Here’s a little riddle for you: What, with over 1.7 billion (yes, with a “b”) views on TikTok, plays a role in everything from acne to eczema, is currently All the rage when it comes to skincare? If you guessed the skin barrier – congratulations, you guessed it.
Unlike some other hot skincare topics, the skin barrier is a very real thing, and plays an integral role in healthy skin function, according to experts interviewed by SELF. We’ll get to more about that later, but the skin barrier is great, and it’s exactly what it sounds like—a protective layer that’s responsible for keeping the good stuff out and the bad stuff out.
Multiple factors can affect this skin barrier – which is why the #SkinBarrierRepair video also has millions of views on TikTok and products purporting to repair the barrier are everywhere visible. Here, top dermatologists explain exactly why you should care about your skin barrier, and how to tell if yours needs a little extra TLC.
Anyway, what is your skin barrier?
“In the simplest terms, it’s the skin’s protective covering,” Mona Gohara, MD, clinical associate professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine, tells SELF. “Our skin protects our body, and the skin barrier protects the skin.” Technically, this protective layer is called the stratum corneum, the outermost layer of the epidermis. 1
To better understand the function of the cuticle, imagine a brick wall might have Helps: “The ‘bricks’ are cells called keratinocytes that are held together by the ‘mortar,’ which is a lipid mixture that includes fatty acids, cholesterol, and ceramides,” board-certified Union Derm in New York City dermatologist Robyn Gmyrek, MD, tells SELF. This “brick wall” creates a barrier that keeps harmful bacteria, chemicals, irritants and allergens out of the skin while locking in essential moisture, Dr. Gmyrek explains.
What kind of things can affect the skin barrier?
Really, what the question should be doesn’t affect it. According to the dermatologists we interviewed, a range of internal and external factors can damage or weaken the stratum corneum. For example, some people are born deficient in filaggrin, a protein that strengthens the skin barrier, making them more prone to dryness and irritation, says Dr. Gohara. 2(More other signs your skin barrier isn’t doing well in a second.)
From the outside, many beauty and skincare routines can also change and damage it, such as using harsh soaps, over-exfoliating, hot baths, and waxing, she adds. “Environmental factors can also weaken the skin barrier, including low humidity and drastic temperature changes,” Naana Boakye, MD, tells SELF. 3 All of the above can alter and deplete the aforementioned lipids, the “mortar” between cells. Essentially, cracks and gaps may begin to appear in a once solid brick wall.