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Do You Need a Barrier Cream? Two Kiehl’s Experts Weigh In


What Is a Barrier Cream—And What Does It Do?

Barrier creams can help protect and restore your skin’s natural moisture barrier. Here at Kiehl’s, our experts dish on the benefits of this skincare staple.

The skin’s natural moisture barrier isn’t visible to the naked eye, but it’s arguably one of the most important components of your skin. As the first line of defense between you and the environment, this protective barrier helps shield your skin from external damage—and it plays a key role in keeping your skin hydrated and healthy-looking. In a perfect world, it would always be working optimally. But over-exposure to external stressors can stress the skin barrier and leave it less able to perform its functions. In some cases, this can result in visibly compromised skin. Barrier creams—in other words, formulas designed to help protect and repair your skin barrier—are one way you can help address skin barrier damage.

To give you a full understanding of what skin barrier creams are, what they do, and how they work, we tapped two experts: Kiehl’s Skin Professional Julio Gonzalez and board-certified dermatologist Dr. Michelle Henry. Ahead, learn what they have to say about skin barrier repair products and get the scoop on how to use our barrier cream in your skincare routine.

What Is a Barrier Cream?

Ultra Facial Advanced Repair Barrier Cream

According to Dr. Henry, barrier creams are skincare products designed to help support the skin’s natural moisture barrier. They help “prevent excess moisture loss from the deeper layers of the skin,” she explains, while also protecting the skin from external aggressors that can lead to barrier impairment, such as harsh weather.

They may contain moisturizing ingredients, like hyaluronic acid or glycerin, as well as lipids, ceramides, and fatty acids. Our Ultra Facial Advanced Repair Barrier Cream, Dr. Henry explains, “incorporates unique humectant ingredients”—specifically, colloidal oatmeal (long used to help promote skin hydration and calm discomfort) and beta-glucan. The targeted balm-to-cream formula “works perfectly [for those] looking to soothe and moisten dry skin,” she says. It also helps visibly reduce redness caused by excessive dryness. While designed specifically for excessively dry and sensitive skin, Gonzalez notes that it’s suitable for all skin types.

Are Barrier Creams Moisturizers?

While generally creamy in texture, barrier repair moisturizers aren’t quite the same as your go-to everyday moisturizers. Face lotions and creams are often more lightweight and are designed to provide basic hydration rather than repair a damaged skin barrier. That being said, barrier creams do help hydrate the skin—the hydration just tends to be more intense and targeted than you’ll find in your typical facial moisturizer.

With the Kiehl’s barrier cream specifically, Gonzalez notes, “the redness relief” it provides is also unique. While numerous Kiehl’s moisturizers are suitable for sensitive skin, our barrier cream is especially “great for sensitive skin.” Another difference is that our Ultra Facial Advanced Repair Barrier Cream isn’t just for use on the face. As Dr. Henry explains, the cream “can be applied to almost any dry area of the skin, whether it’s the hands, cracked lips, or dry nostrils.” So while our barrier repair cream does moisturize, it’s more versatile than a standard facial moisturizer in terms of where it can be used.

When Should You Use a Skin Barrier Cream?

Barrier repair creams are designed to be used when the skin’s natural moisture barrier is compromised. If your skin starts displaying signs of damage—especially after exposure to stressors like harsh weather or other potential irritants—you may want to add one to your daily routine. Some visible signs of a damaged or poorly-functioning skin barrier, Dr. Henry explains, include “dryness, redness, and overall dehydration,” as well as roughness or flaking. Heightened sensitivity to your normal skincare products may also be a sign that your skin barrier isn’t in ideal shape.

How To Use a Barrier Cream In Your Skincare Routine

Now that you’re familiar with what a barrier cream is and what it does, read on to learn how we recommend using our Ultra Facial Advanced Repair Barrier Cream for smooth, healthy-looking skin.

Step 1:

Cleanse To Remove Impurities

Cleansing is a crucial first step in any effective skincare routine, but if your skin is highly stressed, gentleness is crucial—you don’t want to irritate it further. We recommend starting your routine with a mild, fragrance-free face wash, such as Ultra Facial Cleanser. The gentle formula helps dissolve dirt, oil, and other impurities without stripping the skin. Plus, it’s pH-balanced to help maintain the skin’s natural protective barrier and is suitable for all skin types. We suggest lathering it onto damp skin, then rinsing with lukewarm or cool water, as hot water can strip your skin of much-needed moisture.

Step 2:

Apply a Hydrating Serum

As we mentioned earlier, dryness and dehydration are both common signs of a damaged skin barrier. To help replenish dehydrated skin, try using a hydrating facial serum, like Hydro-Plumping Hydrating Serum. The formula, which contains 15% glycerin, deeply hydrates the skin, leaving it plumper, smoother, and more even-looking. The ultra-mild formula is also dermatologist and ophthalmologist-tested and suitable for use on the entire face (eye area included).

Step 3:

Moisturize Your Entire Face

Ultra Facial Cream with Squalane

Though our barrier cream can be used alone, we recommend pairing it with moisturizer for added hydration. Our pick: Ultra Facial Cream with Squalane. This iconic formula—Kiehl’s #1 best-selling face cream worldwide—delivers up to 24 hours of hydration and helps replenish the skin’s natural moisture barrier. It boasts a lightweight texture that absorbs quickly, leaving your skin feeling soft and smooth.

Alternatively, if your skin is highly sensitive, try Centella Sensitive Cica-Cream. The hypoallergenic formula is clinically-demonstrated to help repair the moisture barrier of compromised skin.* It absorbs quickly to minimize rubbing and helps diminish the visible signs of distress—including redness and dry fine lines—in as few as three days.

*Based on an instrumental test of the skin barrier and clinical grading in an 8-week study.

Step 4:

Layer On Your Barrier Repair Cream

Last but not least, apply Ultra Facial Advanced Repair Barrier Cream to help protect and restore your skin. Gonzalez notes that while you can absolutely apply it to your entire face, the potent formula also works beautifully as a spot treatment. Apply it as needed (and reapply throughout the morning and night, if desired) to help restore your skin’s healthy appearance.

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