struggling, it may be helpful to take a look at your skin-care products and trade harsh ingredients with more barrier-friendly ones. Brands like Dr. Jart+ have whole collections dedicated to specific needs like this. For example, the brand's Ceramidin™ collection is formulated with ingredients that can help strengthen the skin barrier. Better still, they're gentle for all skin types.
Ceramides are a large component of the lipid matrix, which holds the skin cells in the stratum corneum together. Adding ceramides into your skin-care routine can help reinforce the lipid matrix and keep the barrier functioning properly. A number of factors can contribute to ceramide depletion, including age, washing skin in hot water, and seasonal changes, but adding ceramides into your skin-care routine can help you avoid defective skin permeability while improving moisture retention.
If ceramides are the lead, then panthenol is part of the ensemble cast. Derived from pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), panthenol can be found in many moisturizing products. This water-soluble ingredient is known to have humectant qualities, so it draws moisture from the air into the skin. Panthenol has also been shown to enhance lipid synthesis, which is essential to strengthening the skin barrier so it more effectively locks in moisture.
Glycerin is a popular ingredient used for dry skin, so it makes sense for it to be a key ingredient in skin barrier repair. Topical glycerin acts as a humectant, like panthenol, so it easily attracts and traps moisture from the atmosphere to improve hydration. Thanks to its low molecular weight, it can easily penetrate skin to draw moisture to even deeper levels of the dermis.
Best Products for Skin Barrier Repair
For some people, a weakened skin barrier may be entirely out of their control thanks to genetics, age, or the climate. For others, it may be related to lifestyle choices, like skimping on sunscreen (solar UV radiation), smoking, a lack of sleep, or even stress. And for the rest, it may have to do with what's being done too much — or used too little — in a skin-care routine. For example, over-exfoliating can disrupt the skin barrier, and so can washing your face with hot water or using products that can dry out the skin (think: harsh toners). Luckily, there are products that can help supplement the skin barrier.
The Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin™ Skin Barrier Moisturizing Cream uses its own unique complex of five ceramides to strengthen the skin barrier. In this formula, the ceramides work alongside vitamin-derived panthenol to help prevent TEWL, and glycerin to draw in water from the atmosphere in order to hydrate the skin. When used together, all three ingredients work to maintain healthy skin barrier function. While ingredients like this can be specifically helpful for people with dry or dehydrated skin, this particular formula is effective for everyone else, too. Even people with oily or combination skin can experience TEWL.
Moisturizing toners deserve a spot in your routine, especially if you want to strengthen the skin barrier. The Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin™ Skin Barrier Serum Toner is a toner-essence hybrid that uses ceramide NP (another type of ceramide), panthenol, and glycerin to help increase skin barrier reinforcement. This rich liquid formula combines a serum and toner into one step and is best used before applying a moisturizer. Layering the two hydrating products — also known as a "moisture sandwich" — can help instantly combat dryness and reduce TEWL.
Masks are a fast and easy way to serve skin a platter of replenishing ingredients. For example, the Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin™ Skin Barrier Moisturizing Mask is a sheet mask formulated with ceramide NP and panthenol for added moisture and barrier protection. If skin is feeling tight or dry, consider adding this into your routine once a week — or, really, whenever you cave and wash your face in a burning-hot shower. Hey, I know how hard that is to resist in the middle of February — it's just another lesson to learn . . . later, when it's not so cold.
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Design: Samantha Shin