Sensitive Skin | Oily Skin & Acne | Impaired barrier | Dry Skin

Barrier Repair: the Key to Outrageously Healthy Skin

Barrier repair is a vital yet often overlooked skincare aspect.

It serves as the frontline defence between your body and the external environment.

Comparable to a diligent security guard.

Your skin’s barrier works tirelessly to prevent potential irritants from penetrating.

The great thing is that it also safeguards everything within.

Neglecting this crucial function can lead to various skin conditions.

In our comprehensive guide, we delve into the intricacies of barrier function.

To equip you with the knowledge needed for achieving and maintaining healthy, balanced skin.

Barrier Repair Problems

The skin is the body’s largest organ, a crucial interface between the internal body systems and the external environment.

Its primary function is to protect and support the body’s internal structures, making it essential for overall health and well-being.

When the skin’s barrier becomes compromised, many problems can arise, including dryness, eczema, rosacea, psoriasis, inflammation, premature ageing, dehydration, sensitivity, and redness.

These issues affect the skin’s appearance and can also impact its functionality, leading to discomfort and potential health complications.

Surprisingly, our clinic’s observations show that approximately 60% of individuals suffer from an impaired barrier.

Maintaining a healthy balance within the skin is key to preserving its youthful, supple, and firm qualities, ensuring optimal protection and vitality.

Natural Barrier Repair

The term “natural barrier” refers to the protective function of the stratum corneum, which is the outermost layer of the epidermis.

This layer serves as both a physical and chemical barrier, with two primary roles: preventing the penetration of allergens and bacteria into the skin and minimising water loss through a process known as trans-epidermal water loss.

The stratum corneum consists of multiple layers of flattened cells called corneocytes, surrounded by an oily, water-repellent coating.

This coating, comprised of ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids, forms an impermeable membrane that protects the skin from environmental aggressors such as bacteria and UV radiation.

Building and maintaining a strong natural barrier is essential for overall skin health and resilience, protecting against various external stressors.

Understanding the Natural Barrier 

Your barrier function is found in the stratum corneum, a specialised layer that forms the epidermis’s outermost part of your skin.

This layer functions as both a physical and chemical barrier; its role is twofold:

  1. To prevent penetration from invading allergens and bacteria.
  2. To avoid water evaporation, referred to as trans-epidermal water loss.

It is made of multiple stacks of flattened cells called corneocytes; there are layers upon layers of dead skin cells that are surrounded by an oily, water-repellent coating.

They provide a formidable barrier to water outflow and an impermeable membrane to the environment.

This oily environment comprises 50% ceramides, 25% cholesterol, and 10% fatty acids, essential lipids crucial for regular barrier repair. We discuss this subject in greater detail here.

Your barrier is a vital front line that protects you from environmental assaults, including bacterial infection, UV, and more.

Sensitive or not, building up your skin’s outer barrier gives your skin the increased resilience that we fragile folk so desperately require.

How is My Skin’s Barrier Function Formed?

The formation of your skin’s barrier function involves a complex process known as keratinisation. As new cells are formed, old cells migrate upward through the layers of the skin.

During this journey, they become cut off from their nutrient supply and produce a rugged, waterproof protein called keratin. This process is crucial because keratin provides your skin with resilience and strength.

Within the cells undergoing keratinisation, lamellar bodies produce complex fatty materials, or lipids, essential for maintaining the skin barrier.

These lipids are deposited between the skin cells, forming a matrix that helps to keep the barrier intact.

The proper mixture and organisation of these lipids in the space between the corneocytes are essential for maintaining healthy skin.

This barrier function is vital for protecting the skin from external aggressors and maintaining overall skin health and integrity.

While understanding this process may involve some technical terminology, it is essential for comprehending barrier repair and promoting skin wellness.

This video explains your skin’s keratinisation process.

Why the Barrier Become Weak?

Aside from environmental stressors, several factors can contribute to weakening the skin barrier. Age is a significant factor, as the skin barrier weakens over time.

Essential components like ceramides, cholesterol, and humectants such as hyaluronic acid and urea can deplete with age, further compromising the barrier function.

Additionally, individuals with certain skin types, such as Celtic skin, may naturally have a thinner barrier, making them more prone to issues like rashes, redness, and irritation.

Strengthening the skin’s barrier function is crucial for improving its appearance and increasing resilience, particularly for those with fragile skin.

A healthy barrier function maintains the right balance of lipids and natural moisturising factors (NMF), allowing the skin to retain water effectively, resulting in a dewy, plump, and radiant complexion.

However, various skin conditions can arise when the barrier is impaired, including dryness, flaking, tightness, redness, and itchiness.

Skin inflammation often occurs when the barrier breaks down, leading to heightened sensitivity and susceptibility to irritants. Itchiness is another common symptom of barrier damage, which can further exacerbate inflammation and redness when scratched.

This cycle of skin barrier impairment and reaction to irritants can become persistent, leading to ongoing skin issues.

Moreover, steroid creams, commonly prescribed for severe inflammation and eczema, can thin the skin over time, making it more vulnerable to further irritant damage.

Therefore, addressing barrier repair and maintenance is essential to promote healthy, resilient skin.

What can Upset My Barrier Function?

Several factors can disrupt your skin’s barrier function, leading to various issues. Here are some common culprits to be aware of:

Overcomplicated Routines: Simplify your beauty regimen to avoid overwhelming your skin. Harsh astringents containing alcohol and surfactants can strip away your skin’s natural oils, leaving it dry and vulnerable to irritation.

Active Acids: Avoid using strong acids like glycolic and salicylic acids, as they can remove the top layers of your skin, compromising the barrier function.

Exfoliants: Be cautious with exfoliants, especially those with harsh scrubbing particles, as they can cause micro-tears in the skin, leading to further damage.

Invasive Treatments: Procedures like micro-needling can disrupt the skin barrier, potentially causing irreversible damage.

Environmental Conditions: Exposure to extreme weather conditions such as cold, heat, dry air, and wind can damage the barrier lipids and weaken the skin’s protective layer.

Sun Damage: Cumulative sun exposure can affect cellular renewal cycles, impacting the formation of barrier lipids and compromising the skin’s barrier function.

Winter Months: Unprotected skin during winter can become dehydrated due to the destruction of barrier oils, leading to further barrier impairment.

Harsh Soaps and Detergents: Using harsh soaps or high-foaming detergents can strip away the skin’s protective sebum and break down barrier lipids, leaving the skin vulnerable to damage.

Over-Exfoliation: Excessive exfoliation and harsh peels can strip away the outer layer of skin cells and deplete barrier oils, weakening the skin’s protective barrier.

Genetic Conditions and Skin Disorders: Certain genetic conditions and skin disorders, like psoriasis, can negatively impact barrier function, increasing susceptibility to irritation and inflammation.

Being mindful of these factors and making informed choices about your skincare routine can help maintain a healthy and resilient skin barrier.

How to Rebuild Your Barrier

Choosing skincare products containing specific barrier-repairing ingredients is crucial to restore your skin’s resilience. Here are some key components to look for:

Lipid Components

Products containing lipid components like Xcell barrier repair oil can help supplement the missing elements in damaged skin, promoting barrier repair and restoration.

Humectant Ingredients

Look for serums containing humectant ingredients like hyaluronic acid and urea found in Quench. These ingredients attract water into the corneocytes, helping to hydrate and plump the skin.

Occlusive Ingredients

Occlusive ingredients such as cocoa butter create a physical barrier on the skin’s surface, sealing in moisture and preventing water loss, aiding in barrier repair. You can find these in our Barrier repair duo.

Protective Emollients

Emollient ingredients help the skin repair the damaged lipid layer through cell renewal, promoting smoother and healthier-looking skin.

Sebum-Identical Ingredients

Ingredients like jojoba and squalane mimic the composition of human sebaceous secretions, acting as lubricants on the skin’s surface and providing a smooth appearance.


Triglycerides, such as those found in castor seed oil, are highly moisturising and help replenish the skin’s lipid barrier, enhancing hydration and barrier function.

Linoleic Acid

Linoleic acid is essential for maintaining barrier function and is crucial for forming the lamellar phase of the stratum corneum lipids.

When selecting skincare products, look for ingredients such as phospholipids, ceramides, cholesterol, triglycerides, squalane, jojoba, fatty acids, and phytosterols.

These ingredients have compositions similar to the membrane structure of the skin’s natural barrier, making them effective in replenishing and repairing the skin’s protective layer.

By incorporating products rich in these barrier-repairing ingredients into your skincare routine, you can support rebuilding your skin’s barrier and promote overall skin health and resilience.

To conclude. The Naked chemist

In conclusion, the skin’s barrier function is vital for maintaining overall skin health and protecting the body from external threats.

When compromised, it can lead to various skin issues, including dryness, inflammation, premature ageing, and sensitivity.

Understanding the natural barrier, its formation process and factors that can weaken it is essential for effective skincare.

To rebuild the skin’s barrier, it’s crucial to opt for well-thought-out skincare products containing barrier-repairing ingredients such as lipids, humectants, occlusives, protective emollients, sebum-identical ingredients, triglycerides, and linoleic acid.

These ingredients replenish and repair the skin’s protective layer, promoting resilience and maintaining healthy, radiant skin.

By being mindful of factors that disrupt the skin barrier and incorporating barrier-repairing ingredients into your skincare routine, you can support rebuilding your skin’s barrier, enhance its resilience, and achieve optimal skin health and vitality.

109 replies on “Barrier Repair: the Key to Outrageously Healthy Skin”

Hi Samantha

Several years ago I started getting a bumpy rash on my forehead. I was prescribed acne medications and cream, several years later and after rounds of antibiotics it doesn’t clear. The rash is only on my forehead and scalp, I think I have damaged my skin barrier from acne creams and fungal creams when actually I was just having a reaction. Now the burning is really bad and the only thing I can use is cetaphil cleanser. I can’t put any makeup or moisturiser on my forehead the burning rash instantly spreads within minutes, even squalane oil I can’t tolerate on my skin. I also get a burning scalp from every shampoo. My skin even hurts when I start to sweat and produce my own oil or just being outside if it’s cold or windy my forehead feels so sore, tight and tingly.

Hi Samantha!
I was on an antihistamine that I shouldn’t have a been in the sun. Dumb me I went and laid out. My skin turned not red, but maroon. Since then I had weird eruptions around my nose and my face was super sensitive and about 5 different shades. A doctor thought it was a fungal infection so told me to put turbafine on it for a few weeks while taking oral antifungals. The cream causes more damage around my mouth and chin. Now when I move my face or eat or talk it turns bright red for about thirty seconds. Can you suggest what I should do to correct this. It’s been about 3 months and my face turns red to the touch. And feels very tight and tingly.

Hi Sarah I have to admit never coming across this reaction before? I recommend just using very little on your skin at this stage, strip it back to a simple water based serum and a moisturiser it sounds like your skin is really impaired.

Hi Samantha, I found this blog up late at night in excrutiating pain with with nowhere to turn

A few days ago I applied raw honey to my face and left in on for 3 hours as a recommended fungal acne treatment . Now my right chekewon’t stop burning. I am currently washing it gently with a mixture of colloidal oatmeal and water, then applying vaseline at night. I know there are healing ointments and moisturizers with ceramides that might make it heal faster, but at this point it feels like applying those things to my cheek would be the same as rubbing them into my eyeball. I have heard people talk about barrier damage being itchy or making dry or dull skin tone. I don’t think many people experience barrier damage to the point of nonstop burning pain.

In 2011, I suffered a burn to my right cheek from using tretinoin. My cheek burned painfully almost every day for six years before it finally healed some time around 2017 (I believe it took so long because an idiot doctor prescribed me a steroid cream for the problem, which permanently thinned my skin and made it extremely hypersensitive. After six years of nonstop pain, I was finally free. And now this. I can’t go through this again. I just can’t. I had gotten so used to life without this pain, I had forgotten what it felt like. And now it’s back. How could I be so stupid.

Hi I am so sorry to hear about your skin – your barrier is impaired and at this stage less is best, in fact some skin types just require little or nothing, honey applied directly on the skin I would never recommend as you can have a reaction which is what is happening to you. If you did what a healing barrier repair recommendation I would go with H20 and Biolipid, but ideally nothing right now and not vaseline because you may be reacting also. Samantha

I am pretty sure my last microneedling (last year) caused rosacea-looking cheeks, they are red, spidery, drier than it used to be and sometimes I get small papules.
What would you recommend to heal the skin?

Hi Victoria
It is difficult to tell but it sounds like your barrier has become severely impaired. Ideally you need a range of products that contain ingredients that will help to replenish and heal the skin such as Fortify and bio lipid from my range. You also should invest in a good sunscreen, once your skin has calmed down you can then use skin strengthening products such as DNA and A+ that will make your skin more resilient and help to improve dermal thickness. Warm regards Samantha

Hi- i’m in my 20s and I found out my facial skin barrier was completely compromised 2 years ago (due to years of obsessive use of scrubs/ exfoliators/ acids) – ever since i found out my routine has been very simple- i am very gentle with my skin and just use an emollient wash day and night- my skin has improved so much from the irritated contact dermatitis bumpy mess that it was but it is still very very sensitive and quite red in tone.
I wouldn’t leave the house to go to work or socialise at all but a year ago when i noticed an improvement I started using Loreal true match foundation about 2 days a week just to go out and socialise and resume ‘normal’ life on those days…. I was able to use this for a year (up until now) but suddenly, although my skins appearance has improved so much, I have just started breaking out in rashes due to this foundation! I’m so upset because I thought things would just continue to improve. I have now ordered zinc oxide powder and iron oxide powder to make my own gentle mineral makeup and hope i will be able to use this a couple of days a week with no reaction.. fingers crossed.. otherwise I don’t know what i’ll do- this is a very depressing and distressing situation for me as i’ve always cared (too much) about my appearance. Please could you email me and give me some advice as i’m really struggling with this 🙁
Thank you
P.S I’ve been patch tested for allergies and have 0 allergies so all my facial reactions are irritation contact dermatitis not allergic

My dermatologist said my barrier would eventually heal (he said 2 years to see significant improvement- which i have) but i’m on long term Lymecycline antibiotics in the meantime.

Hi Eleanor. I am happy to give you further advice but it really sounds as though you are moving in the right direction, we are all metabolically different so how long one’s skin needs to heal from trauma is dependant on the person. As long as your really using gentle healing products and monitoring your skin topically you are on the right track. Thank you for sharing your story Samantha

I have eczema and I am injured and disabled which compels me to exercise in the public swimming pool. This is wrecking havoc with my skin. What drew me to the conversation was the word barrier. I am seeking a preparation to apply to my skin all over and my hair after showering but before I go in the pool to sit between me and the chlorine soup. It needs to be protective and persistent. I shower again after the pool and treat my skin with layers of other stuff. What is a good barrier product for this purpose please?

Hi Samantha, I appreciate all and any help you can give me. I am so sad and having such a hard time just getting through each day. I don’t even recognize myself I look so bad and the damage continues top get worse which I can’t even begin to comprehend. So here it goes – May 2015 fully ablative CO2 laser. Plastic surgeon told me I would have a week of down time for some reason he lied but I could not leave the house for a month. It was for a scar on my face and a few little brown spots. Not something I ever would have done had I realized what it was because I had good skin. Sept and Oct of 2015 they did a IPL to try to correct the damage – I told them not to do any more IPLs because pigmentation was worse. Dec 2015 they did one micro-needling and I told them to stop. Feb 2016 I did a VI peal. June 2016 a new plastic surgeon put me on the obagi system with hydroquinone and retina. I stopped in September due to increased hyper pigmentation and irritated skin. This same plastic surgeon in Dec of 2016 did a fraxel lazer for hyper pigmentation.

In March 2017 I stupidly did a self administered cosmelon peal 1 and 2 which I stopped after seven days as I saw I was doing damage to my skin. This peal had hydroquinone, azelaic acid, kojic acid, arbutinfido acid, ascorbic acid. The cosmelon 2 had kojic acid and phylitic acid etc. I guess because of my skin’s vulnerability it started to randomly scar daily and has continued for the last year and four months to get worse and worse. I didn’t have scarring after all of the other procedures only horrible hyperpigmenation everywhere. The scars occurred all over my face daily after the cosmelon peal and have continued to get worse over the last year and 9 months. My skin barrier layer is completely destroyed, extremely dehydrated and dry, feels hot, burning and irritated almost all the time. I could live with all of that but not with this scarring that won’t stop and I am positive it is from a completely damaged barrier acid mantle .

I went through menopause at age 44 and I am now 51. I have tried to get my makeup off using simple microfiber cloths, cotton balls and water which involves rubbing and is very drying . I cannot handle any exfoliation. I have used distilled water and regular water – it all bothers me. I have tried the aveene line of products, copper peptides, vasoline, cetaphil, cerave, micellar water H20, Niacidiamide, Jojoba oil, argon oil, avocado oil, grape seed oil, sunflower oil, saflower oil, emu oil, olive oil, caster oil, cucumber juice, oatmeal, honey, lots of organic product with botanicals, copper peptides, laroche posay tolerance line. All of these are no-go and cause more scarring and irritation. I can’t use fruit acids – the list goes on and on. I’ve been trying to avoid all makeups with silicones. I have tried dermablend, skin pseudicals physical mat defense, tarte cosmetics, natural organic makeups, powder foundations with just four ingredients in them, like zinc and iron oxides, mica. Nothing seems to help and the dehydration and damage just continues. I can’t even find a makeup to use yet I won’t leave the house with out makeup because of the pigmentation and the scarring. I am currently using a cool mist humidifier every night to try to keep moisture in my skin. I take vitamin D, iron, selinium, zinc, magnesium, vitamin B complex, probiotics, and just started taking liposomal vitamin C and glutothione liposomal as well. Any help you could give me would be greatly appreciated.

Hi Jen

Thankyou so much for reaching out I am so sorry to hear about your skin issues. Jen I am going to personally email you my recommendations, please just bare with me as it is a busy time of year in the clinic but I will get around to responding. warm regards samantha

My face is in desperate need of help! I’m 67 yrs old, had beautiful facial skin, not oily, till about 2 yrs ago. My routine was simple, I used only 2 products cleanser / moisturizer. People would compliment me all the time. Thanks to menopause my face produces NO oil to protect my skin. It’s dry, irritates easily and has fine lines everywhere, which I never had! Some people may become more oily, but not me. The dermatologist I’ve been to keeps telling me to put Vanicreme, Cetephil, Cereve etc. but that stuff doesn’t work for me. It’s irritating and makes may face drier! I’ve done research on skin care ingredients over many years. Petrolatum, mineral oil, glycols, silicones, dent. alcohol etc. cause more dryness, irritation. Even some oils are for oily skin, not dry skin. Why do companies put drying ingredients in moisturizers for dry skin! I’m at a loss…it’s so depressing since I once had beautiful skin. Hope you can help me.
Thank You

Hi Carol
As we age our skin naturally loses ingredients, that is why the Naked Chemist is formulated with skin identical ingredients that are missing. Biolipid, Saviour, Fortify and H20 would be a great place for you to start. You should also consider taking fatty acids internally, vitamin C and magnesium. Yours in skin health Samantha

I had a Fraxel laser treatment 2 years ago, and since then have been experiencing chronic breakouts, dermatitis, fungal infections, increased sensitivity, and general intolerance of most products. I was using oils high in linoleic acid and stayed away from fragrance and essential oil products. Right now my routine is: Raw honey as face wash, cool water rinse, facial toner with niacinamide and sodium PCA, Hyaluronic acid serum, squalane oil, followed by Cerave moisturizer. Can you suggest anything different for me to use to help repair my barrier? Also, a week ago I used a sulfur acne spot treatment on my cheek and it seemed to leave an area where it changed texture and made a recessed area of skin. It did not peel or flake. Do you think this is temporary and will it heal ??? Please help.

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