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How to Repair Your Skin Barrier: 5 Expert Tips

From the Experts | Oct 24, 2023
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Your skin barrier is your body’s first line of defence against harmful toxins, but just because it’s strong doesn’t mean it’s invincible. Without the right care, even the hardiest shield will break down.

So, what can be done to build it back up? Here, we reveal how to repair your skin barrier in five crucial steps, plus the key ingredients you need to heal a compromised complexion. Let’s get started…


Understanding skin barrier damage

First, you need to know what the skin barrier is. Put simply, it’s the outermost layer of your skin, which protects the deeper layers and skin cells that lie underneath. Your skin barrier is designed to lock in nourishment, while protecting your body from daily aggressors and infections. Think of it like a built-in shield, standing between you and any harmful toxins.

Like any shield, the skin barrier can become compromised when placed under extreme stress. If this happens, your complexion is at risk of redness, dullness, dryness, irritation and accelerated ageing. This is because, not only will the barrier be letting vital nutrients escape, but pollutants, UV rays and irritants will be able to infiltrate your skin cells and wreak havoc.

The biggest signs of a damaged skin barrier

Do you think your skin barrier might be compromised? It’s important to know the signs of damage to look out for, so you can halt further skin stress in its tracks and begin healing your complexion.

Watch out for these skin concerns:

  • Dryness and dehydration
  • Itchy skin and eczema
  • Rosacea and redness
  • Chronic skin irritations
  • Skin infections
  • Delayed wound healing
  • Hyperpigmentation

The importance of skin barrier repair

In order to calm your complexion and get your skin back to its calmest state, it’s important to heal and support your skin barrier with a reparative regimen. Only when your skin barrier is strong will you see problems like dryness, redness or hyperpigmentation clear up. But without fast action, early symptoms may spiral; itchiness can become a skin infection, or dehydration can lead to flaking, peeling and a rough texture.

So, before skin barrier damage goes too far, reach for soothing skincare that strengthens and rebalances pores.

5 steps to heal your skin barrier

1. Find the cause of barrier damage

What causes a damaged skin barrier? It’s important to track down your triggers first of all, so you can put a stop to any habits or aggressors that are putting your pores through stress. Things to watch out for include:

  • Extreme weather, which can throw off your skin’s pH levels. From too-harsh winds to scorching UV rays, it’s important to protect your complexion from the elements year-round – but especially when the climate is unpredictable.

  • Pollution in the air that surrounds you and the water you cleanse your skin with. Make sure you apply an antioxidant-rich serum, like Ultimune Power Infusing Concentrate to empower your skin barrier against the effects of smoggy city air.

  • Shiseido’s Urban Environment Age Defense Sunscreen and Tanning Compact Foundation with SPF

  • Over-exfoliation caused by using gritty scrubs and/or potent resurfacing acids too frequently. While exfoliation is key to healthy cell turnover that keeps your complexion fresh and bright, overdoing it can break down your skin barrier and leave it prone to irritation.

  • Lifestyle factors, including smoking, poor sleep, not drinking enough water, a nutrient-light diet and excess stress. If your routine is off track or you’re feeling run-down, the effects of negative habits can start to show on your skin. This is your sign that it’s time to break those habits and show your body and mind the care they deserve.

  • Hormonal changes are often unavoidable; they’re all part of the privilege that is ageing. However, they can alter your pH levels, in turn impacting the health of your skin barrier. The best thing you can do is support your skin through these changes at each stage of life. Pay attention to how your complexion shifts as you get older, whether that means embracing richer creams for pores that are more prone to dryness, or seeking redness-reducing skincare if rosacea suddenly strikes. It’s all about listening to your skin and working with it – not against it.

2. Steer away from harsh skincare

When your skin barrier is damaged, harsh skincare products are a no-go. That means avoiding anything that strips your pores, such as exfoliants, acids and astringent toners. Even if your complexion is usually oily or acne-prone, now is the time to hit ‘pause’ on deep cleansing and purifying. Your goal instead is to keep your skin clean and comforted while it heals.

So, start your skincare routine with a gentle cleanser, like the Perfect Cleansing Oil. It effectively removes makeup, impurities and pollutants without stripping away skin’s natural, essential oils. Simply massage it into your skin, add water to emulsify, then rinse. If you’re double cleansing, use Clarifying Cleansing Foam for a deeper cleanse, then pat (don’t rub!) your face and neck dry with a soft towel.

3. Keep your skin well moisturised

Dryness is one of the biggest signs of skin barrier damage. You might notice tightness, flaking, roughness, crepey lines, redness, or a mix of all five. That’s why it’s crucial that you work on building your skin’s moisture levels back up. A skin softener is essential to this process, as it binds hydration to pores, while boosting the results of any moisturisers you apply on top.

So, after cleansing, press the Treatment Softener into your skin, making sure to apply a little extra to the most dehydrated areas. It feels like an instant sigh of relief for a parched complexion, and it helps your follow-up face serums and creams absorb more effectively.

Shiseido’s Urban Environment Age Defense Sunscreen and Tanning Compact Foundation with SPF

Next up, pat on Ultimune Power Infusing Concentrate; our #1 anti-ageing serum which increases skin’s capacity to hold water, and leaves your pores protected and soothed instantly. Once absorbed, follow up with Essential Energy Hydrating Cream for a boost of moisture magnet hyaluronic acid. This 24-hour face cream leaves skin moisturised on contact, with a dewy glow that lasts from day to night.

4. Slowly reintroduce active ingredients

After a few weeks of following your cleanser, softener, serum and moisturiser routine, your skin barrier should start to feel stronger and more balanced. The average skin cycle is five to six weeks, by which point the old, damaged cells should have sloughed away, and the fresh, renewed skin will be visible.

Once you’ve reached this fresh start, you can start reintroducing exfoliants and active ingredients. While they might be too powerful for compromised skin, fully healed complexions can reap their anti-ageing benefits. The trick is to take it slow. If, for example, you’re applying a retinol (such as LiftDefine Radiance Serum) or glycolic acid serum, use it once per week at first, then gradually ramp up the frequency to ease your skin into this new routine.

Shiseido’s Urban Environment Age Defense Sunscreen and Tanning Compact Foundation with SPF

5. Use a glide-on sunscreen

It’s important that you don’t rub sensitive, stressed-out skin, as the friction can cause further irritation. This is true when using a cleanser, serum, moisturiser, and even SPF. That’s why we recommend using a glide-on sunscreen, like the Clear Suncare Stick SPF50+, which you can swipe over your face and neck for weightless, invisible, broad-spectrum protection.

Shiseido’s Urban Environment Age Defense Sunscreen and Tanning Compact Foundation with SPF

Don’t skip this step. All skin needs shielding, but especially a damaged skin barrier, which is extra vulnerable to the harmful effects of UV rays. Even if you’re wearing makeup, make sure you reapply sunscreen throughout the day to safeguard pores. Again, the Clear Suncare Stick SPF50+ is perfect, as it imperceptibly protects without disturbing your base.

Key ingredients to help restore a damaged skin barrier

1. Hyaluronic acid

Find it in: Essential Energy Hydrating Cream

The benefits of hyaluronic acid are seemingly endless. Not only does this naturally occurring molecule help to fill and plump fine lines, but it also holds over 1,000 times its weight in water, so it can bind mega moisture to dry skin. In the Essential Energy Hydrating Cream, its nourishing qualities go to the next level, thanks to Shiseido’s unique Hyaluronic Acid RED, which gives even deeper and 3x longer lasting hydration*.

*New ESSENTIAL ENERGY Hydrating Cream has a 3x longer hydration effect compared to the existing ESSENTIAL ENERGY Moisturizing Cream (24H vs. 8H).

2. Niacinamide

Find it in: Revitalessence Skin Glow Foundation SPF 30 PA+++

Also known as vitamin B3, niacinamide has been shown to stimulate the synthesis of ceramides, which in turn strengthens the bond between skin cells and your skin barrier. Add it to your routine with Shiseido’s Revitalessence Skin Glow Foundation with SPF 30, a radiant foundation with key benefits that include sun protection and a luminous finish. Enriched with skincare ingredients, it provides hydration and a natural glow to the skin. You’ll also benefit from Fermented Kefir+ which helps to strengthen the skin’s barrier function*. To use, apply the foundation evenly, starting from the centre of the face and blending outward for a seamless and radiant complexion.

*in-vitro test.

3. Glycerin

Find it in: Treatment Softener

As a humectant, glycerin is able to absorb water from the air, then draw it into your skin barrier for a deep, long-lasting hydration boost. This is why it’s such a key player in the Treatment Softener, where it teams up with antioxidants to plump parched pores. Swap your toner for this enriching elixir to bestow skin with intensive moisture that lasts day and night.

4. Squalane

Find it in: WASO Calmellia Multi-Relief SOS Balm

This soothing emollient protects, repairs and supports the skin barrier, working to deeply moisturise your skin while feeling positively weightless. It’s the ingredient of choice in the WASO Calmellia Multi-Relief SOS Balm, which is designed for targeted care on the most compromised of complexions. Apply it anywhere and everywhere you need to quickly rescue damaged skin. It goes on after moisturiser and can be topped up throughout the day to replenish and repair*.

*Instrumental test on 10 women, clinically proven 8h continuous hydration.

FAQs about how to heal a damaged skin barrier

Can I repair my skin barrier naturally?

The best way to repair your skin barrier is with a nourishing skincare routine; one that fuses nature’s most healing ingredients with cutting-edge science for guaranteed results. Avoid harsh actives and acids when your barrier is compromised, and instead look to gentle cleansers and comforting moisturisers to soothe your skin back to its healthiest.

How long does it take to repair a damaged skin barrier?

This can vary from one person to the next, but the average skin cycle is 30 days long, which means it may take around one month before skin starts to feel calmer. However, if the damage is extreme, healing your skin barrier could take up to six months. Just make sure you remain consistent with your reparative routine, and don’t be tempted to stray from nourishing cleansers and face creams.

Are there any lifestyle changes that can help repair a damaged skin barrier?

Certain daily habits can cause damage to your skin barrier, whether that’s smoking, not getting enough sleep, drinking too little water, or leading a busy, stressful lifestyle. So, as well as optimising your skincare routine with barrier-boosting formulas, start looking at ways to restore balance in your day-to-day life. Prioritise getting eight hours of sleep every night, keep a water bottle with you and drink all throughout the day, and enjoy a nutrient-rich diet with plenty of vitamins and minerals.

How can I maintain a healthy skin barrier once it’s repaired?

Once you’ve repaired your damaged skin barrier, don’t be tempted to rush back to an actives-heavy routine. These formulas are great for giving skin a glow and reducing wrinkles, but using too much of them at once can set your skin’s healing back to square one. Instead, introduce just one at a time, like a glycolic or retinol serum, and ease them into your routine. Apply once per week at first, then build up the frequency until you’re sure your skin can tolerate such potent ingredients.

Can I use vitamin C on a damaged skin barrier?

Yes, you can. In fact, vitamin C helps to reduce water loss in your skin and stimulates the production of barrier-supporting lipids. You’ll find this nourishing vitamin in WASO Yuzu-C Glow-On Shot Serum , which you can smooth on after softener but before moisturiser to lock moisture and radiance into pores.

Shiseido’s Urban Environment Age Defense Sunscreen and Tanning Compact Foundation with SPF

Can the skin barrier be permanently damaged?

It can, but don’t panic: permanent skin barrier damage is rare. Usually, if it happens, it might be the result of an underlying skin condition, extreme injury or a side effect of surgery. In most cases (and even with skin conditions, injuries or medical procedures), the skin barrier can be healed with a correct and consistent care routine.

Up next: Discover our complete guide to soothing dry skin in menopause, complete with further tips on strengthening your skin barrier.

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