Nora is a writer and consultant working with sustainable brands to make an impact. In 2022, she founded Mossy Copy, LLC, a full-service copy studio based in Austin, TX. Her master’s in English is from NYU, and her bachelor’s in the same is from Sewanee. Areas of expertise include wellness, nutrition, style, and beauty.

Is your skin thirsty? Dryness, flakiness, and even breakouts may be hints that your skin’s moisture barrier isn’t doing its job. The health of your barrier is essential for keeping hydration in and toxins out, and there are some simple things you can do to keep it functioning healthfully. Ahead is everything you need to know on how to repair your skin’s moisture barrier.

What is your skin’s moisture barrier?

The outermost layer of your skin’s epidermis is called the stratum corneum, also known as the lipid layer. Often described as a brick wall, this layer is composed of skin cells called corneocytes, mostly made of the protein keratin and natural moisturizers. The corneocyte “bricks” are held together by lipids, fatty compounds formed from cholesterol, fatty acids, and ceramides.

This thin layer of bricks and mortar is your physical skin barrier.

The skin barrier helps protect your body from environmental damage like toxins and pollutants while keeping hydration from escaping your body.

In addition to the physical barrier, there’s also a thin, slightly acidic film atop your stratum corneum known as the acid mantle. It’s the result of sebum secreted from your glands mixed with sweat. It likes to be a little acidic, with a pH of around 5.5. The acid mantle helps create a chemical barrier against the growth of harmful bacteria and viruses.

Together, the physical stratum corneum and its chemical film are known as the moisture barrier.

Symptoms of a damaged moisture barrier

There are a variety of internal and external factors that can weaken the moisture barrier.

Chronic stress can cause a decrease in epidermal lipids and structural proteins, leading to the impaired barrier function and dehydration. Not drinking enough water can also negatively affect your skin barrier function since your body needs hydration to function at its best. Environmental factors like UVA, pollutants, and even wind can further weaken the moisture barrier and put your skin at risk. Even the skincare you use can degrade your barrier if there are harsh sulfates and overly alkaline ingredients.

When your moisture barrier becomes compromised, you might notice the following symptoms:

  • Dry skin: A damaged skin barrier can decrease your ability to retain moisture, leading to dehydrated skin.
  • Scaly patches: When the skin’s cell turnover is disrupted due to a decrease in natural oils, this can lead to a buildup of dead skin cells that form rough or flaky patches on your skin.
  • Breakouts: Disrupt the protective outer layer of the skin, and you allow irritants and bacteria to penetrate, causing blackheads and other acne.
  • Inflammation: As the barrier’s ability to protect against external aggressors becomes compromised, your skin’s reaction can show up as redness, swelling, or itching, even in response to mild stimuli.
  • Discoloration: Your skin barrier can have an impact on your response to UV exposure, so hyperpigmentation might occur when your skin’s barrier is damaged.
  • Skin infections: Throw your barrier and biome out of balance, and you make it easier for harmful bacteria and fungi to penetrate the skin’s surface, which can lead to fungal, bacterial, and viral infections.
  • Accelerated aging: When your barrier is compromised, you’re less able to defend yourself from aging aggressors like free radicals. Dehydrated skin can also look dull and exaggerate the look of wrinkles and fine lines.

Now that you’re aware of the signs of a damaged skin barrier, you’ll need to know how to repair your moisture barrier.

Ways to repair a damaged moisture barrier

If you’re experiencing any of these signs, there’s a good chance your barrier could use some support. But skin care isn’t just about treating symptoms; it’s about building health so your skin can function optimally. So how do you restore the skin’s moisture barrier? Here are some ways to support your skin from the inside out and outside in.

Get good fats

Your skin needs fats! Like we discussed, the barrier is made up of lipids, which are natural fats. In order for it to function properly and retain hydration, it needs those building blocks to do its thing. Healthy fats in the form of oils and balms will help support a healthy skin barrier by locking in moisture.

You can get good, healthy fats into your skin by using a natural moisturizer that’s rich in nature’s oils. A study from 2018 suggests that certain plant oils, like jojoba and sunflower, can help repair your moisture barrier.

Cosmic Cream™ is full of Emollient Fatty Acids and plant oils to seal in moisture and help improve skin’s natural barrier function. It has 3 potent adaptogens for added protection: Ashwagandha to help protect from blue light, Schisandra to help promote the skin’s natural collagen, and Reishi to help nourish the barrier and tame irritated skin.

Ditch the scrubs

If you’re using harsh, abrasive scrubs to exfoliate your skin, you could be stripping your skin of its natural protective film along with dead skin cells and dirt. To avoid causing microtears and dryness, opt for a liquid exfoliant like Acid Potion. It potently exfoliates with 25% AHAs + BHAs and is balanced with Niacinamide and Reishi to soothe and hydrate.

Be a skinimalist

There’s no shortage of active ingredients and skin care trends on the market that promise dramatic results. But more is not better, and your face is no place to experiment with strong ingredients that could trigger reactions.

Instead of stuffing your cabinet with skincare product after skincare product that aren’t designed to be mixed, build a core skincare routine using gentle, hydrating products that act in concert — like a simple cleansing, exfoliating, and moisturizing ritual from a brand you trust. From there, be selective when adding skin treatments, and always ask your dermatologist if you’re worried about combining products or how it may affect your sensitive skin.

Don’t overwash

Too much cleansing will rob your skin of its acid mantle, leading your face to overproduce sebum and actually become greasier. If you’ve washed your face the night before, you don’t need to wash it again in the morning. Your skin is designed to balance itself, so let it do its thing.

That being said, you will want to clear away grime and makeup and regularly unclog your pores. Just as you avoid washing too much, avoid washing too harshly. Many cleansers contain skin-stripping sulfates like sodium lauryl sulfate and other harmful agents. You never want your skin to feel tight after washing, so choose a creamy, gentle, natural milk face wash like Milk Cleanse.

Balance pH

Many of us assume we should use drying products to eliminate grease and treat acne. But in fact, blemishes and oily skin are often the result of dehydrated skin and a damaged moisture barrier. Skin that’s too dry or has been treated with harsh products that disrupt the acid mantle can trigger an overproduction of sebum, resulting in breakouts.

Because your skin’s barrier and biome are interconnected, it’s important to note that the outer layer of your skin is more than just a protective layer for you as an organism. It’s also a living ecosystem inhabited by trillions of microorganisms.

When in health, beneficial flora live in balance with other bacteria on your skin. This biological barrier has microbes that help fight infection, activate immune responses, heal wounds, and reduce inflammation. This is why we’re taught not to over-sanitize: we don’t want to disrupt this natural line of defense by upsetting our natural pH.

Because your moisture barrier requires balance to stay intact, you don’t want to use products with harsh alkaline ingredients that could throw off the slightly acidic pH. Skin wants to sit at a pH of about 5.5, so use mild pH-balanced cleansers formulated to match this, like Milk Cleanse.

Hydrate and moisturize

Moisture is moisture, right? Not really. You can slather all the fats you want onto dry skin or mist your face on repeat, but neither on its own will go far toward a dewy complexion. Your skin barrier needs both water and oil in order to thrive.

Here’s how to hydrate your skin properly. You’ll want to use humectants, like a pump of Hyaluronic Acid, to draw water into your skin cells, and occlusives like Emollient Fatty Acids to seal that moisture in. After a splash of water on your clean face, use a hydrating face serum like Plump Jelly to help hydrate in and around cells, and lock it in with Cosmic Cream™. Not sure how to use a dewy moisturizer like Cosmic Cream™? Check out our tips on how to apply moisturizer for full benefits.

Without your skin’s moisture barrier, water in your body would simply evaporate, leaving your internal system desiccated and completely unable to function. This barrier is crucial to keeping you vital, and when cared for properly, it also helps keep your skin clear and dewy.

If you want to repair your skin’s moisture barrier and restore its natural function, focus on using gentle, nourishing products designed with your skin’s natural function in mind. Look for a gentle, pH-balanced cleanser, opt for chemical over mechanical exfoliation, and make sure to get adequate hydration and moisture.

In addition to using nourishing topicals, practice healthy habits like drinking plenty of water, supporting your skin with a nutritious whole foods diet, and managing daily stress.

By taking steps to support your natural physical barrier (the lipid layer), chemical barrier (the acid mantle), and biological barrier (the microbiome), you can protect your skin and whole body health at the same time.

Repair your moisture barrier with Moon Juice today by adding Cosmic Cream™ and Milk Cleanse to your routine.