The skincare industry has exploded since we started back in the early 2000s, and suddenly, everyone is following a 10-step routine and talking about hyaluronic acid. While we’re thrilled at the increase of interest in our favorite topic, we have noticed one downside to the skincare fervor: more clients complaining about flaky, irritated skin that feels dry, no matter how many oils and creams they apply. The culprit? A compromised skin barrier caused by over-exfoliating or using too many active products at once. Thankfully, it’s totally possible to give your skin love and care while ensuring it stays intact. Read on as we break down barriers.
What is your acid mantle and skin barrier?
The acid mantle is a thin film on top of your skin that’s made up of sebum and sweat. Further broken down, sweat contains amino acids and lactic acids, while sebum contributes fatty acids. This acts as a protective barrier, guarding against bacteria, viruses, and other outside contaminants. Underneath your acid mantle, you’ll find the skin barrier (sometimes called the moisture barrier, lipid barrier, or—if you want to get sciencey—the stratum corneum). This layer of flattened cells and lipids is what keeps moisture from escaping your skin. That’s why dry and dehydrated skin can be a sign of a compromised skin barrier.
How can you damage your acid mantle and skin barrier?
You probably guessed it by its name, but your acid mantle is slightly acidic. It has a pH of between 4.5 and 6.2. Harsh, alkaline products—cleansers are a big culprit!—can raise this pH and throw your acid mantle out of balance, causing inflammation, dryness, sensitivity, and even acne. Exfoliating too often and with products that are too intense for your skin can also damage your skin barrier. Environmental stressors—weather, pollution, sun exposure, etc.—can also be harmful.
How to care for your skin barrier
A damaged skin barrier doesn’t mean you have to toss out all your skincare. Luckily, your skin barrier is great at bouncing back—all it takes are responsible skincare practices.
1) Use a pH-balanced cleanser and toner
This is a big one. You don’t necessarily have to pH test your cleanser or toner to see if it’s potentially harmful to your skin barrier. If your cleanser leaves you with that tight, squeaky-clean feeling, it’s probably too alkaline and is stripping away too much of your natural oils. A well-formulated toner also helps balance your skin’s pH level after cleansing. The key here is to avoid toners with alcohol in them, as they will dry out and damage your skin barrier. (To note, the Amla Purifying Cleanser has an optimal pH of 5.5 and the alcohol-free Absolute Purity Toner is formulated with balancing botanical ingredients that nourish rather than strip.)
Look, we love the instant glow of exfoliation as much as anyone else, but it’s important not to overdo it. The key here is being mindful of your skin and its signals. Are you experiencing redness and sensitivity after exfoliating? It’s time to give your skin a rest. Is your skin looking a little dull and tired? It’s ready for a good exfoliation session. We’ve noticed a lot of clients are overdoing it, especially with the popularity of glycolic acid toners and retinol. Everyone's skin is different, and there's no one-size-fits-all solution. Take it slow and respect your skin. The Enzyme Exfoliant was specifically formulated with gentle exfoliants like lactic acid and pineapple enzymes that are well-tolerated by even the most sensitive skin types.
3) Look for skincare with ceramides, omega fatty acids, and antioxidants
A well-formulated moisturizer is your skin barrier’s best friend. Ceramides—lipids naturally found in your skin barrier—have received a lot of well-deserved attention for helping restore healthy barrier function , and they work best combined with a variety of fatty acids. Antioxidants are also important for protecting the skin barrier from environmental stressors like pollution. The Face Resculpting Cream is packed with barrier-building ingredients including ceramides, fatty acid-rich botanical oils like black currant seed oil and sunflower oil, as well as olive-derived squalane that seals in moisture. Natural antioxidants like rosehip oil and vitamin C further help protect your skin from external stressors.
4) Three words: red light therapy
Red LED light therapy has been extensively studied since it was discovered by NASA as a healing agent . A Japanese study in 2019 found that it also promoted recovery of the epidermal barrier —not surprising since it is thought to work by stimulating the production of ATP, which is the source of energy for your cells. Essentially, it supercharges your cells to better perform regenerative functions, including barrier repair. Red light therapy can be added onto any of our facials or get full-body benefits with a session in the Ruby Red Light Bed.