What Is A Skin Barrier?

The skin barrier is probably the most important part of the skin and yet we do not realise how important this is to the health of our skin until its compromised.

Think of the skin’s barrier as a brick wall, the bricks are the corneocytes (dead skin cells) and the cement is intercellular lipids (sometimes referred to as bilayer lipids). When the brick wall and the cement become unstable the structure of the wall becomes weakened, resulting in a reduced effective skin barrier. 


The brick wall is a composition of ~70% proteins, ~15% lipids and ~15% water. The natural lipids are crucial for a strong skin barrier and the production of these lipids decline as we age. The Intercellular lipids comprise ~50% ceramides, ~25% cholesterol and ~25% fatty acids. When the ceramide levels deplete the skin’s, barrier reduces in strength.

image describing the by products penetrate the skin

The skin barriers sole purpose is to protect the human body from environmental aggressions and to control what leaves the skin. If the skins barrier is compromised elements such as pollution and allergens can enter the skin, attack, and irritate.

How Is The Skin Barrier Broken?

Breaking the sound barrier is a lot harder than breaking the skins barrier, it can be simply the weather that weakens the stratum corneum (upper layers of the epidermis) as well as the following:

  • The overuse of actives e.g. AHA’s, Vitamin A, Vitamin C etc
  • Over exfoliation, this can be chemical and physical
  • Over cleansing, alkaline cleansers can strip the skin
  • Too much alcohol in skincare
  • Medication (change in medication should always be discussed with your doctor)
  • External factors such as central heating, weather in particular low humidity etc.

And then there is good old ageing, sadly like many things the older the skin gets the weaker and more fragile the skin barrier becomes and the paler your skin is the weaker your skin is too.

woman analysing and looking her skin

The writing is on the wall for your skins barrier when you see and feel any of the following:

  • Dry, flaky, and rough to the touch
  • Itchy, irritated, sensitive, and red
  • Tight, taught, and uncomfortable

Don’t Panic, We Can Fix It!

First thing is to strip your skin care back to basics, we need a simple but effective non irritating skincare routine to bring the skin to a place where we can then start rebuilding. Basics means cleanse, moisturiser and sunscreen (mineral / physical only) this will be your routine for at least 2 weeks.

We need to say temporarily goodbye to exfoliation (physical and chemical), actives such as Vitamin A and C and ideally depending on the severity of the skin barrier disruption no essentials oils and fragrance. No hot water is even more important than usual, it has got to be tepid all the way.

Strong Walls Need Good Foundations…

And those foundations are a great daily skincare routine. Everyday you need to strengthen the skins barrier, replenish, and support, after all it is easier then repairing.

Skin Barrier Superhero Ingredients:

  1. Ceramides hold the skin together and protect the skin from dehydration, sensitivity and environmental aggressions. The skin without ceramides will become itchy, dry and irritated. There are many ceramides but look out for ceramide NP (3) it makes up ~22% of the ceramide total.
  2. Niacinamide (Vitamin B3) boosts ceremide production and a whole host of other skin loving benefits (look out for a future blog on this incredible ingredient).
  3. Panthenol (Vitamin B5) restores the skins barrier and is a humectant (draws in water) and an emollient (smoothes skin cells).

Products To Look Out for:

La Roche Posay and Dermalogica are my go-to skincare brands when I need to fix the skin barrier. These are exceptional formulas combining prebiotics, niacinamide (vitamin B3), humectants, emollients, zinc, panthenol (vitamin B5), fatty acids, antioxidants and madecassoside.

I love multifunctional products, and all of these are ceramide rich, a great way to get your daily dose of ceramides.

If you cannot live without retinol (vitamin A) then you will want to look at Paula’s Choice Barrier Repair Moisturiser with Retinol (0.01%), they have cleverly combined niacinamide, fatty acids, peptides and retinol.

CeraVe have created a complete brand around ceramides and time release technology to deliver multiple phases of moisturiser. I discovered CeraVe before it come to the UK years ago when holidaying in the USA and have loved for a long time the cleansers, skilfully blending ingredients like salicylic acid (cleanses inside the pore and is oil soluble) and ceramides together. Watch out for more to come from this brand they have a brilliant Hyaluronic acid plus ceramides serum available currently only from the USA. 

Beauty Pie Super Active Capsules (membership brand) and The INKEY list Ceramide Night Treatment both have great ceramide treatments. I like to use ceramides at night-time as the skin is the most receptive and repairing and this is a great opportunity for the skin to produce more ceramides and repair the skins barrier whilst you sleep.

It is no secret that I am a huge fan of Medik8 Crystal Retinol and they are a brand to watch. They have created a beautiful Advanced Night Restore power packed with a ceramides and their exclusive midnight repair complex.

If you look after your skin’s barrier and the rest becomes easy.

I hope you have enjoyed this blog, please let me know if you need any help with your skin.

Stay tuned for more blogs and follow me on social media for latest launches and more skin school.



Facebook @FionaBrackenburySkinExpert 


Bye for now,

Fiona x

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