Ask Grace: How Do I Know If I’ve Damaged My Skin Barrier?

Dear Grace, 

My skin has always felt dry – it’s tight, sensitive, and looks red, but I also get spots, so I’m scared of using too much moisturiser and I don’t understand if my skin is oily or dry, or combination? Recently I’ve noticed loads of TikTok videos talking about damaged skin barriers, and I think that might be my problem. How do I know? 


I’m glad that TikTokers love talking about the skin barrier – I get it, it’s one of my favourite skincare topics too! But it’s also a big subject to cover in 60 seconds (or less), which is why a lot of skincare content on TikTok barely scratches the surface, and leaves people in your situation, confused and concerned.  

As much as I enjoy this subject matter (I’m so glad someone finally asked this question!), I take no joy from your predicament because I know how uncomfortable and frustrating it can be to deal with a stubborn skin concern, so let’s start by figuring out if you have a compromised skin barrier. To start, I’ll give a brief explainer on exactly what the skin barrier is because context is important here. Essentially, the skin barrier is an invisible seal that covers the outmost layers of the skin. If it’s healthy then skin feels smooth, soft, plump, and looks clear and radiant. If it’s damaged, then skin feels tight and rough and looks dull and irritated. This is because when the skin barrier is compromised, it loses the substances that keep the outer layers of the skin intact (ceramides, fatty acids, and cholesterol). If the outer layer is broken, then this means moisture can easily escape (so skin becomes dry and dehydrated) but also means that external aggressors can get in (like bacteria and pollution) and cause breakouts.  

Redness, sensitivity, breakouts, dehydration, and dryness are all signs of a damaged skin barrier, and stubborn post-breakout marks are also common too as wounds struggle to heal efficiently when skin isn’t healthy. As with any skin concern, there are different levels of severity – a mildly compromised skin barrier may manifest as slightly sensitive skin or skin that drinks up moisturiser as soon as it’s applied. However, a severely compromised skin barrier could involve flaking, itching, and could even lead to a flare up of acne, eczema, or psoriasis. 

If this sounds familiar to you, then it’s likely that you do have a damaged skin barrier and your next question would no doubt be ‘how do I fix it?’. First up, you need to replace all the missing pieces – ceramides, fatty acids, hyaluronic acid etc to restore your damaged barrier. The best way you can do this is to ensure that every product in your routine has moisturising benefits. So for example you might use a cleanser with nourishing oils, a hyaluronic acid or niacinamide-based serum, and a ceramide-rich moisturiser followed by a strengthening squalane oil. You’ll soon see the benefits – and don’t be scared of moisturising! Remember, a strong skin barrier equals healthy skin, and healthy skin is better equipped to prevent and heal breakouts. 

After that, it’s important to maintain things by looking after your skin barrier in the long-run – prevention is always better than cure! Keep up your moisture-focused skincare routine, avoid anything that feels stripping or that irritates your skin, and don’t overdo it with anti-blemish treatments or with active ingredients like acids and retinol which might irritate your skin. Be gentle with your skin – that means avoiding abrasive scrubs or masks, washing your face with warm (not hot) water, and not scrubbing when you remove your makeup. Finally, always remember to apply SPF every day as the final step in your morning skincare routine. Sun exposure causes inflammation which can trigger long-term skin barrier damage, so an SPF of at least 30 is essential to keep things under control. 

Good luck with your skin barrier! It’s all too tempting with a concern like this to throw daily masks and exfoliating toners at it in the hope of buffing away the problem but trust me, moisture is the way forward! 

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