What Is Your Skin’s Moisture Barrier? Plus, How to Repair It

October 23, 2023
Jessica Khorsandi
By: Jessica Khorsandi | skincare.com by L'Oréal
Bathroom countertop with hair brush, toothbrush in a cup, and Kiehl's Ultra Facial Advanced Repair Barrier Cream
Every day, your skin is exposed to irritants (think: environmental pollution, sun exposure, harsh climates) that can make your complexion look dull, dry and tired. The best defense? Your skin’s own natural moisture barrier. We tapped Dr. Jeanne Eyde, a board-certified plastic surgeon based in Michigan, and Dr. Margarita Lolis, a board-certified Mohs surgeon and cosmetic dermatologist, to fill us in on how to tell if your skin’s moisture barrier is damaged and what you can do to help repair it.

What Is a Skin Barrier?

Before we get into how to tell if your skin barrier is damaged and how to fix it, it’s important to understand exactly what it is. To put it simply, your skin’s moisture barrier is exactly what it sounds like: a shield for your skin. As the outermost layer of your skin, the barrier protects it from external assaults that can wreak havoc. “This layer is known as the stratum corneum and is essentially composed of skin cells called corneocytes, which are glued together by lipids,” Dr. Lolis explains. “It is mostly composed of ceramides, cholesterol and fatty acids.” 

Why Is Your Skin Barrier Important?

Essentially, your skin barrier serves two important purposes. “The outermost layer of our skin, called the stratum corneum, serves as a barrier to loss of body water,” says Dr. Eyde. “Not only is it a barrier to the outflow of water, but it also serves as protection against the entry of perils such as bacteria and allergens from the environment.” 

So, a healthy barrier can help keep moisture in and bad bacteria out. Other potential environmental aggressors that your skin barrier can help defend against include free radicals, viruses, irritants, pollutants and UV rays, says Dr. Lolis. Think of it as a personal security detail for your skin, there to help protect and shield your body’s largest organ.

How to Tell If Your Skin Barrier Is Damaged

If your skin barrier is compromised, you can experience a variety of unwanted side effects. “Signs of damage to the skin barrier include increased sensitivity such as itching, redness, irritation, breakouts, dryness, tightness, rashes and broken capillaries,” says Dr. Eyde. Additionally, it may be more difficult for your skin to heal itself from these side effects. 

How to Repair a Damaged Skin Barrier

If you suspect that your skin barrier has been damaged, there are a few things you can do. In order to achieve a strong, healthy barrier, Dr. Eyde suggests taking steps to restore balance. “Begin by washing the skin only twice daily with lukewarm water and reducing exfoliation to once a week with a gentle product,” she says. “Protect the skin daily with a broad-spectrum sunscreen.” Broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher can help shield your skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays, so be sure to apply it liberally prior to heading outdoors and reapply at least every two hours(yes, even if it’s a cloudy day).


Keeping your skin hydrated is also vital. Dr. Eyde and Dr. Lolis both recommend moisturizers formulated with lipids, ceramides or glycerin to help improve a declining moisture barrier. “The use of occlusive moisturizers that contain glycerin, hyaluronic acid or petrolatum leaves a thin coat on the surface of the skin, preventing transepidermal water loss and sealing in the moisture produced by your skin,” notes Dr. Lolis. 

Besides tweaking your skincare routine, Dr. Eyde advises increasing your water intake, eliminating smoking and excess alcohol consumption to help restore hydration.  

How to Protect Your Skin Barrier

You can also take preventative measures to help protect your skin’s moisture barrier from becoming damaged. Again, a gentle, non-drying skincare routine is essential. “As a rule of thumb, you want to practice gentle skincare,” says Dr. Lolis. “This entails taking a quick lukewarm shower, patting dry and moisturizing while your skin is still damp.” Applying your skincare products immediately after showering while your skin is wet helps the products absorb and locks in moisture. Further, opt for a rich moisturizer. “Look for products which contain ceramides, lipids and humectants, including glycerin, petrolatum, and hyaluronic acid,” she adds. Finally, try your best to avoid cosmetic products containing allergens and irritants. 

The Best Skin Barrier Repair and Protective Products

Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Advanced Repair Barrier Cream

To address a damaged skin barrier, try the Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Advanced Repair Barrier Cream, an intensive moisturizer formulated with colloidal oatmeal and beta-glucan to mimic the skin’s lipid structure and strengthen your barrier. 

Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Advanced Repair Barrier Cream

SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid Restore 2:4:2

We also recommend the SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid Restore 2:4:2, a cream formulated with a maximized concentration of pure ceramides, natural cholesterol and omega fatty acids. In addition to helping reinforce and hydrate the skin’s barrier, the formula also supports the skin’s natural self-repair to reduce visible signs of aging.

SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid Restore 2:4:2

L’Oréal Paris Age Perfect Cell Renewal Midnight Cream

For an option for mature skin, we like the antioxidant-packed L’Oréal Paris Age Perfect Cell Renewal Midnight Cream. With a rich, velvety texture and sleek packaging, it’s a luxe-like experience at an affordable drugstore price.  

L’Oréal Paris Age Perfect Cell Renewal Midnight Cream

La Roche-Posay Cicaplast Lips Hydration Restore Lip Balm

There are few things more uncomfortable than dry, chapped lips and during the winter months, it’s a common skincare concern. The La Roche-Posay Cicaplast Lips Hydration Restore Lip Balm is a barrier repair lip balm formulated with vitamin B5 and shea butter to deliver softer, moisturized lips. 

La Roche-Posay Cicaplast Lips Hydration Restore Lip Balm
Photographer: Chaunte Vaughn, Art Director: Hannah Packer, Creative Producer: Becca Solovay, Visual Designer: Juliana Campisi, Prop Stylist: Catherine Pearson, Prop Assistant: Lindsay Jones

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