Exfoliating too often or using too much retinol can cause damage to your skin’s watertight barrier. Don’t rush to buy something new.
My obsession with the skin barrier is unwavering. I believe it is impossible to have beautiful skin if this natural, watertight seal has been compromised. This can happen if you exfoliate too vigorously, use strong actives like retinol excessively, have been exposed to the elements without protecting, wear medical PPE every day, or are unwell. A compromised barrier due to having Covid seems very common – mine was destroyed.
The damaged barrier cannot hold on to the good stuff such as ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids. Skin becomes dry, sensitive, and sometimes flat. A too-aggressive approach to treating skin dullness can often lead to dull skin. The beauty industry has taken an interest in the barrier and it’s not just a marketing fad.
It is a little strange to see the skincare industry exalt barrier protection after years of selling ingredients that cause damage. But it’s not a bad thing – I’ll take it.
Glossier and Dr Jart are now all focusing on barrier repair. They offer many beautiful, fatty, cushiony skincare products that can really help. You should look out for barrier-loving ingredients like ceramides and niacinamide, allantoin and linoleum acids, probiotics, and glycerin – these will all help to restore and treat healthy function.
You can search for them in products that you already own, but I don’t want to make you think you have to purchase new products in order to address your barrier. It’s about doing less and not more. Also, it’s about realizing that good barrier care is often about being gentler and more patient with your largest organ.
Practically speaking, this means that you should use nightly retinol which feels soft and not like volcanic lava. A gentle exfoliant for daily use that is effective enough to do the job twice weekly, but not so much that it makes you feel uncomfortable. Apply an antioxidant and sunscreen, and avoid any products with sharp shards or scratchy grains. You should moisturize your skin well, even if it seems unnecessary, and avoid picking at and scratching your skin. It doesn’t matter how much you spend.