Although it may not sound like oily, irritated, and dry skin are similar, as it turns out, they may have a common cause – a damaged moisture barrier. Your moisture barrier lies on the outer layer of your skin to protect it from environmental aggressors while simultaneously helping it retain moisture. So when it’s compromised it can become dehydrated and aggravated, which can lead to a whole array of skin concerns.
We spoke to K-beauty experts Sarah Lee and Christine Chang, Co-Founders and Co-CEOs of K-beauty brand Glow Recipe. If there’s one thing these skin experts know, it’s how to keep your skin hydrated and your moisture barrier on top form.
How the Moisture Barrier Works
“Your skin’s moisture barrier is the outermost layer of your skin that has a natural, protective barrier that keeps it safe from trans-epidermal water loss and protects your skin from harmful environmental aggressors,” Sarah tells us. And, when your moisture barrier is compromised these potential irritants and allergens are able to get into your skin, which Sarah says “Could lead to a variety of skin issues such as acne, dryness, chronic inflammation, and overall sensitivity.”
The skin’s moisture barrier also helps “Retain natural oils, nutrients, and moisture, and is made up of skin cells at the surface and the “glue” that holds them together. When it’s strong, it prevents moisture loss (which can lead to dehydration) to ensure supple, plump, hydrated skin,” explains Sarah. In short, it’s essential.
Why it’s SO Important to Have a Healthy Moisture Barrier
“A healthy, strong skin barrier is what keeps bacteria and inflammation at bay,” Christine explains. “Think of a brick wall where the bricks are tightly and evenly laid together to protect what is inside from the outside elements. When your skin barrier is compromised, it means your skin is more susceptible to irritants and inflammation. Irritated skin could take two weeks or even more to repair itself and get back to optimal health, and that’s with consistent use of hydrating and skin fortifying treatments with restorative ingredients.”
Signs Your Moisture Barrier is Damaged
Everyone’s skin is different and not everyone will display the same signs that their moisture barrier is damaged. However, there are some common indicators, Sarah outlines the following signs:
Oily skin: A key sign is “When you’re blotting away the shine throughout the day but also feel like the skin is tight or dry at the same time. Oily-dehydrated skin is the most common indicator that your skin barrier is damaged. People who secrete a lot of oil are more likely to demonstrate aggressive skincare habits that strip away the natural oil and all (even good) bacteria off their face, which further damages the barrier function.”
Sudden irritation: “You can also tell your skin barrier is compromised when skincare products that you may have been using for a long time irritate, sensitize or even cause redness.” For example, you’re using the same products but they start to sting when usually they don’t.
Inflammation: “Other indicators include skin feeling rough, and looking red or inflamed. It’s so important to keep the skin hydrated and strong, or the barrier can weaken over time, which can accelerate the skin to age faster.”
Posts You'll Love:
What Weakens Your Moisture Barrier And How To Avoid It
The bad news is there are so many factors that can damage the moisture barrier. Sarah gives us a debrief on the most common offenders: “Stress, environmental aggressors, and hormonal changes can weaken the skin barrier function. In addition, harsh or very-alkaline cleansers, strong acne-medication, over-washing, over-exfoliation, over-applying products, and over-using the number of products in one routine (moderation is key!).”
One thing we have personally found often compromises our moisture barrier is using too many products with AHAs and salicylic acid. So check the ingredients in your routine, and make sure you’re not doubling up on powerful ingredients. For example, if you have a glycolic acid toner, also using a salicylic acid serum might overdry your skin and weaken your barrier. Instead, use one at a time and alternate the days in which you use those products.
Sarah says another common cause is “Harsh physical scrubs, as they could cause micro-tears that leave the skin exposed to irritation. I recommend chemical exfoliants because they provide gentler but still effective exfoliation. If your skin is sensitive or acne-prone, reach for a dual-purpose product like the Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask, which gently exfoliates with AHAs while keeping the moisture barrier hydrated with watermelon.”
Overall you should try to “Eliminate any potential irritants from your skincare products or lessen the chance of irritation by using fewer products during this period. Don’t use any products that dry your skin out and stop using formulas with a high concentration of active ingredients during this period as they can either stress out or worsen your skin.” We always recommend examining your skincare regime as a whole to make sure you’re not using too many harsh ingredients.
Sarah adds, “Our new launch, the Banana Soufflé Moisture Cream [$39] is the perfect product to address your moisture barrier. Skin is exposed to so many factors on a daily basis that can lead to dehydration, irritation or inflammation. Banana is a nourishing, healing superfruit packed with natural magnesium, potassium, and antioxidants that help nourish and calm the skin. The chia seed in the formula can hold up to 10 times its size in water, which helps your skin retain and balance moisture levels. Antioxidant-rich turmeric and Centella Asiatica are powerhouse ingredients that are vital for calming irritated or inflamed skin.” Check out our full review of the just-launched Banana Soufflé here.
How to Rebuild the Moisture Barrier
The number one priority is restoring moisture by using “Moisture-binding ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, sodium hyaluronate or squalane [which] help to restore the hydration in your skin,” says Christine. Another bomb ingredient is watermelon, which features in the Glow Recipe’s cult-favorite moisturizer. Christine says, “The Watermelon Glow Pink Juice Moisturizer [$39] is packed with 90% vitamin, and amino acid-rich watermelon extract, as well as plumping hyaluronic acid to restore hydration.” It’s a firm fave for our daytime skincare routine.
“Once your skin is hydrated, the next step is to seal everything in with a rich and emollient treatment, like the avocado in our Avocado Retinol line that serves just this purpose, which is why we call it an “avo moisture shield.” Another great way to strengthen the skin’s moisture barrier is to incorporate a mist into your routine, either between each step of your skin-care routine or throughout the day to prevent dehydration,” Christine says. For more details on the benefits of using facial mists, read this.
As well as hydrating and keeping moisture locked in with rich creams, it’s important to take a break from harsh active ingredients like AHAs, BHAs, retinol, and even vitamin C. We recommend resisting the urge to use these products for at least seven days if you can. Once your skin is back in a good place, keep hydration up and introduce stronger products back into your routine slowly.
For more skincare tips, check out the essential products every routine needs.