Signs of a Damaged Skin Barrier

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Signs of a Damaged Skin Barrier

Signs of a Damaged Skin Barrier

Have you ever felt like your skin went from oily to sensitive in the span of a week? While it’s not uncommon for your skin type to change with the seasons, a drastic change might signify something more concerning.

Sometimes, major skin changes can be related to a damaged skin barrier. Read on to learn more about the skin barrier, signs of a compromised skin barrier, and how you can support its health.

What Is the Skin Barrier?

The skin barrier is a thin layer that lies over the outer layer of skin, which is called the epidermis. This thin layer, also called the stratum corneum, has the important job of regulating what enters and leaves the delicate environment of your skin.

Your skin barrier is in charge of reducing transepidermal water loss (TEWL). Your skin is made up of 64 percent water, and without a barrier holding it in place, this water can slip out of your skin and into the air around you. 

The stratum corneum is also responsible for keeping bacteria, toxins and other aggressors away from your skin and supporting overall skin health. As the largest organ in your body, your skin is your body’s first line of defense against stressors—and this all starts with and depends upon a healthy skin barrier.

How Does the Skin Barrier Work?

Your skin barrier is made up of skin cells called corneocytes that are held together by lipids like cholesterol, fatty acids and ceramides. There’s also another layer of the skin barrier called the acid mantle. While the lipid layer protects the skin physically, the acid mantle protects the skin chemically. 

The acid mantle gets its name from its natural acidity, which sits at around a 4.5 on the pH scale. This acidity creates an inhospitable environment for bad bacteria and other pathogens that make it through the lipid barrier.

What Are the Signs of a Damaged Skin Barrier?

The skin barrier is one of the most important parts of your body, although you may not have learned about it in your high school biology class. However, sometimes, the skin barrier can be compromised. 

Here are a few signs that could indicate that your skin barrier needs support.

Dry Skin

When the skin barrier is damaged, your body loses water more than usual. This can result in visible dryness and the appearance of flaky skin. 

It’s important to note that this dryness is different from simply having a dry skin type. If you have naturally dry skin, the texture of your skin doesn’t dramatically change on a daily basis. If your dryness is due to a damaged skin barrier, it likely came on suddenly and you may also have some of the other signs on this list.

Dry skin can also contribute to signs of aging. If your skin is losing hydration, it may also appear less plump.


Blemishes aren’t just due to hormonal or stress breakouts—they can also be a sign of a damaged skin barrier. Since the skin barrier is built to keep pathogens and bacteria out, bacteria can reach the skin more easily when it's compromised.

These bacteria often feed on your skin’s natural oils, causing more imperfections. While these bacteria already live on your skin, your skin microbiome naturally keeps them at bay. However, with a damaged skin barrier, your skin microbiome may not be able to properly manage all of the incoming bacteria.

Itchiness and Redness

Itchiness and dryness often go hand-in-hand. However, sudden dryness combined with itchiness is usually a sign of a damaged skin barrier.

When your skin barrier is damaged, more toxins, pathogens and allergens are able to get in. This can trigger your immune system, which can cause the skin to feel itchy and also make the skin look red and puffy.

Red, itchy and dry-looking skin can also be a sign of a skin condition, so it’s important to see a dermatologist to rule out any other skin concerns. These conditions may require professional help and prescription skincare.

Sensitive Skin

If your skin suddenly reacts to your cleanser or serum, it could be due to an irritation within your skin barrier. This is largely due to the lipid layer falling apart, which damages the skin’s self-soothing abilities.

If your skin is sensitive, you might notice extra dryness, redness, itchiness, blemishes or even a burning sensation after using certain products. It can be normal to experience these reactions now and again, but when you get these reactions for products your skin normally tolerates, your skin barrier could be damaged.

What Causes a Damaged Skin Barrier?

You can damage your skin barrier with over-exfoliation, especially if you frequently use scrubs, brushes, washcloths or any other physical exfoliant. You can also damage your skincare by using harsh skincare products, like cleansers with sulfates, a high number of active ingredients, and fragrances. 

Sun exposure can also damage the skin barrier, especially if you don’t wear SPF 30+ sunscreen. This is because UV rays can cause skin damage and keep the skin from healing after the fact. 

UV rays can also increase the concentration of free radicals attacking the skin, which can cause more stress on an already weakened skin barrier.

How Can You Support Your Skin’s Moisture Barrier?

Whether you’re trying to support your skin barrier function after it’s been compromised or simply looking to keep your skin looking hydrated and healthy, there are a few ways to go about it. Aside from avoiding the causes of a damaged skin barrier, you can also adjust your skincare routine to focus on supporting the appearance of glowing and healthy skin.

Here are some ideas:

  • Opt for a gentle cleanser that won’t strip the skin of its natural oils. For instance, The MANTLE Skin Conditioning Wash provides a double cleanse that leaves the skin feeling soft and supple while looking fresh and hydrated.
  • Opt for moisturizers that contain both humectants (like hyaluronic acid and glycerin) to draw in moisture and occlusives to lock in hydration. For instance, The BARRIER Bioactive Treatment is a night cream that features both hyaluronic acid and shea butter to encourage the appearance of fully hydrated skin.
  • When using serums with strong active ingredients like retinol, choose gentle formulas. For instance, a resurfacing serum like our Resurfacing Compound uses patent-pending technology to diminish the appearance of fine lines and blemishes while also going easy on damaged-looking skin.
  • Apply sunscreen like our Multimodal Defender when you will be outside for an extended period. 

Reveal a Beautiful Barrier

When dealing with a damaged skin barrier, you’ll likely see the signs. You might see dry skin, increased blemishes, itchiness and redness and suddenly sensitive skin.

Like any other common skin concern, a compromised skin barrier is typically easy to address—you’ll just need the right products, lifestyle tweaks and a little bit of patience. To learn more about skincare and how to support your skin barrier, view the U Beauty blog today!


The Water in You: Water and the Human Body | U.S. Geological Survey

What is Acne? Definition & Types | NIAMS

Why Is My Skin So Dry and Itchy? | Northwestern Medicine

Solar UV radiation reduces the barrier function of human skin | PMC

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