Is Your Skin Barrier Damaged? Here’s How to Heal a Broken Skin Barrier

Have you ever introduced new products to your routine without researching the ingredient list to make sure your routine is fully compatible? Ever used retinol at the same time as exfoliants containing ingredients like glycolic acid, AHAs, or salicylic acid? 

We hate to be the one to break it to ya, but… your elaborate skincare routine miiiiight be wreaking havoc on your skin’s protective, natural barrier. 

There are several causes of skin barrier damage, like using incompatible ingredients for your skin type or skin concern, over-exfoliating, environmental factors (like way too hot or way too humid conditions) OR over-exposure to sun and UVA/UVB rays (yet another reason to slather on the sunscreen). 

Basically, a broken skin barrier is your skin’s way of telling you to slow down, simplify, and stop slathering on a ton of product. Not sure how to tell if your skin barrier is damaged, or how to restore your barrier to its former glowy glory? 

Let’s get started. 

First, What Exactly Is The Skin Barrier? 

The skin is made up of several layers, and the epidermis (aka your skin barrier) is the uppermost layer. The epidermis retains moisture and helps keep skin hydrated. 

Your skin is constantly fighting against pollutants, irritants and inflammation, shielding you against the elements all while protecting a delicate balance of moisture and lipids (hint — the good stuff that makes skin supple, soft, and well-hydrated). 

Top Damaged Skin Barrier Symptoms 

A broken skin barrier might experience painful symptoms like: 

  • Red, flaky, and itchy skin 
  • Sensitivity 
  • Tightness or irritation
  • Discoloration, inflammation, or dark spots 
  • Bacterial or viral infection-prone acne

Follow these five tips to reverse skin barrier damage and nurse your tired skin back to health. 

How to Restore a Broken Skin Barrier 

1. Don’t pick at or touch your face 

This is a tough pill to swallow, but so crucial for barrier repair. Skin picking is often habitual or anxiety-driven, especially when you’re feeling emotional about how your skin looks. It can be tempting to use tweezers to pick away flaking, damaged skin or harshly scrub your face with a towel, but this will only worsen your symptoms. 

One of the biggest tips for dealing with a damaged skin barrier is to be nice to yourself. For areas that are particularly red or inflamed, try covering up mirrors, wearing zit stickers, or going for a walk instead of fixating on “fixing” your skin. 

(P.S. When I notice someone wearing zit stickers out in public — at bars or restaurants — I always want to become their friend. It’s vulnerable and cool, and cool to be vulnerable.) 

2. Stop using retinoids, acids, and exfoliators 

Basically, put away your just-for-fun skincare — sheet masks, sleeping masks, essences, and both chemical and manual exfoliating products — and focus on an essentials-only routine for a while. 

3. Don’t introduce multiple new products 

It can be tempting to immediately head to Sephora or click “add to cart” on every barrier-restoring product on the market, but ultimately, this can overwhelm the skin when it’s already vulnerable. 

While barrier repair serums and creams are trendy right now, it’s better to focus on what works — daily cleansing, using an ultra-nourishing moisturizer, and protecting your skin from further damage with sunscreen. 

4. Avoid heavy makeup 

Because a damaged skin barrier is often an invitation to let skin breathe for a while, you’ll want to avoid heavy or full coverage foundation, which can delay the healing process for longer. 

A damaged barrier can also affect your confidence, but remember: you are not your skin. You’re so much more than that, and having a broken skin barrier isn’t a sign that you’ve failed at skincare. It happens to everyone — because we alllll have highly individual skin with varying needs and preferences. 

5. Stick with a simple, gentle routine 

We designed the entire Covey routine to be your barrier’s BFF, achieving a dual purpose of both strengthening your skin barrier when it’s doing well, and restoring your skin barrier when it needs some love. 

In general, stick with these core products when your skin barrier is damaged: 

  1. Apply a gentle facial cleanser both morning and night. Don’t scrub or dry your face aggressively. Simply rub cleanser onto skin both morning and night (no more than 2x per day, ya hear!) and pat dry 
  2. Use a serum focused on hydration. Look for formulas with peptides, ceramides, or niacinamide
  3. Opt for a super nourishing moisturizer packed with ingredients like squalane, glycerin, or hyaluronic acid (btw Covey Last But Not Least Moisturizer boasts all three!)

It takes time to repair a broken skin barrier, but remember — gentle, compatible ingredients and getting back to skin basics will make a world of difference.

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