Redness, blotchiness, discomfort—these are some of the ways your skin can tell you that it’s unhappy. In some cases, these concerns resolve with time. But more severe skin concerns like extreme dryness and peeling can be indicators that you have a damaged skin barrier. While the term damaged skin may sound scary, having a damaged moisture barrier is not an insurmountable problem. It can, however, be a sign that something in your routine needs to change.
To help you determine how to care for damaged skin, we spoke with board-certified dermatologist and Kiehl’s expert Dr. Michelle Henry. Ahead, she explains what a damaged skin barrier can look like and shares some of the common causes of compromised skin. She also reveals tips on how to help repair your skin barrier when it’s damaged. Keep reading to learn all about how to care for damaged skin and discover what you can do to restore your skin’s healthy appearance.
What Is Damaged Skin?
When we refer to damaged skin, we’re usually talking about a compromised skin barrier. In case you’re not familiar, the skin barrier is the outermost protective layer of your skin. When it’s working optimally, Dr. Henry explains, this invisible outer layer “functions as a protective barrier” and helps shield the skin from external aggressors. It also helps maintain your skin’s natural moisture balance, which is essential for hydrated, healthy-looking skin. Exposure to stressors (such as harsh weather or environmental pollutants) can overtax the skin barrier, leaving it less able to defend itself against stressors. If left unaddressed, this may lead to a damaged or weakened skin barrier.
How Do I Know If I Have a Damaged Skin Barrier?
According to Dr. Henry, “damaged or compromised skin may manifest in myriad ways.” Excessive dryness is a common sign of damage to your skin’s protective barrier. Your skin may feel tight and irritated, and you may experience peeling, flaking, or cracking—all of which can lead to noticeable feelings of discomfort. The good news: While these skin concerns can be frustrating, Dr. Henry says that they can be managed with tweaks to your habits and skincare routine.
How To Repair Skin’s Moisture Barrier
To answer the question at hand, yes—according to Dr. Henry, damaged skin can be repaired. If you’re experiencing excessive dryness, redness, or discomfort, there are a few things you’ll want to do. First and foremost is putting a pause on anything that could be considered irritating or abrasive, Dr. Henry says, including exfoliants.
Ultra Facial Advanced Repair Barrier Cream
Instead, use a gentle cleanser to wash your face, then moisturize with a skin barrier repair cream, like Ultra Facial Advanced Repair Barrier Cream. The breathable balm-to-cream formula with colloidal oatmeal and beta-glucan is uniquely formulated to support barrier recovery. It instantly relieves and helps repair dry, sensitive skin while visibly diminishing redness caused by dryness. You can apply it directly to compromised skin or layer it over your serum and moisturizer morning and night for soothed, healthy-looking skin.
How To Protect Your Skin’s Natural Moisture Barrier
Knowing how to protect your skin is also important when it comes to caring for your skin barrier. Ahead, discover four essential tips to help support your skin’s protective barrier.
Minimize Exposure To Known Stressors
One way to protect your skin from damage is to avoid known aggressors when possible. This can include environmental stressors like air pollution and harsh weather, but also certain skincare products. If you’re prone to dryness or sensitivity, we recommend steering clear of aggressive cleansers and instead opting for gentle, hydrating options. One we love is our classic Ultra Facial Cleanser. Formulated with squalane, avocado oil, and glycerin, this paraben-free face wash helps dissolve dirt, oil, and debris without stripping the skin of essential moisture. Plus, it’s pH-balanced to help maintain your skin’s natural protective barrier and is suitable for all skin types. We suggest using it morning and night to cleanse your face and prepare your skin for the rest of your routine.
Wear Sunscreen Every Day
Super Fluid UV Defense Daily Facial Sunscreen SPF 50+
Studies have shown that exposure to ultraviolet radiation—specifically, UVA and UVB rays—can compromise your skin barrier’s ability to function properly.I While you can’t avoid sun exposure completely, wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen every day can help protect your skin. We recommend looking for one with an SPF (or sun protection factor) of at least 15, like Super Fluid UV Defense Daily Facial Sunscreen SPF 50+. The lightweight, non-comedogenic formula helps defend the skin against UV rays, pollution, and free radicals and is suitable for all skin types. Apply it to your face and neck at least 15 minutes before going outside, and remember to reapply every two hours or after sweating or swimming. Additionally, aim to avoid direct sun exposure at midday and wear protective clothing to shield your skin whenever possible.
Keep Your Skin Hydrated
As we mentioned earlier, one of the most important functions of your skin’s natural moisture barrier is keeping water in your skin. Moisturizing consistently can help ensure your skin is getting the hydration it needs to look and feel its best. At Kiehl’s, we have many different moisturizers you can choose from, including formulas designed to help target specific skin concerns. For long-lasting yet lightweight hydration suitable for all skin types, we suggest Ultra Facial Cream with Squalane. This iconic moisturizer delivers up to 24 hours of hydration, leaving your skin feeling soft, smooth, and balanced. Use it alone, or layer it under our Ultra Facial Advanced Repair Barrier Cream as needed for extra TLC.
Those seeking more intensive moisture can swap out their face cream at night for an overnight mask, such as the Ultra Facial Overnight Hydrating Face Mask with 10.5% Squalane. This hydrating mask helps replenish the skin’s essential lipids, increasing barrier stability while improving moisture retention. It helps minimize visible dryness overnight while also preventing dryness for up to three days. We recommend using it three times per week as an overnight mask, but you can also use it as a quick 15-minute treatment as needed to help nourish dry, flaky areas.
Finally, don’t forget to give your eye area some love, too: The skin here is thin and more vulnerable to external stressors. Our Avocado Eye Cream delivers all-day hydration and helps de-puff and brighten the under-eye area—just a few reasons why the avocado oil-infused formula is a Kiehl’s cult classic.
Consult With a Dermatologist
Last but not least, know that you don’t have to go it alone. If you have questions about the best way to protect your skin barrier or are having trouble finding relief from dryness or other signs of barrier damage, Dr. Henry advises visiting a board-certified dermatologist. They can help you identify potential stressors and work with you to build a skincare routine that works for you.
I. Biniek, Krysta et al. “Solar UV radiation reduces the barrier function of human skin.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America vol. 109,42 (2012): 17111-6.