Discover beauty through professional reviews

NOW READING Compromised Skin Barrier: What Is It & How to Fix It
September 11, 2019

Compromised Skin Barrier: What Is It & How to Fix It

Uh, went a little hard on that scrub? Decided to give your face the full acid treatment? Face feeling itchy, red, or sensitive? There are a host of causes for a compromised skin barrier. Thankfully, the fix isn’t hard. Here’s what to do.


If you’ve spent any amount of time browsing all of the skincare haunts (reddit, YouTube, Instagram), you may have heard about a mysterious skincare issue called a “compromised skin barrier.” Sounds scary, right? Well, it doesn’t have to be!


What is the skin barrier


First things first, let’s talk about what your skin barrier actually is. Your skin barrier is that very top layer of skin that’s responsible for protecting your face. Imagine your skin is like Kim Kardashian-West’s house. Your skin barrier is the giant wall surrounding the house, protecting North and Saint and Chi and little baby Psalm from the paparazzi (aka the bacteria, dirt, sweat, and pollution).


compromised skin barrier


Your skin barrier is incredibly important and is the foundation of healthy skin. You’ll know your barrier is healthy when your skin is plump, firm, and smooth — basically the glass/milky skin that everyone is trying to achieve.


How do I know if I have it?


So what does it mean when your barrier is compromised? Well, let’s go back to that Kim K house analogy. The paparazzi have found a hole in the wall and brought in a bulldozer to completely tear the wall down, allowing everyone who has ever worked at TMZ onto the property. Chaos ensues, and basically, it’s a hot ass mess. When your skin barrier is compromised, that top layer of skin is damaged, causing a whole host of problems. What kind?


1. Your skin is super dry, tight, and possibly flaky and inflamed

2. Your skin looks dull and flat

3. Your skin is breaking out all over — and in places where you don’t normally break out

4. Your skin stings and itches when you apply your products


skin sensations compromised skin barrier


These are all the telltale signs that your skin’s barrier is not a happy camper. What would cause these types of problems? So glad you asked!


So what caused it?


The number one cause? Over-exfoliation. I’ll use myself as an example. Once, I used a high-powered AHA and BHA combo every single day and noticed I just could. Not. Stop. Breaking. Out. So I did the entirely (un)reasonable thing and decided to use the products during my AM AND PM routine, and I broke out even more. I was grasping at straws and realized … oh. My skin barrier was completely f—ked.


But reminder, over-exfoliation is not only caused my chemical exfoliants. Harsh scrubs (like St. Ives, for example) can cause damage to your moisture barrier. Age also weakens your moisture barrier. Has your mom or grandmother ever complained about dry skin? This is why. Also, the more fair-skinned you are, the thinner your barrier is. Alcohol-based toners, essential oils, smoking, dry climates, and long airplane rides can also cause skin barrier damage.



How do I fix it?


Is all hope lost once you’ve compromised your skin barrier? Thankfully, it’s not as bad as you think, and it can be repaired. Follow these steps to get your skin back into tip-top shape.


Step 1:

Stop using any and all actives (AHAs/BHAs/PHAs), harsh high pH cleansers, and scrubs. These can cause further damage to your barrier, and you’re trying to fix it, not make it worse.


Step 2:

Keep it simple. This is not the time to introduce a host of new products. For a considerable amount of time, your routine is going to consist of cleansing (double cleanse at night), a hydrating toner and/or serum, a moisturizer, possibly an oil, and sunscreen during the day. That’s it.


Innisfree Jeju Cherry Blossom Jelly Cream


Step 3:

Pick out product ingredients wisely. Not all moisturizers are created equal. A moisturizer can feel super nourishing and heavy, but without the proper ingredients it’s not really healing your skin. Some ingredients to look out for include ceramides, niacinamide, oils including jojoba, sesame, borage, carrot, squalane, cranberry, sweet almond oil, and all forms of vitamin E (aka tocopherol).


Step 4:

Be patient. Damaging your moisture barrier didn’t happen overnight, and it won’t repair itself overnight either. It can take anywhere from two weeks up to a month for your barrier to fully get itself together, depending on how bad the damage was. How will you know that your skin is ready? Look for the signs of a healthy moisture barrier — bouncy, firm, soft, and smooth skin, just like a baby.


Have you ever found yourself with a compromised skin barrier? What did you do to repair it? Let me know in the comments!



Sheryll Donerson got her start as a beauty writer by writing K-beauty reviews for her blog, The Wanderlust Project. These days, she's lifting heavy weights, eating tacos, drinking (too much) coffee and is 1/4 of the beauty podcast, Beauty Beyond Basics (or Triple Bees for short). You can find her on Instagram and Twitter at @sheryllrenata.




Verified experts are beauty professionals who receive free products for independent reviews without receiving payment.

Wow.. I feel like I completely betrayed myself. I've been using non-scented moisturizers and non-alcoholic toners but the ONE thing that was f--cking up my skin was exfoliating with harsh chemicals. I didn't even know about the skin barrier until NOW.


Verified experts are beauty professionals who receive free products for independent reviews without receiving payment.

Love this so much!


Verified experts are beauty professionals who receive free products for independent reviews without receiving payment.

This!!! I personally have gone through this situation and let me tell you it’s the worst! When I was going ham on AHA’s and BHA’s (rookie mistake) my complexion looked great but after awhile products that I wasn’t sensitive too suddenly became irritating and would redden my face. Over-exfoliation is basically stripping your skin of its protective layer. I stopped exfoliating and only stuck with miscelar water, toner, moisturizer free of any alcohol or fragrances. Products containing ceramides helps restore that moisture barrier so I used that as well! Take care but not too much care of your skin beauties! Read more


Verified experts are beauty professionals who receive free products for independent reviews without receiving payment.

I cannot stress enough how important this article is! As a child who had extremely sensitive skin and horrible acne, I thought harsh scrubs would be my salvation. As you can guess, they were not and my skin when from a moderate amount of pimples to redness, brand new pimples, and the dullest skin maybe ever to exist. Now that I know better, if my skin barrier is starting to look compromised, I moisturize and only use my products that can soothe my skin.


*raises hand* I did the overexfoliation thing. And when I still had the little bumps, especially along my temples, I added more. Started getting dryness on my forehead, must need more. Then an aesthetician told me my skin was irritated and to stop the acids, they were not for daily use. I figured it was worth a try but that I'd become covered in blackheads. Nope, apparently they weren't doing much for me! I then used a 10% AHA to at least treat that dry feeling forehead and that's when I learned my lesson. I've been babying my skin and... Read more


I was worried I'd become sensitive to niacinamide since it's in everything, but it seems to be working fine though I'm taking it slow. I"m glad to see it on this list of helpful ingredients, I'm going to have to look to see what other products I might have that has more of those! Thanks!


I get little bumps on my forehead (not red, just flesh colored) during the summer because of all the hats I wear, and also in the winter because my skin is apparently desquamation-challenged. I used to think AHA and BHA were my only options, but I tried an enzyme exfoliant, and my mind was blown. It never gives me that excessive dryness or flakiness that sometimes a strong AHA gives me, but seems to work wonders on my skin.

Unfortunately, the enzyme exfoliant I use is pricey (I buy it during Black Friday and whenever I can find it on sale,... Read more


What is the enzyme you try? My bumps look like tiny whiteheads but don't seem to change. I don't know if it's the same as your bumps, but having something else on the list to try can't hurt.

I got a sample of the Herbivore Bakuchiol and decided to give that a go, just using on the bumps and leaving my forehead out of it. I've tried regular retinol with no results so I"m not expecting much from it.


It's the AmorePacific Bio-Enzyme Refining Complex. It's one of the few products where I saw a visible, very noticeable difference after a few weeks. But it's so pricey I can only get myself to buy it once a year, though it does last about 6 months for me. In the meantime, I'm using enzyme masks from Peter Thomas Roth, but I think I need a serum I can use every day for real results.

I wonder if your bumps are milia? If they're tiny and hard like a little white ball?