The Skin Barrier

The Skin Barrier

Where Is The Skin Barrier?

The skin barrier is in the outermost layer of the epidermis, called the stratum corneum. It surrounds the skin cells, called keratinocytes. The function of the skin barrier is to prevent water from evaporating off the skin’s surface and to keep out allergens, irritants and microbes.

Where Is The Skin Barrier?

What is the Skin Barrier?

What is the Skin Barrier?

The skin barrier is a bilayer of lipids that surrounds the skin cells in the upper part of the epidermis. These multilamellar membranes bathe keratinocyte skin cells in protective lipids.

The lipids that make up the skin barrier line up in bilayer membranes so that their hydrophobic tails (yellow in the illustration) form a center section that repels water. This prevents the passage of water across the multilamellar membranes.

Lipids line-up in a Lamellar Pattern

There are multiple layers of the lipid bilayers in between each keratinocyte of the stratum corneum.

Skin surface

The lipids that form the bilayer membranes are like puzzle pieces that need to fit together exactly to eliminate any spaces between them.

Skin barrier in 2 dimensions

What Is the Skin Barrier Made Of?

The skin barrier is made of lipids called ceramides, fatty acids and cholesterol. There are many different kinds of fatty acids, and the type of fatty acid is important to barrier strength and function.Learn more about fatty acids in skin here. A healthy skin barrier is made up of an equal ratio of ceramides: fatty acids: cholesterol. To learn more about barrier repair moisturizers that contain the correct 1:1:1 ratio of lipids to repair the skin barrier, click here.

How To Know If Your Skin Barrier Is Compromised

There are devices that can measure if the ski barrier is compromised such as a TEWAmeter® and a Corneometer®. You can also take the skin type quiz used by dermatologists to assess your skin barrier. 

What Are the Symptoms of a Damaged Moisture Barrier?

Signs and symptoms of a compromised skin barrier are dry skin that feels rough and looks dull. Skin with a compromised barrier does not reflect light; therefore does not glow and is not radiant. A damaged skin barrier can lead to acne,sensitive skin, skin allergies, dermatitis, itching and can speed skin aging.Eczema is caused by a damaged skin barrier.

An intact skin barrier prevents water from evaporating off of the skin’s surface.

An intact skin barrier prevents water from evaporating off of the skin’s surface.

A compromised skin barrier allows water to leave the skin’s surface, leading to dehydration.

A compromised skin barrier allows water to leave the skin’s surface, leading to dehydration.

What Is the Best Way To Repair a Compromised Skin Barrier?

Moisturizers that have the three lipids (ceramides, fatty acids and cholesterol), or that contain barrier repair technologies, will repair the skin barrier. Click here to learn more about barrier repair moisturizers and eczema creams.

How Long Does It Take To Repair the Skin Barrier?

Using a barrier repair moisturizer while removing any causes of barrier disruption usually results in restoration of the skin barrier in 14 days.1 However, there are many factors that affect how long it takes the skin barrier to be repaired.

How To Speed Up How Long It Takes To Repair the Skin Barrier

Using the wrong skin care products for your skin type is a very common cause of barrier impairment- so, of course, you need to use the correct skin care products to repair your skin barrier and eliminate any products and bad habits that compromise the barrier. Read more about how to protect the skin barrier here. Assuming you are not doing any of the things that compromise the skin barrier, you can speed up how long it takes the skin barrier to be restored. Some of these suggestions are natural ways to restore the skin barrier.

The following have been shown to accelerate barrier recovery:

  • Moisturizers containing humectants like glycerin2, in addition to barrier repair ingredients.3
  • Barrier repair moisturizers with saturated fatty acids like stearic acid and palmitic acid.4
  • Cleansers with saturated fatty acids ,such as creamy cleansers and cleansing oils
  • Exposure to 10-30 kHz of ultrasound waves5
  • Ethe sex hormone estradiol. Estradiol speeds barrier repair but estradiol + progesterone slows barrier repair while testosterone slows barrier repair.6
  • Magnesium rich epsom salts or dead sea salts7 8 in bath water.
  • Decrease psychological stress9
  • Aromatherapy with stress reducing odors like lavender10
  • Red light exposure.11 12 Avoid ultraviolet light and blue light.
  • Temperatures between 97- 100 degrees13
  • Adequate sleep14

Where Do the Lipids in the Skin Barrier Come From?

The skin barrier components are mostly made by the skin. The lipids in the skin barrier come from:

  • Granules in the granular layer of the epidermis
  • Enzymes in the epidermis15
  • Sebum
  • Diet- the role of the diet and the skin barrier is poorly understood because the science is conflicting.

Besides Skin Care Products, What Else Can Damage the Skin Barrier?

In addition to the list above of ways to speed up the length of time it takes to restore the barrier, these factors also play a role in skin barrier integrity:

  • Cholesterol-lowering medications like statins can impair the barrier16
  • Poor diet leads to fewer nutrients which can affect the barrier
  • Vegan diets low in cholesterol and fat can impair the barrier- this can be solved by adding flax seeds to the diet.
  • Gut microbiome and use of probiotics17
  • Presence of inflammation from disease
  • Genetic defects such as a defect in filaggrin gene18

Why is the Skin Barrier Important?

Defects of the skin barrier can lead to diseases such as eczema, dermatitis, asthma, and allergies.19 When skin barrier defects cause inflammation, the risk of inflammatory diseases such as diabetes and heart disease increases. Using barrier repair moisturizers with MLE technology has been shown to decrease systemic inflammation.20

To take a questionnaire to see if your skin barrier is compromised - click here. To find the best barrier repair moisturizers click here.


  1. De Paepe, K., Roseeuw, D., & Rogiers, V. (2002). Repair of acetone‐and sodium lauryl sulphate‐damaged human skin barrier function using topically applied emulsions containing barrier lipids. Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, 16(6), 587-594.
  2. Fluhr, J. W., Gloor, M., Lehmann, L., Lazzerini, S., Distante, F., & Berardesca, E. (1999). Glycerol accelerates recovery of barrier function in vivo. ACTA DERMATOVENEREOLOGICA-STOCKHOLM-, 79, 418-421.
  3. Umino, Y., Ipponjima, S., & Denda, M. (2019). Modulation of lipid fluidity likely contributes to the fructose/xylitol-induced acceleration of epidermal permeability barrier recovery. Archives of dermatological research, 311(4), 317-324.
  4. Katsuta, Y., Iida, T., Inomata, S., & Denda, M. (2005). Unsaturated fatty acids induce calcium influx into keratinocytes and cause abnormal differentiation of epidermis. Journal of investigative dermatology, 124(5), 1008-1013.
  5. Denda, M., & Nakatani, M. (2010). Acceleration of permeability barrier recovery by exposure of skin to 10–30 kHz sound. British Journal of Dermatology, 162(3), 503-507.
  6. Tsutsumi, M., & Denda, M. (2007). Paradoxical effects of β‐estradiol on epidermal permeability barrier homeostasis. British Journal of Dermatology, 157(4), 776-779.
  7. Proksch, E., Nissen, H. P., Bremgartner, M., & Urquhart, C. (2005). Bathing in a magnesium‐rich Dead Sea salt solution improves skin barrier function, enhances skin hydration, and reduces inflammation in atopic dry skin. International journal of dermatology, 44(2), 151-157.
  8. Denda, M., Katagiri, C., Hirao, T., Maruyama, N., & Takahashi, M. (1999). Some magnesium salts and a mixture of magnesium and calcium salts accelerate skin barrier recovery. Archives of dermatological research, 291(10), 560-563.
  9. Garg, A., Chren, M. M., Sands, L. P., Matsui, M. S., Marenus, K. D., Feingold, K. R., & Elias, P. M. (2001). Psychological stress perturbs epidermal permeability barrier homeostasis: implications for the pathogenesis of stress-associated skin disorders. Archives of dermatology, 137(1), 53-59.
  10. Denda, M., Tsuchiya, T., Shoji, K., & Tanida, M. (2000). Odorant inhalation affects skin barrier homeostasis in mice and humans. British Journal of Dermatology142(5), 1007-1010.
  11. Denda, M., & Fuziwara, S. (2008). Visible radiation affects epidermal permeability barrier recovery: selective effects of red and blue light. Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 128(5), 1335-1335.
  12. Abe, Y., Konno, H., Yoshida, S., Yamauchi, T., Yamasaki, K., Denda, M., & Nishizawa, M. (2019). Red light-promoted skin barrier recovery: Spatiotemporal evaluation by transepidermal potential. Plos one, 14(7), e0219198.
  13. Denda, M., Sokabe, T., Fukumi-Tominaga, T., & Tominaga, M. (2007). Effects of skin surface temperature on epidermal permeability barrier homeostasis. Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 127(3), 654-659.
  14. Altemus, M., Rao, B., Dhabhar, F. S., Ding, W., & Granstein, R. D. (2001). Stress-induced changes in skin barrier function in healthy women. Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 117(2), 309-317.
  15. Pappas, A. (2009). Epidermal surface lipids. Dermato-endocrinology, 1(2), 72-76.
  16. Parke, M. A., Perez-Sanchez, A., Zamil, D. H., & Katta, R. (2021). Diet and skin barrier: the role of dietary interventions on skin barrier function. Dermatology practical & conceptual, 11(1).
  17. Salem, I., Ramser, A., Isham, N., & Ghannoum, M. A. (2018). The gut microbiome as a major regulator of the gut-skin axis. Frontiers in microbiology, 9, 1459.
  18. McGrath, J. A., & Uitto, J. (2008). The filaggrin story: novel insights into skin-barrier function and disease. Trends in molecular medicine, 14(1), 20-27.
  19. Sahle, F. F., Gebre-Mariam, T., Dobner, B., Wohlrab, J., & Neubert, R. H. (2015). Skin diseases associated with the depletion of stratum corneum lipids and stratum corneum lipid substitution therapy. Skin pharmacology and physiology, 28(1), 42-55.
  20. Ye, L., Mauro, T. M., Dang, E., Wang, G., Hu, L. Z., Yu, C., ... & Man, M. Q. (2019). Topical applications of an emollient reduce circulating pro‐inflammatory cytokine levels in chronically aged humans: a pilot clinical study. Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, 33(11), 2197-2201.

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