The skin barrier is also known as the “horny layer” (no wonder we’re so obsessed with it here at Poosh).
Our CCO, Sarah, has been talking about this crucial concept for years, vis-à-vis her struggles with her acid mantle. Since it recently became a buzzy topic, we decided it was time to put together a little 101-style guide about the skin barrier—what it is, why it’s so important, and how to keep it healthy.
To help us out, we tapped celebrity aesthetician and skincare expert Gina Mari.
Let’s dive in.
What is the skin barrier?
“The term ‘skin barrier’ refers to our outermost layer of skin called the stratum corneum,” explains Gina. “The stratum corneum’s job is to protect our skin from environmental stressors, free radical damage, toxins, and pathogens (just to name a few).”
The skin barrier also contains the layers listed below in outermost to innermost order:
The acid mantle is often considered our chemical line of defense, and the lipid barrier is our physical line of defense. That’s because in the former, sebum plus amino acids help keep the pH on the acidic side to kill pathogens. The latter is mostly made of cholesterol, fatty acids, and ceramides that help keep water and moisture in and pathogens out.
For the purposes of the rest of the piece, we will be referring to all four of those layers when we say skin barrier.
And the nickname we mentioned earlier?
Well, it’s also known as the “horny layer” because the cells are described as “tough like an animal’s horn.”
Why is a healthy skin barrier so important?
Yes, the skin barrier is tough, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need help. “Maintaining proper health is extremely important, as this is one of our bodies’ first lines of defense.” Gina says. “During the day, your body is in defense mode, continually protecting your skin from possible environmental damage. Ensuring your skin is prepped for the job will aid in the protection process, minimizing potential future skin damage.”
She adds that when skin barrier health is prioritized, she’s seen improvements with everything from acne, eczema, and even perioral dermatitis.
How do you know if your skin barrier is damaged or needs attention?
“A damaged skin barrier will present differently in each individual. The most important thing is to pay attention to your skin,” Gina says. “If it feels overly dry, chapped, or excessively oily, take note, and adjust your products accordingly. If the problem persists, discuss it with your aesthetician or dermatologist, and they can recommend treatments and products for effective relief.”
Tips for repairing your skin barrier:
“The most important piece of advice I can give is to pay attention to your skin, and start an actual ‘dialogue’ with it,” Gina says.
“Don’t get stuck in a rigid routine. If you wake up, and your skin is begging for hydration, hydrate it. If you’re feeling oily, and your skin only wants a toner, skip the moisturizer. Your skin is your largest organ, and it knows what it wants. Don’t get caught up in the social media product hype.”
- Focus on nourishing products.
“People are often tempted to ‘dry out’ problematic skin with harsh products,” Gina says. “Resist this urge, and instead, focus on hydrating and nourishing the skin.”
Shop our favorite skin barrier-nourishing products below.
Gentle Everyday Cleanser
While most foaming cleansers aren’t typically known for being gentle, this one actually is. It’s so gentle, in fact, that it’s a staple in Sarah’s routine as her second cleanser after oil cleansing. It’s also free of fragrance and essential oils.
Ceramide Ato Lotion
Sarah is obsessed with this soothing lotion that features ceramides extracted from black beans, which are thought to be more effective than synthetic ceramides.
Carbon Purifying Mist
Poosh x Alkaglam
This exclusive collab is the winner of Project Poosh. It uses patented technology to turn distilled water into a concentrated face mist with soothing, hydrating, and anti-inflammatory minerals. (P.S. A single bottle can last up to a year.)
SOS Recovery Cream
This non-greasy cream is packed with four different types of hyaluronic acid, plus other skin barrier-nourishing ingredients like ceramides and allantoin.
The Barrier Bioactive Treatment
Creamy and concentrated, this overnight treatment is pricey, but worth the $$$ if it can fit into your budget. It’s basically beauty sleep in a bottle. It nourishes skin where most needed and improves moisture barrier function. Read: you wake up with super soft, plump, and hydrated skin.
Peptide Glazing Serum
The entire Rhode lineup is centered around nourishing the skin barrier, and this plumping and illuminating serum is one of our favorites. A blend of peptides, niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, and marula oil work together to lock in hydration, support the skin barrier, and give you that glazed-donut look.
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