Ask Curology: Your skin’s moisture barrier

The facts about fixing your damaged skin barrier

Nicole Hangsterfer Avatar

Nicole Hangsterfer
Mar 03, 2021 · 4 min read

We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

Welcome to Ask Curology, penned by one of our in-house medical providers in response to your questions about all things skincare. This week: what is a moisture barrier, and how do you repair it if it’s damaged? Our in-house expert has the scoop on damaged moisture barriers.

• • •

Dear Curology,

I’m new to moisturizing, and I could really use your help. Up until recently, my skincare routine consisted of using a super harsh cleanser that was drying the heck out of my skin — and that’s it. Needless to say, my skin is as dehydrated as a desert. What can I do to quench my face?

Signed,

Hung Out to Dry

Dear Hung Out to Dry,

Been there! Dull, flaky skin is pretty common. It can take a bit of patience and effort to repair your skin’s natural moisture barrier.

To cut to the chase, moisturizing can really help dehydrated or dried out skin because it can reinforce your skin’s natural barrier layer, which helps keep water in. It’s important to learn a little bit more about the potential causes of your flaky face in order to figure out which moisturizer is best for you.

What is a moisture barrier?

Naturally occurring fats (aka lipids) in our skin help form the moisture barrier, which plays a role in protecting our skin¹ and preventing water loss.² But this natural barrier can be thrown off by a number of factors (which I’ll explain in a bit).

If your skin barrier is compromised, you might notice dry, cracked, or flaky skin. Treatment usually includes moisturizing, which often helps reinforce the natural barrier of our skin. Sometimes, though, such symptoms can indicate medical conditions like eczema,³ which often requires treatment from a dermatology provider.

There are many different causes of dehydrated, damaged, or abnormally dry skin. Here are some of the most common triggers:

Environmental factors:

  • Seasonal changes (especially in the winter!)

  • Low humidity

  • Harsh winds

  • Dry heat

Other factors:

  • Harsh soaps

  • Harsh exfoliation or scrubbing

  • Long, hot showers

  • Exposure to irritants

  • Genetics

How can you help repair your moisture barrier?

You can often improve your skin’s moisture barrier with an effective moisturizer. Using a ceramide-containing moisturizer can be especially helpful! Ceramides are naturally occurring lipids in the skin, and synthetic ceramides found in skincare products can help restore barrier function and hydrate the skin.⁴ How long it takes to repair your moisture barrier depends on your skin type, environment, the products you’re using, and other factors unique to you.

That said, the most important thing is to find a moisturizer that you like and works well with your skin. If you need recommendations, here are a few of our favorite super-hydrating moisturizers for skin barrier boosting:

You can optimize hydration from your moisturizer by applying it to damp skin as soon as you get out of the shower or bath. This technique can help seal in the moisture after your sudsy soak!⁵

And one more tip: If you think a product you’re using is contributing to dryness, it may be worth taking a break from it (at least temporarily!). This might include products such as harsh soaps or scrubs or products with strong active ingredients. You can also try slowly adding the product back in once your skin has returned to normal!

So that’s what I know as your friendly local expert. Feel free to sound off in the comments if you have more questions, or reach out to your Curology provider. If you’re not already a Curology member, you can get your first month of custom prescription skincare for free (just pay $4.95 to cover shipping and handling). Until next time…!

All my best,Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C

We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

P.S.

We did our homework so you don’t have to.

  1. Ehrhardt Proksch, et. al. The skin: an indispensable barrier. Experimental Dermatology. (2008, November 11).

  2. Matthew H. Meckfessel, PhD, and Staci Brandt, PA-C, MSMR, MBA. The structure, function, and importance of ceramides in skin and their use as therapeutic agents in skin-care products. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (2014, July 1).

  3. Nalini Kaul, PhD, and Elsie Kohoot. Skin moisturizers: Therapeutic potential and preventative maintenance of dry skin. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (2008, February 1).

  4. Matthew H. Meckfessel, PhD, and Staci Brandt, PA-C, MSMR, MBA. The structure, function, and importance of ceramides in skin and their use as therapeutic agents in skin-care products. Ibid.

  5. Why are baths and moisturizers so important when treating eczema?. American Academy of Dermatology.

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Nicole Hangsterfer

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