We include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Here’s our process.

Greatist only shows you brands and products that we stand behind.

Our team thoroughly researches and evaluates the recommendations we make on our site. To establish that the product manufacturers addressed safety and efficacy standards, we:
  • Evaluate ingredients and composition: Do they have the potential to cause harm?
  • Fact-check all health claims: Do they align with the current body of scientific evidence?
  • Assess the brand: Does it operate with integrity and adhere to industry best practices?
We do the research so you can find trusted products for your health and wellness.
Was this helpful?

The term ‘skin barrier’ gets thrown around a lot these days — especially in skincare product marketing. But what is it exactly? And why does it matter?

A quick biology recap: Your skin is your largest organ. It acts as your body’s armor, moisture lock, and alert system for fun things like touch and temperature. So your skin barrier — the buffer between you and the outside world — is super important.

Let’s dive into the deets on your skin barrier, how it gets damaged, and what to do about it.

female applying skincare with cotton padShare on Pinterest
Nuria Seguí/Stocksy United

Short answer: Your skin barrier is the outer layer of your skin. Technically, it’s the top section of your epidermis, which is called the stratum corneum.

It helps to remember that your skin has three main layers:

  • epidermis (top)
  • dermis (middle)
  • subcutaneous tissue (also called subcutaneous fat or hypodermis)

But wait, there’s more! The epidermis itself has layers. The top layer — the stratum corneum, also known as the skin barrier — contains skin cells held together by the lipid matrix, a web of fatty acids, ceramides, and cholesterol.

This razor-thin buffer between you and the outside world is key to your survival. Without this layer, your body’s H2O. stores would evaporate in a puff. And without this barrier, germs, dirt, and UV rays would get into your skin and cause all sorts of damage.

Bottom line: Your skin barrier — the super-thin top layer of skin — protects your health by keeping the good stuff in and the bad stuff out.

Your skin deals with a lot of daily ish. Think of your skin barrier as your body’s outer layer of armor. It can take a beating, but that doesn’t mean it’ll walk away dent-free. Woof.

Some external factors that can jack up your skin barrier:

And the stuff that messes with your skin barrier from the inside out:

If your skin barrier is meant to be an impenetrable brick wall, think of the damage as a few crumbling bricks. When your skin barrier gets weak, you’re more prone to dryness and irritation.

Some signs of a compromised skin barrier:

Absolutely! Here are some ways to keep your skin’s top layer in tip-top condition.

1. Simplify, simplify, simplify

When your skin feels like a wreck, it’s tempting to try every product under the sun to fix it. But a bevy of toners, serums, and exfoliants might be too much for your delicate skin.

Instead of reaching for the next new shiny serum, try a super gentle, super basic skincare routine:

2. Pamper your skin with a plant oil

A 2018 study found that some plant-based oils promote skin barrier healing. And bonus points for oils with antibacterial (buh-bye, zits!) and anti-inflammatory (calm down, redness!) effects.

To use plant oil on your skin, add a drop to your face lotion or gently massage a couple of drops onto your skin.

Some plants oils to try:

3. Consider pH

Science says your skin barrier pH ranges from 4.1 to 5.8. To avoid irritation, try to stick to products within this range.

TBH, not all skincare products list their pH. But when possible, pay attention to the products that do!

4. Amp up the ceramides

Remember how your skin barrier stays intact with a web of fatty acids and ceramides? That means you can help replenish a damaged top layer with heaping doses of these substances.

Research from 2019 suggests that using products with pseudo-ceramides could relieve dryness and irritation from a damaged skin barrier. Basically, the ceramides offer strength and nourishment to your stressed skin.

A couple of ceramide-rich moisturizers to try:

5. Slasher on the humectants

A damaged skin barrier leads to dryness and irritation. So quench your thirsty skin with humectants, which attract water molecules and help bind them to your skin barrier.

Common humectants include:

Wanna give humectants a whirl? You’re in luck. Oodles of moisturizers contain ‘em.

A few options:

  • Your skin barrier, also called the stratum corneum, is the top layer of your skin.
  • A healthy skin barrier is critical for keeping hydration in and dirt and damage out.
  • Super dry or hot environments can damage your skin barrier. So can stress and chronic skin conditions.
  • Symptoms of a damaged skin barrier include dryness, irritation, and frequent skin infections.
  • Got damage? Replenish your skin barrier with a simple skincare routine, nourishing plant oils, ceramides, humectants, and products with a skin-like pH.