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Rebuilding your barrier

by Louisa Crook

So you overdid the actives and now your skin is screaming. What you’ve got is a compromised skin barrier. How do you handle this this highly irritating situation?

Stop being active

We’re not talking about exercise here. We are talking about those actives that messed your skin up in the first place. Cease all use of them immediately! Those products are not to go near your skin until you’ve learnt how to use them properly! Your skin barrier now needs time to recover and one of the most effective ways to do that is to leave it (almost) completely alone.

Bring in the balms

Balms, ointments, ceramide-rich creams, humectants and occlusives are now your skin’s best buddies. If your skincare arsenal is sparse for these products, then get to your nearest drugstore or skincare outlet and grab a few. The following products are just some of those that come highly recommended for allowing your skin to calm down and repair while keeping it hydrated:

Soonjung 2x Barrier Intensive Cream by Etude House – a great choice for a lightly occlusive moisturiser that won’t cause further irritation to your stinging skin.

Krave Beauty Great Barrier Relief – a favourite with many estheticians and dermatologists. This product comes highly recommended within the skincare community.

Wishtrend’s Polyphenols in Propolis – propolis products work wonders to calm unhappy skin.

Krave Beauty Oat So Simple Water Cream – another highly recommended moisturiser that is super gentle on the skin.

La Roche Posay Effaclar H Moisturiser – gentle and hydrating, this gycerin-rich cream provides a calming layer of hydration.

Glow Recipe Avocado Ceramide Recovery Serum – a gentle ceramide-rich serum that helps to calm redness and irritation.

Krave Beauty Matcha Hemp Hydrating Cleanser – Krave Beauty really knows their stuff when it comes to gentle skincare. This cleanser is super gentle and non-stripping, allowing your skin to heal itself without further disruption.

The common culprits

If you were using a whole bunch of actives then you may not be sure why you wound up in your sad skincare situation. While everyone’s skin is different and can react to almost anything slathered onto it, there are some pretty obvious contenders for common skin barrier battles:


When we say start slow and weak, we mean it. Retinol is fantastic but it can be pretty brutal when misused. Going too fast and too hard with this active is a surefire way to compromise your skin. We understand that it can be frustrating to have to wait such a long time to see results with retinol (+/- 4-6 weeks for acne, +/- 12 weeks for anti-aging) but if you try to go too fast, you’ll just make that time-frame even longer. So have patience and build up slowly, increasing the strength bit by bit.

Vitamin C

Another product where going slow and steady wins the race. Build up your use of this active slowly and gently and make sure to use it at a different time to your retinol (vit C in the AM, retinol in the PM). Pairing these two will almost certainly have your skin screaming.

Exfoliants (particularly AHAs )

While all exfoliants/hydroxy acids have the potential to cause irritation, it’s the AHAs that most often do. This is because AHAs have the smallest molecules, meaning they penetrate the deepest into your skin. This allows for many layers of irritation. Again, go slowly, use with caution and gradually build up over time. For some people, AHA use once or twice a month is more than enough, for others, weekly use is fine. Some can’t tolerate it at all and those people should stick to BHAs or PHAs. You have to figure this one out for yourself. Slowly.

Respect your barrier

Always remember that your skin barrier is there as your defence. It protects you against environmental threats while keeping your moisture level good and balanced. Treat it with the same respect it treats you by not overdoing the products, and listening to it when it’s trying to tell you it’s not happy. Your skin provides plenty of warning before getting to the point whereby you have to completely change your skincare routine. Don’t ignore the signs. Learn the difference between a tingle and early-stage irritation. If in doubt about any product’s “friendliness” for your skin, consider immediately ceasing use. And never overlook the importance of patch testing new products, particularly those with active ingredients and especially if those ingredients are new to your skincare routine.

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