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What Affects Your Skin Barrier and How to Repair It

28 Jan 2023

It may not be obvious on the surface, but the skin is constantly hard at work, especially its outer layer, the skin barrier (also known as the moisture barrier). Find out more about what external and internal factors are damaging your skin barrier – and how you can protect it!

The skin barrier plays the role of protector but it’s always trying to find the perfect balance. If compromised, the skin barrier becomes weak, which can trigger irritation and inflammation. When the skin barrier is damaged, it triggers “transepidermal water loss”. This is essentially the scientific term for skin dehydration and the loss of water that passes from the skin, into the environment. Some of the main symptoms of a weakened skin barrier include redness, itching, burning or a tight sensation.

Sounds like sensitive skin, right? Wrong. All too often, people assume they have sensitive skin when they’re dealing with a damaged skin barrier. We dug deep to find out what causes the skin barrier to become compromised and how to take care of your skin to improve its health and appearance.

What is the exposome?

The exposome is a fairly new concept. The term was coined in 2005 by Dr. Christopher Wild, a cancer epidemiologist. It refers to external and internal factors, and their interactions, that affect an individual’s body from conception to death.

The skin plays an important role because it is first and foremost a barrier that’s subjected to lifelong exposures, such as:

  • Photodamage caused by sun exposure
  • Air pollution
  • Tobacco smoking
  • Nutrition
  • Lifestyle influences

The skin is the body’s largest organ. Its level of interaction with its surroundings is greater than any other organ, which emphasizes the need to understand the exposome factors and their effects on the skin. Vichy Laboratories is currently funding studies around the world to further identify the impact of the exposome on skin health.

What is the skin barrier?

The skin barrier does exactly what it sounds like—it helps the skin retain moisture. The barrier itself consists of the outer most layer of the skin and is made of multiple layers of cells called coenocytes. Consider these layers the “bricks of a protective wall.” They are held together by ceramides, cholesterol, and lipids—the “mortar.” Together, they are part of the epidermis, which is the outermost layer of the skin. The skin barrier acts as a brick wall that provides protection from environmental stressors, preventing harmful substances (bacteria and dangerous chemicals) from entering the body as well as keeping water and other beneficial substances from leaving the skin.

What factors damage the skin’s barrier?

Compromising the skin barrier function is easier than you might think. Some skincare products, like harsh cleansers, can strip the skin of its essential lipids. Over washing and over exfoliating are also culprits. Additionally, using high concentrations of active ingredients like retinol and glycolic acid can also damage the skin barrier. So can stress, increased cortisol levels may negatively affect the skin’s barrier function, further driving inflammation.

Then there are external factors, like UV rays, pollution, and tobacco. These trigger internal molecular processes that can further damage the skin’s structure throughout a person’s life. These internal and external factors are known as the “exposome.”

How do you strengthen the skin barrier?

For starters, protect your skin barrier. Each of us benefits from protective strategies but for those with dry skin, rosacea or eczema, skin barrier protection is of utmost importance. A minimalist approach is essential. If your skin is currently flaring up, shift to non-soap cleansers and skip exfoliating. Avoid fragrance and put ingredients like retinol, AHAs, BHAs and vitamin C on pause. Lastly, procedures such as facials, chemical peels, certain lasers and microneedling should be avoided until the episode has passed.

Look for ingredients that are both moisturizing and soothing, like ceramides. These are the same ingredients that are already found in the “mortar” of the epidermis. Other ingredients to repair your barrier are hyaluronic acid (to increase hydration levels), niacinamide (to decrease inflammation) and vitamin B5 (to help heal injured skin).


No matter what skin type you have, or the concern you’re trying to target, include a moisturizer in your skincare routine. This is important for all skin types—especially during the winter months, when skin tends to be a little drier.

Use a gentle and moisturizing cleanser

Gentle, non-soap cleansers maintain the integrity of the skin barrier. Beware of gel or foaming cleansers with fragrance, they can steal moisture from the skin, disrupting the skin barrier and triggering inflammation. Instead, try Vichy’s moisturizing cleanser. This soothing and creamy cleanser removes all traces of makeup while leaving skin toned and comfortable.

Boost hydration around the eyes

The skin around the eyes can be up to five times thinner than elsewhere, making it the thinnest skin of the entire body. This means its more sensitive to external stressors like pollution, UV exposure, dehydration, stress, and tobacco, to name a few. Vichy Minéral 89 Eyes

Look for a product that rebalances the skin’s pH levels and strengthens it by stimulating cell regeneration and improving the skin’s barrier function.

Use a hyaluronic acid serum

Look for products that include ingredients like hyaluronic acid, which binds water up to 1,000 times its molecular weight to promote skin hydration. Vichy’s Minéral 89 uses a combo of natural hyaluronic acid (which keeps moisture from escaping the skin) and a high dose (89%) of Vichy Volcanic Water, which protects against aggressors like UV, stress, fatigue, and pollution.

Wear SPF

Sun-damaged skin is your quickest ticket to a dysfunctional barrier, so protect it with a daily SPF. Look for one that’s packed with antioxidants, protects against UVA and UVB rays and has a minimum SPF of 30. Vichy’s sunscreen is a mineral sunscreen gentle enough for sensitive skin, and contains Vichy Volcanic Water, which boosts the skin’s defense system.

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