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What is it?

Skin is our biggest organ and it does a lot more than simply envelop our bodies. The outermost layer of our skin is called the stratum. It serves to protect us from all manner of environmental threats and pollutants as well as helping to retain the moisture in our bodies, thus aiding our hydration. It is therefore no surprise that it is often described by scientists as the body’s ‘brick wall’.  The stratum is made out of a complex network of skin cells, lipids, ceramides and fatty acids. When this delicate balance is thrown off it can result in a damaged skin barrier. 

What are the symptoms of a damaged skin barrier?

When your skin’s barrier is damaged, skin loses moisture and becomes more vulnerable to external aggressors. The symptoms could be any, or a combination of the following:

  • Dry, dehydrated skin
  • Itchiness
  • Increased sensitivity
  • Acne 
  • Inflamed areas. 

You may also find that products which you have usually used without any issues now cause a stinging or burning sensation upon application. 

That it is often described by scientists as the body’s ‘brick wall’. 

What are the causes?

The imbalance can sometimes be brought on by factors out of our control, such as environmental pollutants, psychological stress or simply our genetics. However currently the most common cause of a damaged skin barrier tends to be over exfoliation. 

Although all beauty fanatics are blessed to have all manner of lotions and potions at their fingertips thanks to online shopping making beauty products all the more accessible – there is actually a downside to this over-availability. 

When it comes to skincare, often less really is more. There really is no need to incorporate twelve steps into your skincare routine and this can sometimes do more harm than good. Usually a simple routine of cleansing, toning and moisturising can be just as effective.

In recent years we have witnessed a surge in the variety of single-ingredient products being released. The leading brand in this category is of course budget ingredient-led brand The Ordinary. This approach to skincare has no doubt revolutionised the beauty industry and other brands have since followed suit, such as the Inkey List and even high street giant Boots.

Although these brands have been celebrated for making skincare accessible to all through their pocket-friendly prices and science-led approach, it is important to remember that moderation is key. Active ingredients such as AHAs (Alpha Hydroxy Acids) and BHAs (Beta Hydroxy Acids) are exfoliating agents that essentially act as peels. Whilst they can be extremely effective in the right doses, they can also wreak havoc and throw off the balance of the skin barrier if not used correctly.  

Many skincare professionals have connected a recent surge in clients with compromised skin barriers to the rise in popularity of exfoliating products. It seems that in moving away from expertly created formulas, such as those found in traditional serums and moisturisers, we are instead taking matters into our own hands – which of course has its pros as well as its cons. 

When it comes to potent active ingredients such as AHAs, BHAs, Vitamin C serums and Retinol, moderation is key. Remember to use any of these in small doses and to begin with space out how frequently you use these, depending on your skin’s tolerance. 

You also want to avoid combining these active ingredients in any one routine, as they can often clash with one another and cause more harm than good. 

Similarly, if you do want to introduce an exfoliant into your routine, be very aware of the ingredients in the other products which you are using. For example, there are may toners on the market now which contain glycolic acid (a type of AHA), the most popular being Pixi’s ‘Glow Tonic’. If you are already using a serum which contains glycolic acid and you also opt for a toner which contains this ingredient you could end up over-exfoliating the skin. 

When it comes to skincare, often less really is more. 

How can you heal it? 

The good news is that a compromised skin barrier can be healed, but patience is key. As always, if you are concerned it is best to seek professional assistance. However, there are some steps you can take straight away. 

Firstly, consider whether you have introduced any new product into your routine which could be causing the irritation. If you’re not sure what could be causing it, the safest approach is to strip back your skincare routine completely as any number of products could be the culprit.

Secondly, stay away from any exfoliating ingredients and also avoid products that are fragranced or contain alcohol. The key here is not to dry the skin out further. 

Lastly, stick to a very simple routine with a focus on hydration. Use a gentle fragrance-free cleanser and when moisturising look out for hydrating ingredients such as hyaluronic acid (which is a humectant, meaning that it locks in moisture), glycerine or ceramides. 

Hydrating products that can help maintain a healthy skin barrier:

Cleanser

Opt for a cleanser that is gentle, fragrance free and non-stripping:

Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser 236ml, £9.49

Moisturisers

Gentle and hydrating options:

CeraVe Hydrating Hyaluronic Acid Plumping Moisturising Lotion

For Dry to Very Dry Skin, £9.50 

Avène Skin Recovery Cream Moisturiser for Very Sensitive Skin 50ml,

£17.50

Serums

Pick a hyaluronic acid serum. 

Dr Barbara Sturm Hyaluronic Serum 10ml, £85

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