The skin barrier, referred to by doctors and Dermatologists as the "stratum corneum," is your skin's first line of defense against the outside world. Made up of the epidermis, the dermis, and the hypodermis, the skin barrier plays an essential role in locking in hydration and keeping bacteria and environmental aggressors out.

A damaged skin barrier, however, is less able to defend itself against aggressors in the environment. Think ultraviolet (UV) radiation, pollution, and lifestyle factors like chronic stress. These can leave the skin feeling dry, irritated, and more prone to skin concerns, like an uneven texture, redness, and acne.

How to Repair the Skin Barrier With Lifestyle Changes

So, what should you do if you think that your skin barrier has been impaired? Implementing a restorative skin care routine is a great start, and lifestyle changes will help preserve that restoration. Wondering how to repair your skin barrier naturally? Here are a few simple lifestyle changes you can make to resolve damage—and keep your skin healthy and happy.

1. Protect From Cumulative UV Exposure

You likely know how important it is to protect against UVA and UVB radiation to keep your skin glowing and healthy on the outside. That said, have you ever considered how UV damage may be impacting your skin beneath the surface?

According to research published in the National Library of Medicine, UV rays create a double threat to the skin by increasing deep damage to vital proteins, like collagen and elastin, while weakening the barrier function and its ability to defend itself from everyday threats, like skin-aging free radicals. This makes the skin less efficient at retaining water and lipids, and that coveted glow becomes much harder to achieve. The good news is that you can protect your skin from such threats by applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen every morning, like the EltaMD UV Sheer SPF 50+. Don't forget to apply around a teaspoon-sized amount to your face, neck, and hands, and re-apply regularly.

2. Hydrate and Strengthen With Soothing Skin Care

The skin care you apply is very important in maintaining and repairing your skin barrier, but harsh formulas can also be one of the factors causing damage. You may sometimes go to bed without removing your makeup, or your cleanser may contain surfactants and preservatives that leave your skin feeling dry and tight. Likewise, if exfoliants are used too often, they can strip your skin of the essential lipids and moisture it needs to stay healthy.

If this sounds familiar, you may need to take things back to basics with a very gentle routine. The EltaMD Skin Recovery System Kit has you covered. Containing a gentle cleanser, toner, restorative serum, hydrating moisturizer, and a hydrating night mask, this daily regimen is powered by patented AAComplex Technology to visibly reduce redness and increase hydration in 24 hours. With regular use, it can repair and strengthen a damaged skin barrier.

While your skin barrier repairs itself, it's a good idea to take a break from anti-aging products like retinol and alpha-hydroxy acids, which accelerate skin cell turnover. These ingredients are excellent at treating signs of aging, but they should be used sparingly and never when your skin is showing signs of sensitivity and redness.

3. Find Time to Relax and De-Stress

If you've ever thought that a stressful week at work caused a bad breakout or a flare-up of eczema, you probably aren't imagining it. In fact, according to Harvard Medical School, stress can have a direct impact on the skin by triggering stress-responsive glands. Once these glands are triggered, stress hormones like cortisol put the body into "fight or flight" mode, creating inflammation in the dermis. This, in turn, impacts the skin barrier and causes skin conditions, itchiness, and dryness.

If stress-induced skin problems are becoming a regular occurrence for you, a few lifestyle changes may be needed. While it's impossible to avoid all of life's stresses and strains, building time into your day to relax and unwind can help you manage them better. Just 10 minutes of meditation or deep breathing, for instance, can help to reduce moments of stress and bring your body back into a calm state. You could also try attending a weekly yoga class, listening to relaxing music, or simply finding the time to sit down and read a book in a cozy corner.

4. Enjoy a Good Night's Sleep

Good quality sleep is vital to all aspects of health and wellness, but the skin is where you might notice its impact first. This is because the human body needs rest time to perform vital functions like repairing free radical and UV damage, rebuilding proteins like collagen, and strengthening the skin barrier. When you don't sleep well, blood flow and collagen production is reduced, and skin barrier function can become impaired.

To give your skin the chance to do this important work, you should try to prioritize sleep as much as possible. If you have trouble sleeping, try forming good sleep habits like removing electrical devices from your bedroom and taking the time to wind down with relaxing music or a good book at least an hour before you want to go to sleep.

5. Quit Smoking

It's no secret that smoking has serious implications for your short and long-term health, and your skin is one of the areas that suffers greatly from a regular habit. According to the Mayo Clinic, the nicotine in cigarettes reduces the delivery of oxygen, blood circulation, and nutrients to the dermis and damages the structures that keep skin healthy. When the barrier is damaged in this way, a smoker's skin is then less able to protect itself from sun damage, pollution, and other everyday aggressors. Constricted blood vessels also make skin healing and the natural skin regeneration process more difficult, so that plump, youthful bounce will disappear quickly.

If you need support in giving up smoking, speak to your primary care physician about finding a local support group and using smoking aids, like nicotine patches, to help kick the habit.

Maintaining Healthy Habits for Your Skin

Now that you know just how vital maintaining a healthy skin barrier is to your complexion, you can take simple steps to protect and strengthen it. Give your skin the regular TLC it needs, and it will help to improve existing conditions and prevent other issues from arising. Happy, healthy skin starts here.


  • Catherine Hufton

    Catherine Hufton is a UK-based freelance journalist and writer who has worked for some of fashion's most iconic companies and written for the world's best known magazines and newspapers. Beginning her career at Net-a-Porter and Matches Fashion over 12 years ago, she has created content for L'Oréal, Elle, Harper's Bazaar, The Telegraph and more.

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