Emma Wedgwood

All about your skin barrier (and why you should protect it)

May 31, 2023

We’ve all seen and heard the adverts that say this product or that product doesn’t damage the skin barrier, it’s been an important line in skin advertising since the 90s. In fact, we’ve probably heard it so many times by now that most of us don’t give it much thought, beyond knowing that our skin barrier is somehow important.

So, what exactly is the skin barrier? In this article, I’ll be explaining exactly what your skin barrier is and how, and why, we need to protect it.

What is the skin barrier?

Let’s start with the science.

Your skin is made up of several layers that all work together to protect your body. The outermost layer of skin, the bit we can see, is the tough outer wall that keeps everything that needs to be protected inside. This is the skin barrier.

Like a brick wall, the skin barrier is made up of several elements. Skin cells (corneocytes – actually dead skin cells) are the bricks. In between the cells are cholesterol, ceramides and fatty acids, a bit like mortar. Then there are corneodesmosomes, these are like rivets that hold everything together, but also allow the skin to shed.

What does the skin barrier do?

Your skin barrier is really important to your survival. It protects harmful things from getting in, while keeping the things we need inside (like water and nutrients). Without the skin barrier, all the water inside our bodies would evaporate and we’d shrivel up and die. So, it’s pretty important!

How does the skin barrier get damaged?

Just like a regular wall, the skin barrier can get damaged if we don’t look after it.

If the skin barrier does get damaged, then it can’t do its job as it’s meant to. That means our skin will get more dehydrated, not function at its best and it won’t look great either. A glowing radiant complexion starts with a healthy skin barrier.

Some damage is permanent and can’t be reversed. That’s why it is so important to make sure we look after it in the first place.

Things that can cause damage to the skin barrier include:

Sun exposure

UV radiation from the sun can damage the skin barrier. Inflamed skin is a clear indication that the skin barrier is currently damaged. But even exposure without sunburn can cause damage. That’s why you should wear SPF every single day, no excuses.


When you are under emotional stress your body will prioritise the most important functions first, such as keeping your heart beating and your lungs breathing. Protecting your skin barrier won’t be at the top of the list. Getting lots of sleep and focusing on our mental wellbeing can help our body do what it needs to do to protect our skin.

But stress can also be physical in the form of harsh products and over exfoliating. While it’s important to exfoliate, many of us do it far too often. Friction from harsh scrubs can cause stress to the skin, as can chemical exfoliants which strip the skin’s barrier. If you have an over exfoliation habit, remember that cleansers are often the main culprit. Look for cream, balm or oil cleansers which can be gently rinsed off.


Toxins can affect your skin from the inside and outside too.

What we eat and drink has a huge effect on our skin. Alcohol and sugar can both contribute to dehydration, while a diet rich in omegas and beta carotenes (oily fish, nuts, fresh fruit and vegetables) will help support the skin barrier.

External pollutants such as cigarette smoke (which can also damage the skin from the inside if the smoke is yours), makeup and environmental toxins can all sit on the skin and prevent the barrier from doing its job. At worst, these toxins can also damage the barrier permanently. Make sure you wash your face at the end of the day to keep your skin free of debris and anything else that might damage it.

Think of your skin barrier as your protection. You want to keep it clean and safe so that it can do its job. The right treatments and a simple skincare routine can help protect your skin barrier, and there are some treatments that can repair damage.

If you’d like to find out more about the health of your skin barrier, and what treatments might be right for you, do get in touch!

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