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Can You Hydrate A Compromised Barrier?

What is the biggest issue with compromised skin? Barrier function. When the skin barrier is not functioning properly, it may be more prone to developing uncomfortable and irritable skin. The skin barrier protects against external damaging factors, like climate and pollution, UV rays, physical stressors, and chemical toxins. Its main function is to repel water and lock in moisture, which keeps the skin soft and hydrated. When it is not functioning properly, the following occurs: redness, breakouts, and rashes, extreme dryness and dehydration, uneven tone, and texture, extreme sensitivity and itchiness, and prolonged wound healing.  

hydrating compromised skin

Contribution by Shawna Rocha

Shawna Rocha is the owner of Awaken Day Spa in California and Washington. She quickly developed a love for helping clients with compromised and sensitive skin and constantly strives to gain additional knowledge and education. Since becoming an esthetician, she has completed multiple advanced courses in Oncology Esthetics, Immuno-Esthetics, and has specialized training in sensitive skin and holistic therapies. Shawna holds several certifications, including a NCEA certification, and has recently become the Director of Education for Hale and Hush Skincare. Shawna won two awards in the Skin Games 2018 (People’s Choice & Acne/Problematic Skin) and became a judge for two categories in 2019. Shawna’s current passion is writing blogs and articles regarding the skincare industry and has recently become a Dermascope Ambassador. She is truly loved by her clients and colleagues and her passion for the industry is apparent in all that she does.

The Skin Barrier

The skin’s moisture barrier, made of cholesterol, fatty acids, and ceramides, is responsible for locking in moisture and keeping skin hydrated and healthy. When it’s damaged or compromised, it can cause serious skin hydration issues. A healthy skin barrier retains the right balance of water and sebum, is resilient and supple, and appears radiant rather than dull and dry. With the right combination of skincare products containing effective active ingredients, they’ll be able to provide the skin with what it needs to defend, rebuild, and rejuvenate itself.

TEWL and Hydrating Compromised Skin

TEWL, the culprit. 

Trans-epidermal Water Loss (TEWL) is a normal process in which our skin releases its water content into the air. While it happens continually, it should try to be minimized because dehydration can lead to dull, irritated skin that’s also prone to fine lines and wrinkles. TEWL is a completely natural process that serves a function, and just like with everything else, balance is key. Therefore, the goal isn’t to completely stop TEWL. Rather, the goal is to prevent excessive moisture loss.

If TEWL is low, meaning less water is passing through the skin, then it will feel hydrated and moisturized. If TEWL is high then the skin will often feel dry and may crack, peel, or feel irritated, which happens quite frequently with compromised skin. 

Why Does Skin Lose Hydration?

A loss of the lipids that normally seal in moisture can lead to dry skin. Clients can deplete their skin water content by spending time in the cold or heat, using harsh soaps, detergents, and chemicals, using rough sponges, washcloths, or exfoliating products, taking long, hot showers or baths and not drinking enough water. Of course, some medical conditions can take a toll on the barrier and skin health such as thyroid diseases, hormone imbalances, autoimmune disorders, poor nutrition, and other severe medical conditions and the medications associated with them.  

Healing a Compromised Barrier

In the treatment room, there are many ways to promote barrier health and perform treatments to help heal, nourish, and improve barrier function.  Remember, light exfoliation is still necessary but harsh BHA’s and AHA’s may aggravate skin conditions. Turning to more gentle natural enzymes, and mild polishes for exfoliation is the key to success when treating this skin type. There are many other treatments for this type of skin type such as hydrodermabrasion, LED, oxygen infusion, and using products with ingredients that help with redness, inflammation, and hydration that will assist heal the barrier.

8 Tips To Hydrating Compromised Skin

Clients need a good home regime and education on their skin conditions and how to appropriately use their products at home. Here are some tips to share with clients and what they need to know to help remedy their compromised barrier.

1. Avoid Harsh Cleansers.  If the skin is compromised, it needs to heal. Choose gentle, non-drying, cleansers that are fragrance-free and pH-balanced.

2. Use a Repairing Toner. Use a low alcohol-filled type toner, but one that’s going to stimulate repair and hydration. 

3. Moisturize Wisely.  When skin is compromised, it needs moisture, but it also needs healing. Choose a moisturizer with ceramides, natural oils, butters, and natural anti-inflammatories that will help to repair the skin. 

4. Avoid Harsh Exfoliators. Give skin a break from harsh acids, scrubs, retinoids, and other products. When the skin is compromised, they can add to more redness and irritation.  

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5. Keep it Simple. This isn’t the time to be trying new skincare devices, treatments, products, or makeup. Stick with nourishing, more clean versions of cleansers, toners, moisturizers, and sunscreens.

6.  Avoid active ingredients. Overusing or misusing ingredients like retinoids or exfoliating acids can damage the skin over time. And once the skin barrier is damaged, TEWL is worsened.

7.  Use serums to heal. The power of serums to help heal and hydrate even the most severely dry skin is so very important. Serums are key to repairing the damage to the barrier and its proper function.

8. Be Patient. It will take time to heal compromised skin. Give skin several weeks for the repair to begin until improvements can be noticed.

What are the best ways to hydrate compromised skin?

The importance of hydration and skin moisturization is key in maintaining desirable levels of TEWL for compromised skin. Hydration refers to the water content of the skin, whereas moisturization is the skin’s ability to retain those water molecules. Both are needed: hydration and moisturization for optimal skin health. Try maintaining a complete approach to the skin by using skincare products that contain effective moisturizing ingredients that won’t cause irritation or dryness.

Moisturizers prevent water loss to help skin rehydrate from the inside. These products contain three basic types of instrumental ingredients:

  • Humectants like glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and urea pull water from both the air and the deeper layers of skin into the stratum corneum to add moisture.
  • Occlusives like beeswax, soybean oil, and lanolin form a barrier that prevents water from evaporating.
  • Emollients like coconut oil, shea butter, and colloidal oatmeal add softness to the skin.

The newest creations of moisturizers also add ceramides or other ingredients to repair the lipid barrier and prevent water loss. As the skin heals and the signs of a compromised skin barrier are no longer present, the skin will start to look and feel better and be less dry, red, inflamed, and reactive. Then, slowly reintroduce active ingredients like acids and retinol back into the skincare routine.

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