A healthy skin barrier is arguably the most crucial component when tackling any problems you may have with your skin. From Acne and Rosacea to Aging, the skin barrier plays a vital role in supporting the overall health of the skin.
When the skin barrier is impaired, dehydration caused by Transepidermal Water Loss (TEWL), cause issues to be exacerbated; wound healing takes longer, acne lesions and rosacea more painful, skin more sensitive and the aging process accelerated.
The human skin barrier is made up of a very specific mixture of lipids; Ceramides, Cholesterol and Fatty Acids. Many products claim to support the skin barrier but more often than not they do not contain the proper lipid profile to do so. Some will taut their high levels of Essential Fatty Acids while others simply provide temporary relief in the form of a superficial barrier on the skin, and both approaches can actually cause long term issues.
After years of research and education, the reason I stand by Roccoco Botanicals as my top professional choice for skincare is that it has been the only line I have found to provide the proper balance of lipids necessary to support overall skin barrier health and ultimately hydration levels. Other lines will sometimes have a "lipid restore" or "barrier support" product, but if the goal is sustainably healthy skin, then this lipid profile must be present or supported in all leave on products, otherwise we are stuck chasing our tails.
When working with a client, the first thing I always do is repair and support their skin barrier. To repair the skin barrier, I recommend a specific round of mini sized products to use supplementally, in order to calm any initial irritation and begin the repair process while priming the skin for long term products more specific to individual concerns. It's very important to keep in mind that this will all be relative to how much damage has been done and just how compromised the skin barrier is. In some cases a more intensive approach may be necessary.
So let's take a look at how you can properly repair a damaged skin barrier:
Step 1. Your Cleanser is Everything
The Product: Pore Cleansing Oil
A non irritating barrier supportive formula to relieve skin of discomfort, address acne and repair the skin barrier.
Many people think that dry, irritated skin just needs a good moisturizer, and while that is certainly one part of the equation, an arguably more important first step in healing a compromised skin barrier will be the proper cleanser.
Roccoco's Pore Cleansing Oil is my favorite basic cleanser to support barrier function and repair. It is high in linoleic acid, a necessary component to healthy skin.
Not all oil cleansers are created equally. Aside from the often poor selection of oils in many "cleansers" on the market today, is the fact that many do not contain a surfactant. Oil alone will not cleanse the skin, it will simply move things around, all will not sufficiently rinse off, oxidizing on the skin- a process that contributes to the stress the skin is already experiencing. This particular oil cleanser contains what is known as a non-ionic surfactant which rinses clean, effectively dissolving and removing makeup, buildup and oil produced by the skin.
Step 2. Restoring the Lipids
The Product: Ceramide Booster Serum
A fusion of Phosphatidylcholine, Abyssinian Oil, Cholesterol, Sugar molecules and hydrating active ingredients that replenish vital lipids and stop moisture loss
Thankfully more and more attention is being brought to the health of the skin barrier these days. Unfortunately not everyone gets it right. Ceramides are a crucial part of that lipid profile, but the ceramides in our skin are actually quite diverse and the process of our skin actually producing these ceramides is actually just as important as the ceramides themselves. This is why I personally prefer ingredients and products that stimulate the production of ceramides rather than products that slap random synthetic ceramides on the skin. Roccoco's Ceramide Booster Serum is likely the only "Ceramide" serum you will see on the market that doesn't actually contain ceramides. What is does contain is sugar molecules that increase hydration while stimulating the production of ceramides to reinforce the skin barrier and relieve chronic dehydration.
*Please note: if your skin is severely compromised and you experience stinging or discomfort, skip this step for at least 3 days while using your other products to first ease your sensitivities.
Step 3. Healing the Skin With a Moisturizer
The Products: Rescue BalmAnti-inflammatory botanicals help to reinforce the skins protective barrier and soothe irritated skin. Containing Ayurvedic herbs known for their calming and anti-inflammatory properties, this Omega 3 and Cholesterol enriched moisturizer helps to quickly restore sustainable moisture levels in the skin.
or if acne is not a concern Intense CPR
An intensely hydrating and skin soothing product formulated to suppress inflammation with a steroid like intensity without any of the negative side effects of an actual steroid.
It is important to note that the thickness or viscosity of a moisturizer is not actually in any way indicative of how moisturizing it will actually be on your skin. I warn people that these are light moisturizers and may not feel like "enough" on truly compromised skin, but their ability to deeply repair and moisturize the skin surpasses many emollient rich products on the market. Both products also calm and soothe irritation and even itchiness in the skin with the support of botanical antihistamines with the Intense CPR simply being a bit more intense albeit slightly problematic for acne - another reason I love Roccoco and their full disclosure.
The moisture & hydration factor that a product can provide depend on the emollients, lipids and humectants used within the formula (with other actives playing obvious important supporting roles as well). When we look at a thick moisturizer, it is all simply geared towards aesthetic perspective which makes it "feel good" and the viscosity or thickness of that product is predominantly based on what emulsifiers, gums, and/or polymers we use in the emulsion.
While we may feel like we need a thick cream for really dry skin, emulsifiers have in fact been found to be higher irritants than fragrance or preservatives because they actually modify that delicate lipid structure meant to protect our skin, and in doing so, compromise the skin barrier. So while that thicker cream may feel good as it is being applied to the skin, it is actually contributing to issues down the road.
Additional Products for a More Intensive Approach
The Product: Globiotic Serum
A topical live probiotic serum which immediately brightens dull skin. A dynamic formulation which increases cholesterol and hyaluronic acid production in the skin to restore and support the skin barrier.
The skin's microbiome is its first line of defense and providing diversity to that microbiome is what keeps it healthy. This product massively improves barrier health by specifically addressing that first line of defense. It also helps massively with inflammation and acne and is enhanced when used underneath LED.
Due to the intensive nature of this product, it can cause initial redness, dryness or heat in the skin which will dissipate after 3 days of use when used morning and night. After that initial 3 days of use, I usually recommend limiting use to 2-4x a week.
The Product: Peptide Sheet Mask
Enriched with moisture regulators for intensive hydration, this professional grade sheet mask contains anti-irritant ingredients and extracts which modulate the sensation of burning and stinging resulting in a soothing and cooling effect.
Going back to repairing the skin barrier and how sometimes that first initial step can be the hardest. If you have been using an oil as a moisturizer, just water to cleanse or products heavy in emulsifiers, or if your skin is just plain reactive and you know it, then this is a must have to get you over that initial hump and to heal your skin without discomfort. As a bonus, it has a lot of leftover serum from the mask after you use it which you can then use throughout that initial week to support the healing process.
The Product: Peptide Serum
A silky blend of plant based actives and peptides which help to lock moisture into the skin. It provides an effective breathable barrier for the skin, protecting it from the environment and an extra layer of protection to defend against the elements. It assists in instantly softening dryness and aids in wound healing.
This will be the only product which can create an actual barrier on the skin- which is necessary when the barrier is severely impaired. We have water which is lost through the skin and if we are unable to retain it at all while repairing the barrier, that can delay the process. This serum allows you to reinforce your natural barrier with a superficial one while it heals so that you aren't left feeling dry while your skin recovers.
While healing the skin barrier can be a very individual thing based upon your own skin and its surrounding environment, I have seen tremendous success using the method outlined above. Clients report seeing significant improvements in texture, sensitivities, redness, inflammation, discomfort and hydration. This is a "first step" regimen, so once that barrier is repaired, most skin is then much more compliant when dealing with bigger issues.
About the Author:
Dru Pattan is a Licensed Esthetician who specializes in acne while taking a skin healthy approach to sustainably healthy skin known as Corneotherapy. She believes that we don't need to beat the skin into submission to make it comply. By monitoring the skin's needs and offering nourishment we are able to heal common ailments which can often seem lifelong and defeating.
Dru has been licensed since 2014 and has spent the majority of that time relentlessly hunting down advanced education within the industry. When she herself is not studying, she is offering education to clients and others within the industry.