The Skin Barrier Series: Part Three: Nurturing and Repairing the Skin Barrier

Posted by Emily van Oosterom on

Part 3: Nurturing and Repairing the Skin Barrier

Nurturing and repairing your skin barrier is essential for maintaining optimal skin health and preventing the development of various skin issues. By adopting appropriate skincare practices and making mindful choices in our product selections, we can promote a healthy and resilient skin barrier.

Gentle cleansing is a fundamental step in maintaining a healthy skin barrier. Opting for mild, pH-balanced cleansers that do not strip the skin of its natural oils can help preserve your skin barrier's integrity. Botanical oil cleansers are a great choice here, especially if you need to remove makeup and sunscreen at the end of the day.  Harsh cleansers and excessive cleansing can disrupt the balance of the skin's natural protective lipids, compromising the barrier function (Korting et al., 2010). Gentle cleansing practices, such as using lukewarm water and avoiding harsh scrubbing, can help prevent unnecessary stress on the skin barrier.

Moisturising plays a crucial role in nurturing the skin barrier. Choosing moisturisers or facial oils that contain barrier-enhancing ingredients is beneficial for supporting a healthy barrier. Ingredients such as ceramides, which are lipid molecules naturally found in the skin, help reinforce the barrier's structure and function (Elias & Choi, 2005). Essential fatty acids, such as linoleic acid and linolenic acid, present in many bio-compatible botanical oils, also contribute to barrier integrity and help maintain optimal hydration levels (Gutowska-Owsiak et al., 2016). Humectants like glycerin and hyaluronic acid attract and retain moisture, promoting hydration within the skin (Lodén, 2003). Regular and consistent moisturising helps to prevent moisture loss, keeping the skin hydrated and supporting a robust skin barrier.

When choosing skincare products, it is important to select formulations designed to enhance the skin barrier. Look for products labeled as "barrier repair" or "barrier-supporting," as they often contain ingredients that mimic the natural components of the skin barrier. Natural skincare is often, though not always, a good choice. These formulations can help replenish and reinforce the skin's protective lipid barrier, contributing to its overall health and resilience (Grice & Segre, 2011). These products are typically rich in emollients, occlusives, and humectants, which work together to provide nourishment, hydration, and a protective seal to the skin.

Maintaining a balanced and nutritious diet can also have a positive impact on the skin barrier. Consuming a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats provides essential nutrients that support skin health. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in foods like fatty fish, walnuts, and flaxseeds, have anti-inflammatory properties and contribute to a healthy skin barrier (Katta & Desai, 2014). Antioxidant-rich foods, such as berries and leafy greens, help combat oxidative stress and protect the skin from damage (Pappas, 2009). Adequate hydration from within (by drinking plenty of water) also supports overall skin health, including the skin barrier.

Protecting the skin from excessive sun exposure is vital for maintaining a healthy skin barrier. Prolonged sun exposure can lead to skin damage, including barrier disruption. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation can weaken the skin's natural protective mechanisms and contribute to the breakdown of collagen and elastin, compromising the skin barrier's integrity (Svoboda & Tiosano, 2019). Regular use of broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (SPF) is essential to shield the skin from harmful UV rays and minimise barrier damage.

Last but certainly not least - avoiding skincare ingredients that can be harsh or irritating to the skin is crucial for preserving the skin barrier's health. Harsh synthetic actives such as retinol can compromise your skin barrier with regular use.  Ingredients such as alcohol, synthetic fragrances, and certain preservatives can disrupt the barrier function and lead to skin dryness and irritation (Sugiyama-Nakagiri et al., 2009). Being informed, reading product labels and being mindful of potential irritants can help maintain a healthy skin barrier.  If you do choose products containing ingredients such as retinol, or topical antibiotics for acne, nourishing your skin barrier in other ways is even more crucial.

By nurturing and repairing the skin barrier through gentle cleansing, appropriate moisturising, barrier-supporting products, a balanced diet, sun protection, and ingredient awareness, we can promote a strong and resilient skin barrier. Taking these proactive steps contributes to overall skin health, reduces signs of premature ageing, protects against external aggressors and pathogens, and reduces the risk of skin issues associated with barrier dysfunction.


Elias, P. M., & Choi, E. H. (2005). Interactions among stratum corneum defensive functions. Experimental Dermatology, 14(10), 719-726.

Grice, E. A., & Segre, J. A. (2011). The skin microbiome. Nature Reviews Microbiology, 9(4), 244-253.

Gutowska-Owsiak, D., Schaupp, A. L., Salimi, M., Selvakumar, T. A., McPherson, T., Taylor, S., ... & Ogg, G. S. (2016). IL-17 downregulates filaggrin and affects keratinocyte expression of genes associated with cellular adhesion. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 137(2), 483-487.

Katta, R., & Desai, S. P. (2014). Diet and dermatology: the role of dietary intervention in skin disease. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, 7(7), 46-51.

Korting, H. C., Braun-Falco, O., Hamm, G., & Brenner, W. (2010). Mode of action of moisturizers. Journal of the German Society of Dermatology, 8(10), 768-774.

Lodén, M. (2003). Role of topical emollients and moisturizers in the treatment of dry skin barrier disorders. American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, 4(11), 771-788.

Pappas, A. (2009). Epidermal surface lipids. Dermato-Endocrinology, 1(2), 72-76.

Sugiyama-Nakagiri, Y., Akiyama, M., & Shimizu, H. (2009). Filaggrin-2 is a major component of cornified cell envelopes of human epidermis. Journal of Dermatological Science, 55(3), 158-164.

Svoboda, R. M., & Tiosano, S. (2019). The skin barrier: effects of age and the environment across different ethnicities. Cutis, 104(6), E21-E25.

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