As the appetite for active skincare continues to soar, it’s unsurprising that, in parallel, the quest for the ideal barrier cream continues. It's understood that a little occasional dryness and irritation is the price we pay for all the benefits that come from using powerful ingredients like retinoids. But with an ever-increasing number of barrier repair creams on the market, in every format, how do you choose the right one for you?
Indeed the big skincare trends of 2022 included slugging and flooding - both essentially methods for managing a damaged skin barrier.
Let’s break down the way we can approach barrier repair for speedy results:
Repair by locking water into the stratum corneum and helping rebuild the barrier
This is the essence of most barrier repair creams - by reducing transepidermal water loss on the skin’s surface and helping rebuild the bricks and mortar structure of the stratum corneum, the barrier’s protective role can be re-established.
Occlusives are key and will determine the skin feel of the product - heavy duty unguents rely on ingredients like mineral oil and will be best used overnight as they tend to be a bit gloopy or paste-like. Newer ingredients like ectoin reduce transepidermal water loss by forming a water shell on the surface of a skin, resulting in the same effect but without the need for the gloop factor.
The addition of ingredients like ceramides and skin lipids help replenish the stratum corneum, allowing it to start to regain its own innate ability to hold onto water effectively. This allows the skin to regain its flexibility and resistance to penetration by undesirable chemicals.
The breach in the skin barrier will potentially allow irritants to penetrate more deeply into the skin than they’d usually reach - this can lead to inflammation, with associated redness, bumpiness and itching.
We have many different ingredients that help fight inflammation in barrier repair creams - look for bisabolol, derived from chamomile and Centella, with its active constituents (think madecassoside and asiaticoside).
Revitalise the skin’s natural defenses by strengthening the microbiome
The increase in the use of pre- and postbiotics is of interest -we know that this way of fortifying our friendly army of bacteria and yeasts helps keep out colonisation of the skin’s surface by unfriendly organisms. This is a popular feature of French pharmacy brand barrier repair creams such as La Roche Posay, Cicaplast and Avene Cicalfate.
Recharge the skin to heal itself
Finally, a new frontier in barrier repair is to recharge the cell battery, by boosting mitochondrial function - this allows us to better access the skin’s built-in blueprint for repairing itself. Energy for these “housekeeping” functions declines as we age and levels of NAD+ drop as low as 50% after the age of 40, so this is especially relevant to anyone in the perimenopausal period and beyond. Sunflower Shoot Extract is the hero ingredient I discovered at a major global conference this year - I added it to our formulation for Flawless Moisturiser Intense and have seen remarkable benefits on barrier health with use.
At the end of the day, the first thing is to choose a barrier repair cream with a texture you actually like using. It’s also important it doesn’t make pre-existing issues like a tendency to clogged pores and blemishes worse. Finally, a multi-tasking approach tackling all the facets of what happens when you damage your skin barrier will expedite recovery.
The Ordinary Soothing Barrier Support Serum
This interesting formula comes in a lightweight serum and will best suit those who with oily skin who prefer lightweight textures. The cyanocobalamin element that gives it its colour is a bit of a gimmick, as this isn’t an ingredient with a profound impact on barrier health but the rest of the formula will help calm inflammation and boost barrier function. You’ll probably still need a lightweight moisturiser over the top.
A similar type of formula to the perhaps better known La Roche Posay Cicoplast this is a useful “rescue” for irritated skin and is safe to be used anywhere on the face or body, and in infants. It’s not particularly suitable for use during the day under make-up as it has a paste-like texture but it’s a good general purpose rescue product to have in the bathroom cabinet.
La Roche Posay Cicoplast
Similar in structure to the Avene product, I’m less fond of this formula as it can be occlusive so a caveat for those who have blemish-prone skin. But it’s otherwise a good option for dry or irritated skin. Again, it’s safe to use anywhere on the body and is also well-priced.
Dermalogica Stabilising Barrier Repair Cream
This rich and nourishing cream is ideal for dry, mature skin as it’s rich in barrier-replenishing safflower and evening primrose oil. This is less suitable for anyone with combination or acne-prone skin. The price point makes it a treat rather than a staple.
Dr Sam's Flawless Moisturiser Intense
Ideal for someone looking to use a barrier repair cream under make-up as well as at night. Ideal for retinoid users, as it helps access their benefits as well as negate their potential for irritation, and for those who are acne-prone.