I’m obsessed with skin barrier and believe strongly that it’s impossible to have great-looking skin when this natural, watertight seal is compromised. This happens easily if you’ve exfoliated too zealously, overused strong actives such as retinol, been exposed to the elements without protection, worn medical PPE day after day, or been unwell (a compromised barrier as a result of having Covid seems common – my own was trashed).
A damaged barrier can no longer hang on to the good stuff like fatty acids, cholesterol and ceramides, so skin is left rough, dehydrated, sometimes sensitive, and flat looking (a dull complexion is very often the result of a too-robust approach to tackling skin dullness). Thankfully, the beauty industry is finally taking an interest in the barrier, and I’m hoping this more than a marketing fad.
Admittedly, to see the skincare industry exalting barrier protection after years of peddling ingredients that damage it feels a bit like being invited to kick yourself in the head then buy a packet of paracetamol, but no matter – I’ll take it and shush.
Glossier, La Roche Posay, Dr Jart and new barrier-dedicated brand Byoma (an affordable skincare range devised by the team behind the excellent Tan-Luxe) are all now focusing heavily on barrier repair and offer many lovely, fatty, cushiony products that can help a great deal. Look out for barrier-loving ingredients such as ceramides, allantoin, niacinamide, linoleum acid, probiotics, glycerin and hyaluronic acid – all will help treat and restore healthy function.
But search for them first in products you already have, because what I don’t want you to think is that you need to buy new ones in the name of your barrier. This is about doing less, not more, and about understanding that, usually, good barrier care is simply about applying greater kindness and restraint when it comes to your body’s largest organ.
In practical and realistic terms, that means using a nightly retinol that feels comfortable, not like volcanic lava. An exfoliant that does a good-enough job twice a week, or a milder one for daily use that doesn’t cause you to brace yourself first. It means applying an antioxidant and sunscreen and pulling away from any product with sharp shards and scratchy grains (use on your body only, or bin). It means moisturising well, even if you think you don’t need it, and avoiding picking and scratching your face. You need not shed a dime.