Your skin’s barrier is a mighty force field that acts as a buffer between you and the outside world. But some of our most common habits can throw it off-balance, triggering dryness, itching, sensitivity, and more. These pro tips and a few key ingredients will put you on the fast track to healthy, radiant skin.
Silky, velvety, baby-like—this is how we describe soft skin. A dermatologist would call it "having a very healthy skin barrier."
You may already know that the barrier is the outer layer of skin. But those of us without medical degrees might not realize that some of our most common skin issues (like dryness and irritation) can be caused by a depleted barrier, and that simple things like how hot we run our shower or how much sleep we get can contribute to barrier dysfunction.
Japanese beauty rituals have long focused on supporting and maintaining a healthy skin barrier through gentle, nourishing ingredients and skin-calming practices that you can easily incorporate into your daily routine.
How does the skin barrier work?
Our skin is comprised of numerous layers, the outermost of which is the stratum corneum—otherwise known as the skin barrier. It acts as a shield to stop irritants, bacteria, and other harmful elements in the atmosphere from entering our skin and our body. It also seals in moisture, which, of course, is essential for healthy skin. In other words, think of the skin barrier as keeping the bad stuff out and the good stuff in.
What happens when the skin barrier is damaged?
An impaired barrier is less equipped to keep harmful elements out and hydration in. Skin becomes more prone to dryness and dullness, due to the buildup of dead cells, and more susceptible to sensitivity, irritation, and the damage that contributes to skin aging.
"Dry, rough, or flaky skin is a good clue that the barrier may be compromised," says Ranella Hirsch, M.D., a Boston dermatologist. Some external stressors contributing to skin barrier dysfunction, like pollution and the sun’s UV rays, can’t be avoided entirely. Other stressors, however, can be eliminated or drastically reduced by a few simple lifestyle and product changes.
Here are four easy updates that will help you have a strong, healthy skin barrier.
1. Lower your shower temperature
A piping hot shower may feel therapeutic, but it does the opposite to your skin, stripping away its natural moisturizing oils. The occasional steamy rinse-off won’t do much harm, but prolonged, consistent exposure to hot showers can disrupt the barrier and may contribute to chronically dry skin. Plus, “eczema, psoriasis, and rosacea are often made worse by taking hot showers,” says Dr. Hirsch.
A clinical trial reported by the National Library of Medicine found that when washing skin prone to irritation, the hotter the water, the more damage to the skin barrier. Another study published in the International Journal of Consumer Studies linked hot water during handwashing to skin irritation. So turn the faucet or showerhead to lukewarm as often as you can.
2. Use cleansers with ingredients that support the skin barrier
Soaps and cleansers with harsh detergents can deplete your skin barrier, leading to dry hands and tight, itchy skin. “A gentle cleanser that delivers moisture to the skin can go a long way toward repairing a damaged barrier,” says Dr. Hirsch. Look for formulas that contain a mild surfactant such as sodium laureth sulfate, along with hydrating ingredients like glycerin that deposit moisture as you cleanse.
3. Ease up on exfoliants
We’re talking to you, gritty body scrubs and abrasive buffing tools. Data shared by the Plastic Reconstructive Surgery Global Open reveals that these types of physical exfoliants can cause a temporary disruption in the skin barrier that triggers dry skin and, in some cases, inflammation.
Pay attention to how your body skin looks and feels right after you exfoliate: If it’s red or feels tight, you’re overdoing it and potentially disrupting your skin barrier. Always use a light touch and avoid salt scrubs, which can scratch the skin. The Japanese have long relied on exfoliating towels to softly yet effectively polish the body skin. Whichever type of buffer you use, be sure to slather on a rich lotion immediately afterward to replenish the skin’s moisture, which helps keep the barrier in good shape.
4. Take time to unwind
We all know what elevated stress levels or a lousy night’s sleep can do to our complexion, but your skin is one organ, which means all of it is affected when self-care falls by the wayside. Stress and lack of sleep are clinically shown to decrease skin barrier function, triggering or aggravating inflammation and skin disorders like eczema and psoriasis. The Japanese principle of inemuri encourages taking a power nap whenever and wherever you need to, so the next time you feel yourself nodding off at your desk, allow yourself a few minutes of shut-eye in the name of good skin.
Fermented rice bran prevents atopic dermatitis. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4946324/
Effect of rice starch on the barrier function of skin. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12353708/
Bioactive components and health-promoting properties of yuzu. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/87559129.2014.902958
Variations in major antioxidants and total antioxidant activity of yuzu. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15366841/
Psychological stress deteriorates skin barrier function. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-24653-z