September 04, 2020

Why It’s Important To Repair Your Skin Barrier (And How To Do It)

Photography, Karla Majnaric / Hair & Makeup, Julie Provis, Hart&Co / Talent, Kate Doyle, Chadwick Models  

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Between iso-skin, seasonal changes and just plain old life, our skin cops a lot of shit (to put it politely). And when the going gets tough, our skin can freak out.

A flare up can show up in the form of redness, dryness, itchiness or irritation. More often than not, a disrupted skin barrier is the cause of the issue.

Here’s the thing: most of us don’t even know what a skin barrier is, let alone how to repair it. So we’ve done the digging for you with the help of Deciem’s Chief Scientific Officer Prudvi Mohan Kaka.

What Is A Skin Barrier?

Hey, you. Yes, you with the topknot and matching tracksuit. You have a skin barrier! Surprise!

“Your skin is the first barrier against many extrinsic factors,” says Kaka. “With most of its protective components being found in the stratum corneum.” Also known as the epidermis, this is the outermost layer of your skin; it is our skin’s first line of defence against environmental aggressors and damage.

“Healthy skin should have an adequate balance between extracellular lipids and water-binding Natural Moisturising Factor (NMF),” says Kaka. “It should shed regularly, in a process known as desquamation, making way for newer skin.”

Sometimes, our epidermis can become compromised. A tell-tale sign that your skin barrier is less than healthy? “Your skin will be a lot drier, redder or more irritated than usual and you may also experience sensations of discomfort such as burning, stinging or itching,” says Kaka.

What Causes The Disruption?

As if this year hasn’t been disruptive enough, we now have to deal with our skin barrier being compromised. This can be caused by a number of factors, most of which lead to excessive moisture loss. Cute.

“When any of the components of the epidermis are compromised, this will destabilise the optimum environment for epidermal enzyme activity,” says Kaka. “This gives rise to persistent dry skin.”

Such compromising factors include…

The Environment

Think low-humidity environments, lifestyle choices, UV exposure, ageing and clinical skin conditions.

Excessive Cleansing

“This will remove essential lipids and can cause a change in the pH,” says Kaka. NB: twice a day is plenty when it comes to cleansing your face.

Harsh Exfoliants

Recently introduced a new active serum into your routine? Something containing retinol, AHAs, glycolic acid or the like? If your skin is showing signs of irritation, the recent addition could be the problem. To avoid this, Kaka recommends gently introducing these ingredients into your routine to avoid any shock factor.

How Do You Repair The Skin?

Help is on the way in the form of these handy habits and ingredients.


“Application of topical lipids and NMF can help to support and enhance a healthy skin barrier,” says Kaka, “but it’s also important to understand that the skin repairs itself.” Basically, topical cosmetics will only go so far, so patience is key.

Gritty Pretty loves: MediK8 C-Tetra Lipid Vitamin C Antioxidant Serum ($78.20), Elizabeth Arden Advanced Ceramide Capsules ($140)

Biomimetic Ingredients

Don’t worry, we weren’t familiar with these until Kaka introduced them to us, either. Biomimetic ingredients include amino acids (which help build protein), urea (which helps draw moisture into the skin) and lactic acids (which gently exfoliate). These bad boys help your skin hold onto moisture, soothing and rehydrating the all important barrier.

Gritty Pretty loves: Summer Fridays Super Amino Gel Cleanser ($61), The Ordinary Natural Moisturising Factors + HA($9.80), Biossance Squalane + Lactic Acid Resurfacing Night Serum ($102)

Gentle Cleansers

“When it comes to cleansing, a cleanser with gentle surfactants and a hydrating effect will help in the maintenance of a healthy barrier,” recommends Kaka. As for exfoliation, Kaka advises that this should be done with care. You want to build up your skin’s tolerance to strong exfoliating acids with milder products.

Gritty Pretty loves: CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser ($12.99), La Roche-Posay Toleriane Dermo Cleanser ($27.99)

Lifestyle Factors!

You didn’t think you were going to get through a skin story without an all important lifestyle reminder did you? “You need to get a good amount of sleep, stay well-hydrated, limit sun exposure, use sun protection and practice good hygiene to keep your skin barrier in check,” says Kaka. Sorry pals, good skin starts from within. We don’t make the rules.


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