What Is The Skin Barrier and Why You Should Care About It

protective barrier

“Wash your face the right way!”

This phrase always made me chuckle.  Like seriously, how can you wash your face the wrong way?  You just use some soap or cleanser, rub your face, splash it with water and here you go.  What can be more simple than washing the face?

I do not know how about you, but this was my attitude towards face cleaning.  

Once I heard one girl saying “Oh, I finally bough my favorite cleanser”.  I could not understand what she meant.  After all, I thought, all cleansers are the same, they just smell different.

However, we can seriously damage our skin if we wash it with harsh products that don’t match our skin type, have harmful chemicals, wrong pH and so on. Washing face is not just applying some soap on the surface and removing with with water.

When we wash our face, we directly effect outer protective skin layer both mechanically (rubbing and scrubbing) and chemically (all the chemicals in a face wash).

Let’s first learn what role this layer plays and why we should even care about it.

Skin Structure

Picture Credit Natural Skins

I would like to mention that I will be explaining all these stuff in very basic and understandable terms. So if you are a doctor, please, forgive me for oversimplyfying.

Let’s look at the Normal skin first.

You can see the Sebum barrier, which is also called outer protective lipid barrier of your skin.

It consists of “dead” skin cells. Skin cell life is about 21 days, it starts forming on the deepest layer of the whole skin structure and constantly is moving up towards the surface, going through many transformation. At the end of it’s life cycle, cell dies, meaning that it does not carry any other function, than forming a protective layer on the top of our skin.

This layer also contains lipids (sort of fat cells), that keep our skin smooth.

Functions of protective skin layer

If you read anything about skin care, you probably heard a lot about “dead” cells on the surface of the skin and how it causes dull tone and acne.

So why would we want preserve this layer and why skin barrier is so important?

  1. It protects our body from organisms such as bacteria and virus
  2. It protects major allergens from entering our body
  3. It protects our body from effects of pollution (smog, dust, dirt etc); pollutants stay on the skin without entering inside our body
  4. It protects us from harmful UV rays
  5. It prevents water (moisture) from escaping deeper levels of our skin thus keeping it moist and smooth.

As you can see, keeping skin barrier healthy and strong is quite vital not just for cosmetic purposes, but also for our overall health.

Now take a look at the Damaged Skin side of the picture. Do you see the difference?

The protective barrier is weakened, pathogens, allergens, and other organisms can enter into deeper layers causing many skin conditions and even diseases.

Skin loses its moisture and becomes dry, flaky and unhealthy.

How do we damage skin barrier?

There are many ways we can ruin this layer, however, because are focus is on the skin and skin care, then we are going to explore, how our skin care regime contributes to the damage.

  1. Abrasive face scrubs. I think this is one of the worst inventions for the skin. This type of face scrubs contain large irregular particles like coffee grounds, ground shells, fruit pits or volcanic matter. These particles are very harsh and gradually weaken protective skin barrier. They also cause micro injuries and tears. That contributes to dryness, flaky patches, redness, irritation and moisture loss.
  2. Exfoliating your skin too often. Exfoliation is good and you do need to remove some of the dead cells. The whole point of good care is making sure you do not overdo it. Exfoliating 3-5 times a week will weaken your skin barrier.
  3. Using skin care products with “bad alcohols”. Bad alcohols damage outer layer and cause irritation, barrier weakening and dryness. Read the whole article about Bad and Good Alcohols in Skin Care.
  4. Using facial cleansers and other products that are either too high or too low in pH. We will talk about skin pH in other posts. For now, please refer to an article by Allure.
  5. Ideal pH for skin care products is 5.5. However, the range between 4 and 7 is also acceptable.
  6. Using skin care products that are not suitable for your skin type. Most products are formulated to accommodate particular type. A product for oily skin could be too harsh for a sensitive skin type and so on. Please, read more about different skin types and how you can determine which one you have in this post.

This is a short list of reasons that contribute to damaged skin barrier.

facial clean up

How to repair damaged skin

In particular we are talking about damaged outer layer.

The good news is that our skin is very resilient and restorative. Once we start taking care of it in an educated way, it will respond.

  1. The first thing you want to do is to determine your skin type (if you have not yet done so). I have an extensive post about it, please, follow this link. You can also subscribe to receive my Free Skin Care book. This book has 9 pages and talks about skin type and care for each type. You also receive a Free worksheet, so you can track your products.
  2. Watch pH of your products. It is particularly important for cleansers and toners. Remember, ideal pH is 5.5. Many companies let us know about pH of their products. You can also purchase special pH strips (they are very cheap), so you can test product’s pH at home.
  3. Avoid scrubbing your face. I find that the best exfoliator is a simple clay mask. You can make it at home or purchase from your favorite brand.
  4. If you are planning to use any cleansing tools for your face, please, do a research and reviews to make sure, that those tools are delicate enough.
  5. You can also use AHA (alpha-hydroxy acid) products to exfoliate your skin.
  6. Familiarize yourself with Bad alcohols and avoid products that contain them.
  7. Wash your face with lukewarm water and avoid hot water.

Skin care products that strengthen skin barrier

Another good news is that there are products that help you to make your skin barrier strong.

  1. Always use a toner after cleaning your face. When you wash your face, you: a) strip down skin oils and b) disturb skin pH. Toners are special products, that are designed to restore those. Without a toner, it will take your skin about 1 hour to restore what you disturbed during face washing. Toner will do this job in a matter of minutes. Please, read more about toners by following THIS link.
  2. Moisturizers that contain both occlusives and humectants. Occlusives form a very thin breathable film on top of the skin surface preventing moisture from escaping (ceramides, oils, butters). Humectants attract water from deeper layers of the skin and moisturize skin surface that way (hyaluronic acid).
  3. Ceramides – it is an excellent occlusive that will definitely repair your skin barrier.
  4. Natural skin oils and butters. These products are excellent occlusives and will help to repair damaged skin barrier. Draw your attention to jojoba oil, cranberry seeds oil (my favourite), sesame oil and shea butter.
  5. Use products that contain vitamin E and C – these vitamins heal and moisturize outer layer of the skin.

Recommended products that will keep your skin barrier strong

Most products that I am recommending here I personally tried and loved. They worked on me and made my skin feel good and healthy.

(All products contain affiliate links. That means that if you make a purchase, I might receive a small commission at not extra cost to you).


I am currently using this cleanser and I love it. It is very delicate on the skin and yet cleanse it very well. It has a very mild scent of tea tree oil. pH is 5.3 to 6.2.

Cosrx Low pH Morning Gel Cleanser

water based cleanser


It’s Skin Hyaluronic Acid Toner is a lightweight toner with a humectant. It restores moisture very well, perfect for hot weather because of its light weight.

hyaluronic acid facial toner

Cetaphil Gentle Skin cleanser is an amazing soft, delicate cleanser, that is suitable for any skin type.

delicate skin cleanser

HadaLabo Hada labo Shirojyun Whitening Lotion – the blue bottle

This Japanese toner (in Japanese skin care lotion means toner) is also lightweight. It whitens and brightens up the skin, hydrates and removes age spots.

hada labo toners

Hada Labo Goku Jyun Lotion (toner) – the white bottle

I am currently using this one. It contains 3 types of hyaluronic acid, which makes this toner is super hydrating and moisturizing.

Ceramides and Moistuizers

When I talk ceramides I always in my mind mean Dr. Jart. This famous Korean brand dedicated the whole line to restore damaged skin barrier. Any product from Dr. Jart Ceramidin line will work on damaged skin.

Dr. Jart Ceramidin skin care products.

CeraVe Moisturizing Cream contains 3 types of ceramides and hyaluronic acid. This cream will definitely repair and moisturize your skin.

MAMONDE Ceramide Light Cream – this cream heals damaged skin while generously moisturizing it.

Aquaphor Healing Ointment – this is one of the richest creams that will protects, helps and soothes to restore smooth, healthy skin. The size of the jar is huge and the price is very affordable.

irritated dry skin

To summarize, our skin health starts and ends with healthy skin barrier. We need it to keep pathogens and pollutants from entering our body and causing widely spread infections and diseases. Also, if we damage outer layer of our skin, skin will lose moisture, become dry, dehydrated, red and inflamed.

Be cautious about skin care products that you are using and how you are using them.

Stay beautiful!!!!!

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