Behaviors To Avoid So You Don't Damage Your Skin Barrier

Want the key to healthy skin? It's all in your skin barrier. Your skin barrier — a.k.a. your lipid or moisture barrier — is found on the stratum corneum, which is the outermost layer of the skin (per Ané). From retaining moisture to protecting you from environmental stressors, pollutants, and even microorganisms, this barrier is also your skin's first line of defense (per Vichy Laboratoires).


Think of your skin barrier as a brick wall, with the bonds between your skin cells acting like the mortar that binds bricks. When you expose your skin to certain stressors or when you develop a barrier-disrupting skin condition like psoriasis, the wall can become damaged, causing moisture loss and leaving it vulnerable to germs and irritants (via Rodan + Fields). This damage to the barrier is the main culprit for the burning or itching sensations you get with some skin conditions. Healthline lists other signs of damage to the skin barrier as redness, flakiness, dryness, and patches on the skin.

As skincare apothecary brand Kiehl's mentions, genetics, environmental stressors, and even hormones can lead to a damaged skin barrier. However, your own behaviors might also be playing a part. Here are some behaviors to avoid to achieve a healthier barrier.


Going without sunscreen

What do you get without sunscreen? Hyperpigmentation, sunburns, skin cancer, and — to add to the long list of reasons why you should use sunscreen — skin barrier damage. According to a study in the journal "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America," the sun emits ultraviolet rays which degenerate the proteins that form the glue binding your skin cells together. When this glue melts away, your barrier becomes weakened and you can develop skin conditions like itchy skin and sensitivity. The degeneration of proteins also causes deeper UV ray penetration into your skin, which affects structural proteins like collagen. Renew Alliance says this can lead to premature or accelerated aging in the form of wrinkles, fine lines, and age spots. So, do not skip the sunscreen, and ensure you reapply your sun protection every two hours to defend your precious skin barrier.


Exfoliating or cleansing too often

You're all done with your routine and you've applied your sunscreen. Great job! However, it's possible that the products in your routine, or how you use them, can also be damaging your barrier. For instance, how often are you exfoliating? Exfoliation works by sloughing away dead skin cells, making way for fresh new skin layers. But CeraVe warns that over-exfoliating can lead to irritation, redness, and a damaged skin barrier.


And just as exfoliating too much can damage your barrier, so can cleansing your skin too often (per BareLuxe). Plus, it can make matters worse if you're cleansing with water that's too hot, or using overly harsh face washes. For a healthy barrier, limit exfoliation to a maximum of two times a week and cleanse with a gentle, non-stripping cleanser.

Skipping moisturizer

For a healthy barrier, moisture is key. As Stacked Skincare explains, most moisturizers contain water-loving ingredients like humectants, which attract water molecules, and occlusives, which prevent water loss. Hydration keeps the skin supple and maintains a healthy barrier (per Naturalis). Going without a good moisturizer in your routine leaves skin dry, leading to a higher risk of damage by environmental factors like UV radiation and pollution.


For better barrier protection, consider using moisturizers that support your skin's Natural Moisturizing Factor, or NMF, like The Ordinary Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA. The NMF is a mix of compounds like ceramides and hyaluronic acid that attract water from the atmosphere to your skin cells. And according to Dermaviduals, the NMF is vital for your skin's pH levels, enzyme activity, and of course, barrier integrity. So for your healthiest barrier yet, do not skip moisturizer.

Being too rough with your skin

Applying barrier-protecting skincare products is great, but so is being mindful of how hard or gentle you're applying them. According to WebMD, physical force like pulling at your skin, shaving roughly, or scratching can actually damage your barrier. Even toweling off too roughly can do harm.


Besides physical force, Metrin Skincare also warns that long hot showers and baths can weaken your skin barrier's protective functions by stripping it of its natural oils and contributing to inflammation. So be careful with your complexion, as a healthy barrier can only be achieved when you're gentle with your skin.

Having an unhealthy diet

They say you are what you eat, and it seems like this applies to your skin as well. It's pretty well-known that eating foods that cause inflammation or increase hormone levels — like fast food, dairy products, and chocolate — can worsen your skin and cause acne (via Healthline). But diet can also lead to a weakened barrier (per All Things Health). 


To give your barrier a boost, try to embrace a healthier diet by incorporating foods that are rich in nutrients like omega-3, vitamins C and A, biotin, and collagen (per Be Beautiful). For a start, seeds and nuts like almonds and sunflower seeds contain healthy fats that are great for your barrier, and vegetables like carrots and broccoli contain skin-repairing nutrients.