Every now and then, one specific ingredient or product type takes over the industry, swarming our TikTok For You Pages and skin-care sites’ new release sections. Often, these flash-in-the-pan trends don’t have much longevity because they’re not necessarily that effective. And then there’s a topic like barrier repair — a bandwagon beauty brands seem to be jumping onto in droves lately — that, despite its trendiness, is also a well-researched, expert-backed concept from which almost anyone’s skin can benefit.
“Because the skin is the most visible organ of the body, people forget that it’s still an organ and needs to be taken care of as we would other organs of the body,” explains Dr. Carl R. Thornfeldt, an Iowa-based dermatologist and the founder of skin-care brand Epionce. “The skin barrier is the outermost layer of the epidermis and protector against all the insults in the environment around us such as UV rays, pollution, extreme temperatures, severe emotional or physical stress, hormonal imbalance and even chemicals in skin care like sulfates, retinoids, propylene glycol, and formaldehyde.”
And a healthy barrier is what keeps skin looking good despite all these powerful outside forces — take it from Dr. Whitney Bowe, a board-certified New York City-based dermatologist and scientist with her own eponymous skin-care brand dedicated to treating skin from the inside as well as the outside.
“Our skin barrier is a smart, protective shield made up of living and non-living cells,” says Dr. Bowe. “When our skin barrier is healthy, it acts like a biodynamic membrane, constantly making decisions about what is allowed to enter the skin and what is blocked, what must be kept outside…. Think of our skin barrier as a protective guardian of our skin’s healthiest glow, trapping needed moisture in and keeping irritants, pollutants, allergens and pathogens out.”
That’s why absolutely anyone — but especially those who struggle with dryness, redness and other sorts of skin inflammation — can benefit from focusing on supporting it, rather than stripping it. But plenty of traditional skin-care products aren’t actually so great for the skin barrier.
“Harsh cleansers can damage the skin barrier by stripping the skin of its natural oils, leaving it dried out, affecting the pH or affecting the microbiome,” explains Dr. Hadley King, a board-certified New York City dermatologist. That’s where the quickly growing category of skin barrier-supporting products can make a difference.
If you think your own barrier might be suffering, Dr. Bowe says there are some telltale signs. Among these, she cites chronic skin condition flares, extreme sensitivity, chronic dehydration, hyperpigmentation, delayed wound healing and accelerated signs of aging. But these issue aren’t permanent, and the barrier can be restored and repaired with the right product regimen.
The new crop of barrier repair products on the market spans serums, moisturizers, gentle cleansers and oils all focused on strengthening and replenishing even the most damaged and dehydrated complexions. In the gallery below, we’ve rounded up some expert-approved favorites.
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