Barrier-Loving Ingredients for Healthy Skin
The skin barrier is your firewall to the world, protecting you from irritants, allergens, chemicals, and pollutants, retaining moisture, and promoting skin repair. When the skin barrier is weakened or compromised, the appearance and health of skin suffer. This is when you see redness, irritation, blotchiness, dullness, dryness. To keep skin at its most vibrant, supple, and resilient, the importance of a healthy skin barrier can’t be overemphasized.
What weakens the skin barrier?
Being the frontline defense system for the body, the skin barrier is under constant assault from harsh soaps or shampoos, UV radiation, chemicals, pollutants.
Internal factors affect the skin barrier as well. Diet (including hydration), lack of sleep, inflammation, and stress can all take a toll. Add to that, the simple fact of time. As we age, the skin barrier naturally gets weaker as the skin thins and becomes drier. Additionally, lighter-toned skin tends to have a thinner skin barrier and be more prone to irritation or redness.
What ingredients are best for supporting the skin barrier?
The lipid matrix—tightly stacked layers of cholesterol, fatty acids, and ceramides—in the outermost layer of the skin is crucial for the skin barrier function. Maintaining the health of the skin barrier means protecting and nourishing this lipid matrix, and it’s as much about what to avoid, as it is about what to apply.
Cleansers, though essential, can be hard on the skin barrier. To be effective, every cleanser needs a surfactant. Whether or not that surfactant is drying and sensitizing depends on the formulation of the cleanser, the alkalinity of the surfactant, and the rinsability factor.
Vivant cleansers include a mild, non-irritating sulfate, and balance it with water-soluble, hydrating ingredients (honey, glycerin, grapeseed oil to name a few) to remove oil, dirt, makeup, and cellular debris without stripping natural oils.
Most products labeled sulfate-free are simply substituting other detergent cleansing agents—sodium lauryl sulfoacetate, disodium laureth sulfosuccinate, cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine, sodium cocoyl isethionate, cocamidopropylamine oxide, and sodium methyl 2-sulfolaurate—that are all part of the same category.
Be careful with products labeled natural or organic. These products can contain untested ingredients, and some botanicals can irritate or cause an allergic reaction. Citrus oils or mint, for instance, which are found frequently in cleansers, can be irritating.
Some AHAs are more gentle than others. Glycolic, while an excellent chemical exfoliator and glow-booster, can trigger an inflammatory response in sensitive skin because of its quick absorption rate. If you’re prone to irritation, mandelic acid or lactic acid are better choices.
Oils like grape seed and rosehip contain are rich in anti-inflammatory linoleic fatty acids, and also help skin retain moisture. These oils have the added benefit of being very low on the comedogenic scale, making them ideal for acne-prone skin.
Humectants, which draw water from the deeper layers of the skin and the environment to keep the skin barrier hydrated and resilient, are essential. These moisture magnets are things like urea, glycerol, propylene glycol, lactic acid, honey, sodium PCA, and allantoin.
For dry or sensitive skin, heavier emollients, including lanolin, petrolatum, or mineral oil, can seal in moisture.
Peptides encourage the skin to produce more of the its natural hydrator and replenisher, hyaluronic acid, along with collagen, elastin needed for structure and elasticity. Peptides are also highly effective redness reducers.
The vitamin B derivative, Niacinamide is critical for barrier health. In addition to its potent anti-inflammatory properties, niacinamide is a lipid protagonist. It increases ceramide and free fatty acid levels in the stratum corneum, and decreases transepidermal water loss.
Algae, which is rich in amino acids and polysaccharides, repairs and strengthens skin’s protective barrier by regulating and maintaining moisture and spurring cell regeneration.
Other barrier-strengthening ingredients to look for are green tea extract (anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, cell-regenerating), mandelic acid (gentle exfoliator, anti-microbial, anti-bacterial, cell-renewing), oat protein (anti-inflammatory, lipid restoring), whole leaf aloe (healing, hydrating), zinc peptides (anti-inflammatory, cell-repairing).
A gentle anti-microbial and anti-bacterial cleanser with benefits for acne-prone or aging skin.
Reduces inflammation and redness and supports cell renewal while gently removing cellular debris and oil. Also an excellent shampoo.
A lipid-rich, non-drying formula with antioxidant grapeseed oil at its center.
This barrier-boosting balm contains grape seed oil, algae extract, oat protein, whole leaf aloe, and copper-chlorophyllin, a healing antioxidant that stimulates cell growth and regeneration.
Light, non-greasy moisturizing that’s exceptionally nourishing and reparative. Contains allantoin, grapeseed oil, oat protein, whole leaf aloe, and zinc peptides.
Antioxidant and nourishing ingredients, including rosehip oil, mandelic acid, green tea extract, honey, and niacinamide for gentle hydrating and clarifying.
A hydrating and nourishing mini peel in a pad. A nourshing cocktail of mandelic acid, niacinamide, zinc peptides, lactic acid, anti-inflammatory salicylic acid, and glycine.
This barrier-loving formula supercharges collagen and elastin production, boosts lipid levels, reduces inflammation, and pulls moisture into the skin. Contains peptides, lactic acid, and niacinamide.
Lactic acid, vitamin A, peptides, niacinamide, and kojic acid make this gentle transformer the perfect formula for firming tone and texture while strengthening the skin barrier.
Antioxidant vitamin A, peptides, caffeine, kojic acid, whole leaf aloe, oat extracts, grape seed oil, deliver a lipid-restoring boost along with a serious brightening and firming benefits.
An exceptionally restorative and clarifying mask enriched with natural, bioactive, and antioxidant ingredients, including algae extract, whole leaf aloe, allantoin, copper-chlorophyllin, and humectant sodium PCA.
For more on protecting the skin barrier, see our blog Healthy Barrier, Happy Skin.