HOW TO: Heal Your Moisture Barrier

The skin is our body’s largest organ and our first line of defense against external irritants.  The outermost layer of your skin is the natural moisture barrier, which is a hydrolipidic film made up of water, fat, and sebum.  This barrier is your skin’s natural protection against dehydration, and damage caused by irritants in the outside environment.  

Why is a healthy moisture barrier important?

When your natural moisture barrier is healthy it retains a balanced amount of water, electrolytes, and lipids (fat and sebum).  Your skin’s elasticity is at its peak, it looks and feels plump and hydrated.  When your moisture barrier is damaged your skin becomes much more sensitive and is susceptible to irritation and infections.

Symptoms of a damaged moisture barrier include:

  • Redness
  • Rosacea
  • Flakiness & peeling
  • Tightness
  • Crepiness & fine lines
  • Dehydrated skin
  • Itchiness
  • Dull, rough & uneven skintone
  • Acne
  • Sensitivity 
  • Stinging & burning when products are applied 

What can damage your skin’s moisture barrier?

Your skin’s moisture barrier can be damaged by a number of things, from improper cleansing and excessive exfoliation to harsh ingredients and environmental factors.  Environmental factors that can damage your moisture barrier are dry climates, too much sun exposure, and pollution.  Medications like antihistamines and acne treatments (pills and lotions) can also be damaging.

How cleansing & exfoliating can be damaging

The most common culprits of a damaged moisture barrier are harsh cleansing and over-exfoliating.  Some cleansers contain harsh ingredients that can strip your skin of its natural moisturizers.  Ingredients like sulfates, some alcohols (like alcohol denat. or denatured alcohol), and fragrance (artificial and some essential oils) can be very drying, especially when used daily. 

Exfoliating too often or with potent ingredients can also be very damaging to your skin’s moisture barrier.  Be careful with physical exfoliants, which can be too abrasive for some skin types.  Facial scrubs, brushes, and devices like the Clarisonic or Foreo (many people think of these as cleansers but they are exfoliators!) are often too much for daily use, and should also not be used with products with active ingredients (like acids and retinoids). 

Chemical exfoliants and peels can be seriously damaging when used improperly.  AHAs (alpha-hydroxy acids) and BHAs (beta-hydroxy acids), like glycolic, lactic and salicylic acids, should only be used two to three times a week (or every other day at most).  Some chemical peels (like The Ordinary AHA + BHA Peeling Solution) are so potent they should be used even less frequently (one to two times a week, or even bi-weekly is best for some skin types).

How to repair a damaged moisture barrier

The first (and maybe even the most important) thing you will need is patience! Depending on how much damage has been done, it can take about one to six months for your moisture barrier to recover.  Some people see significant healing in as little as two weeks, but I would give your skin at least four to fully recover.  You can never show your skin too much TLC! 

The next thing you’ll need to do is scale your routine back down to the basics.  Stop using any products containing active ingredients like acids (AHAs and BHAs), retinoids/retinol, and vitamin C.  You should also stop using any physical exfoliants, like scrubs and brushes.  It’s best to cut out all exfoliation during this time, to prevent further damage and to allow your skin to heal. 

Try to avoid products that contain a high concentration of ingredients that could be irritating.  Some examples include alcohol denat. (or denatured alcohol), fragrance and essential oils.  Avoid using topical acne treatments as well, like benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid.

 On the other hand, products containing ingredients like ceramides, hyaluronic acid, vitamin B, squalane and occlusives (like petrolatum aka Vaseline/Aquaphor) will be your best friends! 

The last step to remember is SUNSCREEN!!! SPF is an extremely important part of protecting your skin from damage, so skin care professionals recommend wearing at least SPF 30 every day (yes, cloudy days included). Wearing SPF daily will protect your progress! It will also prevent further damage including hyperpigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles, and a decrease in collagen production (not to mention reduce your risk of skin cancer!).  

Less is more when it comes to healing your moisture barrier, so go back to the basics and focus on nourishing and protecting your skin. Remember that it can take anywhere from one to six months for your skin to heal, so just be gentle and patient with your beautiful self.🥰

STEP ONE: Cleansing

Ah, skincare!  Is there a better way to pamper yourself?  My journey in self-care has led me to the magical world of skincare and I admit that I have now become a major skincare junkie.  During my research, I realized my whole routine was allll wrong. I was washing my face with harsh scrubs every day, I moisturized with coconut oil, never used sunscreen, and even slept with my makeup on more often than I care to admit. YIKES. With so much information and so many products to choose from, building the right skincare routine for you can be overwhelming.  So where do you start? Let’s begin with step one, one of the most important steps: cleansing.

Why is cleansing so important?

Your skin is your body’s largest organ.  It protects all of your vital organs and goes through quite a bit during the day.  From stress to makeup and sunscreen to environmental factors like pollution, dirt, and bacteria, it’s very important to cleanse your face every day.  These things, if left to sink into your pores, can lead to breakouts, hyperpigmentation, and signs of aging. Cleansing also preps your skin to soak up all of the products that follow.

What to use and what to avoid

There are a few different kinds of cleansers to choose from but gentle cleansers that won’t strip your skin are best.  Contrary to popular belief squeaky clean is not a good thing when it comes to your face.  Completely stripping your face of its natural oils can actually lead to more oil production, which can lead to breakouts. Harsh ingredients can also irritate your skin, damage your moisture barrier, and contribute to signs of aging.  Stick to cleansers that don’t contain sulfates, drying alcohols or fragrance, all of which can irritate your skin. Avoid scrubs, no matter how gentle they claim to be, which are just too harsh for your face.

Choose a cleansing oil, oil-based cream, micellar water, and/or non- or low-foaming water-based cleanser.  Wipes are super convenient but are often full of harsh ingredients and encourage rubbing, which is a no-no especially around the delicate eye area.  If you choose to use makeup wipes try not to use them every day and pay close attention to the ingredients. Micellar water is a great option if you’re in the market for a quick and easy cleanser/makeup remover.

Double Cleansing

One cleansing method that I have been loving is double cleansing.  Double cleansing is a technique that is very popular in South Korea/K-beauty and involves using two different cleansers to completely cleanse your face.  Step one removes makeup, draws out excess oil, sunscreen, and pollution. An oil cleanser, cleansing balm, or micellar water can be used for this step.  Be sure to remove ALL traces of makeup before moving on to step two (the cotton pad should be totally clean). Makeup can be stubborn and is really awful for your skin if left to sink into your pores, so it’s best to remove your makeup before double cleansing if you have the time/motivation.

When using an oil cleanser it’s best to use a designated oil cleanser, rather than regular plant-based oils like coconut and olive oil.  Oil cleansers contain emulsifiers that enable you to wash the cleanser off properly. Oil and water don’t mix hence the need for an emulsifier (see science class did come in handy!), regular cooking oils don’t have these so they’re harder to wash off properly.  Some oils, like the beloved coconut oil, can actually clog pores and cause breakouts.

Step two is a deeper cleanse with a water-based cleanser to wash away sweat and dirt, as well as any leftover residue from your first cleanse.  Some people like to remove their makeup then use a water-based cleanser followed by micellar water.

Double cleansing twice a day is common but not necessary if that’s too much for you.  People with oily skin have been known to benefit from double cleansing twice a day (yes even with an oil cleanser!).  Hydrated skin actually produces less oil because your skin does not have to overcompensate for harsh cleansers stripping your face.  If you choose to only double cleanse once a day include it as part of your nightly routine. In the morning some people like to use a mild cleanser, micellar water, or even just some regular water.  I, personally, like to alternate between splashing my face with water followed with micellar water on a cotton pad, or using a gentle cleanser. It depends on how oily my face feels when I wake up.

The 60-second rule

Another trick I’m loving is the 60-second rule.  The 60-second rule was created by LA-based esthetician Nayamka Roberts-Smith aka @labeautyologist on Twitter and Instagram.  The 60-second rule is as simple as it sounds; wash your face, with your fingers, for 60 seconds before rinsing. Most people only cleanse for maybe 20 seconds tops, so cleansing for a full minute allows the ingredients in your cleanser to have time to actually work.  The 60-second rule softens the skin and helps dissolve oil blockages better, which leads to improvements in overall evenness and skin texture.  It also allows you to pay attention to your skin which may help you to remember to cleanse spots that are often overlooked, like your hairline, the edges of your nose, and under your chin.  

What about cleansing brushes and facial steams?

Your fingers work perfectly fine for cleansing your face so brushes really aren’t necessary, but if you would prefer something else there are a few options.  Washcloths and most brushes are too harsh for your face, but silicone brushes and something like the Clarisonic brush (if you’re boujee), with the gentlest brush head on a low setting, can be used.  

The Clarisonic brush uses sonic frequency rather than regular mechanisms to spin the brush head around.  It has been shown to effectively remove dirt, oil, makeup, and sunscreen, so it could, possibly, eliminate the need for double cleansing.

Facial steams feel so luxurious and are a great addition to a pamper session.  Many people like to steam their face prior to cleansing to “open” their pores.  While it is a myth that your pores open and close (genetics and skin damage play a big role in the size of your pores), they can appear smaller or larger depending on whether or not they are full of debris.  Steaming can soften hardened oil in pores and make it easier to wash away.

So there you have it.  Everything I have learned, so far, about cleansing your face.  The most important advice I can offer is to remember that skincare should be all about self-love!  Loving your skin, loving your beautiful face and loving your beautiful self, so the routine that works best for you is the best one.  Check out the gallery to see my current favourite cleansers and some cleansers on my wishlist that people that are loving.


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