how to strengthen your skin's protective barrier

Does your skincare routine change with the seasons?

I’m all about antiaging most of the year but, as soon as I feel the first whiff of winter in the air, I switch my focus to strengthening my skin’s protective barrier.

Not that I give up my retinol & vitamin C completely in the winter. But powerful ingredients + harsh winter weather = Sahara skin.

If there’s one thing that drives me crazy about dry skin is that wrinkles look 10x worse. It makes you think your retinol is aging you, when the real culprit is your damaged protective barrier.

If you want your skin to withstand the assaults of the colder season and fight wrinkles at the same time, you need to reinforce your skin’s natural defences and strengthen its protective barrier.

But how do you strengthen your skin’s protective barrier and which skincare products can do the deed?

What Is Your Skin’s Protective Barrier?

Your skin’s protective barrier is the outermost layers of the skin. It forms a shield that protects the layers underneath from harm.

Think of it as your skin’s first line of defence against harsh weather, germs, and all its other enemies. When your skin’s protective barrier is intact and healthy, it fights them off easily.

But your skin’s protective barrier doesn’t just keep stuff out of your body. It keeps something in too: moisture. This shield prevents moisture from evaporating, keeping your skin soft and hydrated for longer.

This barrier is made of bricks and mortar. The bricks are the dead cells ready to shed. The mortar is made up of lipids (like fatty acids and ceramides) that glue the cells together.

Related: Are Ceramides The Key To Healthy Skin?

CeraVe PM Facial Moisturising Facial Lotion

What Happens When Your Skin’s Protective Barrier Is Damaged?

Hint: it ain’t pretty.

Once your skin’s protective barrier is damaged, moisture evaporates through the cracks out into thin air. Cue dryness and dehydration.

That’s not even the worst part. Those cracks let in germs, pollutants and all kinds of crap that inflames your skin. In the worst case scenario, it can give you an infection, too. Ugh.

You understand now why strengthening your skin’s protective barrier is so important – more important than antiaging, sometimes?

What Weakens Your Skin’s Protective Barrier?

Why this happens?! What makes your skin’s protective barrier so weak, its enemies can wreak all kinds of havoc? All the usual suspects…:

  • Aging: As you get older, your skin produces less lipids, making your skin’s protective barrier weaker and weaker with each passing year.
  • Genetics: If you have chronic dark skin, eczema, psoriasis or other skin conditions, your skin’s protective barrier is naturally weak and prone to damage.
  • Harsh skincare treatments: Over-cleansing, over-exfoliating, cleansers with a high pH, high doses of retinol & other powerful actives can all comprise your skin’s protective barrier, especially if it’s weak to begin with.
  • Harsh winter weather: The endless cycle of unrelenting winds, freezing temperatures outdoors and dry heating indoors disrupts your skin’s protective barrier.
  • Unprotected sun exposure: A lesser known effect of UV rays is their destruction of your skin’s protective barrier.

Related: 5 Skincare Treatments That Can Damage Skin (If Abused)

How To Strengthen Your Skin’s Protective Barrier

Strengthening your skin’s barrier is easy: you just have to give back to your skin the lipids it has lost. You can do this in two ways (and I recommend you do both):

  1. Replenish your skin with lipids: Use products with fatty acids, ceramides, cholesterol and all those things that make up the glue that holds the skin’s barrier together.
  2. Stimulate lipid production: Use ingredients, like hyaluronic and niacinamide, that trigger the production of ceramides and other building blocks of the mortar, helping skin repair itself.

P.S. If you’re young and have normal/oily/resistant skin, your skin’s protective barrier is already strong. You don’t need to put too much focus on strengthening your skin barrier. But I’d still keep a niacimide booster or ceramide moisturiser at hand in case the weather or something starts weakening your natural defences. 🙂

Is your skin so dry, your protective barrier is always weak and in need of repair? Sign up to the newsletter below to receive the “Dry Skincare Routine Cheatsheet” (it includes product recommendations, too!).

What Are The Best Skincare Products To Strengthen Your Skin’s Protective Barrier?

The Bottom Line

A strong protective barrier is the foundation on which to build a good skincare routine. Whenever you feel it getting a little weaker, use skincare products that add mortar back into your skin and strengthen your skin’s protective barrier again. Bye bye, dry, damaged skin!