How to Protect Your Skin's Moisture Barrier When It's Frigid Outside

Step one: Put down the harsh cleanser.

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Getty / Rosdiana Ciaravolo

Winter usually heralds in cozy traditions like family dinners and hot beverages. It also traditionally heralds dry, flaking, stinging—even splitting—skin. And while many of us will be remaining indoors for the winter, there’s still the problem of constant heater usage, which is bound to irritate and dry out our skin even more. If you've been slathering on oils and moisturizers to no avail, we ask you this: have you considered your skin's moisture barrier? Keep reading to find out the key to keeping your skin hydrated and soothed even through the winter months.

Firstly: What is your skin's moisture barrier?

“The moisture barrier is the protective layer of the skin filled with ceramides, fatty acids, and lipids,” according to dermatologist and Byrdie Review Board member Dr. Onyeka Obioha, MD. It can also go by the name of the acid mantle. “It functions as a shield against the harsh external environment and unwanted bacteria. It also absorbs and maintains moisture by preventing transepidermal water loss, which is dehydration of the skin.”

Many brands have come out with products specifically meant to help your skin's moisture barrier, such as Lord Jones' Acid Mantle Repair—a thick, goopy cream to help lock moisture back into the skin. “This vital barrier also retains moisture to maintain your skin’s hydration levels," explains Lord Jones’ General Manager, Summer Frein. "A healthy acid mantle is slightly acidic, with a pH between 4.5 and 6.2. A depleted acid mantle makes your face more susceptible to irritants and future damage." Many things can throw the moisture barrier out of balance, like changes in weather, face masks, overly acidic products, and UV exposure. Wintertime is a particularly vulnerable period of year for the moisture barrier. “Cold temperatures break down this protective layer, creating cracks in the skin, dryness and inflammation,” says Dr. Ohioba. “Indoor heaters decrease humidity levels, accelerating water loss from the skin and resulting in dryness. Those who suffer from chronic inflammatory skin conditions, such as eczema, are more likely to flare due to these moisture-stripping triggers.”

How can you tell if you have a compromised moisture barrier?

Well, the signs are pretty easy to see (and feel). Redness, dryness, itching and skin wrinkling are all signs of a compromised skin barrier. When my moisture barrier is compromised (usually due to using too many actives at once), I’ve experienced intense stinging at the slightest touch, skin looking shiny and tight, dehydration, persistent acne, and flaking. A healthy moisture barrier should hold onto moisture properly, and help your skin stay hydrated, plump and firm.

If your moisture barrier isn’t in the best shape, don’t worry! It just takes a little patience, carefully selected products, and consistency to bring it back to its prime.

model skin


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Step One: Go back to the basics

A damaged moisture barrier needs lots of gentle babying. “With a compromised skin barrier, it’s important to avoid actives or overly harsh ingredients while you rebuild your skin barrier," says celebrity esthetician and skincare brand founder Kate Somerville. "Your first instinct with irritated skin may be to overly cleanse, but it’s super important to use a gentle cleanser when your skin is irritated." Avoid harsh cleansers made with sulfates, which can further dry out your skin. Instead, opt for a milky or light cream cleanser; Sommerville's DeliKate Cleanser is a fragrance-free version formulated with ceramides and peptides to soothe and repair the skin while you cleanse. (For maximum soothing and healing, she recommends using it in conjunction with the DeliKate Cream, which is chock full of peptides and ceramides to “relieve visible redness and calm irritation while working to restore the skin barrier.”)

Kate Somerville DeliKate Soothing Cleanser
Kate Sommerville DeliKate Cleanser $38
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Step Two: Invest in a humidifier

The dropping temps outside usually means you're cranking up the heat indoors, which is great for coziness but less great for your skin's moisture retention; when the air gets drier, it can pull the moisture out of your skin. Not to fear: a humidifier can help. Investing in one of these devices will put moisture back into the air. Think of it like your skin is going from the desert to a humid rainforest. Plus, you can turn it on before bed so you're literally helping repair your skin as you sleep.

Canopy Humidifier
Canopy Humidifier $150 $125
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Step Three: Use barrier-enforcing products

The secret to preserving and strengthening your skin's acid mantle, according to Frein, is to use products with specific ingredients that will help repair. "It’s best to avoid over cleansing or over exfoliating and to instead nourish the skin with essential skin barrier building blocks, like ceramides and oils rich in fatty acids," she says. Lord Jones Acid Mantle Repair CBD Moisturizer is also a great option, which “features a 5-ceramide complex that works in harmony with our full spectrum hemp-derived CBD extract and sunflower seed oil to rebalance skin." So next time you're thinking of purchasing a new moisturizer to help with perpetual dryness, look at the ingredients list for ceramides, which act like glue to fill in cracks in your skin's moisture barrier, plus skin-loving fatty acids and squalane, which mimics your skin's natural oils.

Lord Jones Acid Mantle Repair Moisturizer
Lord Jones Acid Mantle Repair $75
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Step Four: Top everything off with an oil

When repairing the moisture barrier, transepidermal water loss is the unspoken enemy. The easiest way to thwart it—and get the most out of your products—is by topping your skincare off with a facial oil to seal everything in and to prevent any of the products you’ve used from evaporating. For oil beginners, jojoba oil is a good place to start. With a molecular structure similar to the naturally occurring oils in our skin (called sebum), jojoba oil is lightweight and unlikely to congest any pores or trigger acne.

The Jojoba Company
The Jojoba Company Jojoba Oil $19
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