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Today I wanted to talk about compromised skin barriers. Whilst redness, dryness and irritation are all signs that your skin barrier isn't happy with you, there are other indications that are important to pay attention to, because if you aren't careful you'll end up throwing more actives at the situation and causing yourself some real issues!
You're breaking out
If your skin feels tighter and drier than usual but you're still breaking out, I would definitely consider whether your skin barrier is having a wobble. If you don't usually get breakouts outside of certain points in your cycle but you're breaking out and your skin feels sensitive, this could be another red flag. Whilst our instinct when we're breaking out is to reach for our BHAs and active spot treatments, if your skin barrier has been broken down, that's actually the last thing you want to do! I know it's hard but resist the urge to throw all of the actives at the situation and focus on restoring your skin's health with soothing and hydrating ingredients. Simple is best until your skin calms down.
Your skin has a squeaky look or feel
This is why the term 'squeaky clean' when discussing cleansing the skin makes me cringe! Your skin shouldn't be 'squeaking' and that strange filmy, stripped look is likely a sign that you've destroyed the balance of lipids that keeps it healthy. The upper layer of skin is technically made up of dead cells and it's true that the skin naturally exfoliates itself but over the years that turnover can slow down. However, the over-emphasis on exfoliation in skincare routines has lead to excessive removal of those vital skin cells and to compromised barriers left, right and centre. And this mentality of exfoliation being the solution to every skin issue actually means that when people experience this dull skin sign, they try to get back that healthy glow by... exfoliating even more! As a general rule of thumb: most exfoliants only need to be used a couple of times a week, so try not to overdo it, however tempted you might feel.
Hive-like bumps under the skin
This is my skin's go-to way of telling me it's not happy! It's actually quite hard to determine what's going on when this happens, but don't mistake it for general skin texture and up your exfoliation to try to counteract it. If your skin is reacting or even if you're getting some form of dermatitis, you're only going to exacerbate the issue. The way to tell if it's a reaction is that rather than uneven skin texture, it's more likely that you're seeing / feeling small, more uniform bumps. The bumps can also get red, itchy and inflamed. Focus on rebuilding your barrier and see your GP if it persists.
1. Stop using any active skincare (retinoids, Vitamin C, niacinamide at >5% concentration, chemical exfoliants etc.)
2. Strip out any unnecessary steps and stick to the basics (a gentle moisturising cleanser, a fatty moisturiser and a sensitive-skin-friendly sunscreen).
3. Stick to it until your skin has been happy for at least 2 weeks before gradually re-introducing your usual products one by one, less frequently that you did before.
4. Consider why your skin barrier was disrupted - are you overusing certain ingredients like glycolic acid? Do you need to incorporate more barrier-boosters like ceramides, cholesterol and fatty acids into your everyday routine? Are you using overly-harsh cleansers? Or, is your skin reactive to seasonal changes?
Have you ever messed up your skin barrier? Did any of these signs surprise you?