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Dysfunctional Skin Barriers: What Are They? And How Do You Repair Them

Dysfunctional Skin Cover

Use of harsh chemicals and surfactants (soap) can be very harmful to your natural skin barrier. And long-term use of products that incorporate these ingredients can cause your skin barrier to become damaged and dysfunctional. Age and sun damage can also reduce the effectiveness of your skin’s natural barrier.

Dysfunctional Skin Barrier vs Healthy Skin Barrier

With a dysfunctional skin barrier, your skin will be unable to retain moisture efficiently, causing either dryness or excessive oiliness due to over secretion of sebum as the skin tries to heal and correct itself.

In the case of excessive dryness, skin can become cracked, allowing allergens and harmful microbes to enter past the skin’s outer layer. This would then result in inflammation and itchiness and can worsen the symptoms of those already suffering from skin disorders such as eczema or dermatitis. And when the skin becomes itchy and inflamed, the natural response is to scratch the affected areas, causing even more damaged to it.

On the other hand, those who experience excessive oiliness might end up thinking that they just have oily skin and resort to using harsh cleansers that are more effective in stripping off oil on the skin. This in turn would cause a vicious cycle as the skin would then continue to secrete even more sebum in order to heal and protect itself.

How Do I know If I have Dysfunctional Skin Barriers?

Thanks to the overuse of harsh chemicals and surfactants (soap) in our everyday skin care and hygiene products, having dysfunctional skin barriers is actually pretty common.

If your skin is clear, soft, supple and moisturised, congrats! You have healthy skin and you don’t need to worry about healing your skin barriers.

However, if you experience any of the following, you might just be suffering from dysfunctional skin barriers:

  • Extremely dry or dry skin
  • Sensitive skin
  • Stinging when applying creams or lotions that you had no problem with before
  • Sudden change in skin type (oily to dry or dry to oily)
  • A feeling of skin tightness, especially after a hot shower
  • Itching or Inflammation in certain areas
  • Slight to severe flaking, scaling or peeling
  • Fine lines or cracks
  • Gray and ashy skin tone
  • Skin that feels and looks rough
  • Sores and wounds from excessive scratching

For those with eczema or dermatitis, it’s a given that your skin barrier is already damaged. Over the counter steroid creams are generally recommended as it provides almost instant relief from inflammation and itchiness when your eczema or dermatitis flares up. However, this isn’t a long-term solution as long-term use of steroid creams can cause your skin to actually thin out – leaving you with a higher chance of developing more flare ups in the future.

How Do You Fix A Dysfunctional Skin Barrier?

Well, the most straight forward way to fixing dysfunctional skin barriers is by eliminating all products with harsh chemicals and surfactants (soap) from your daily skin care. This would include alcohol-based toners, deep cleansing facial washes and anionic surfactants (the harshest type of surfactants).

Ceramide Creams

Once that is out of the way, it is recommended to begin incorporating Ceramides into your skin care regime. What ceramides are is basically lipids that are found naturally in high concentrations in your outermost skin barrier. They make up over 50% of your skin’s composition and help hold the skin together by forming it protective layer that limits moisture loss and protects yourself against harmful microbes, environmental pollution and allergens.

Adding ceramides into your skin care will dramatically help your skin begin healing its barrier to its natural state. However, not all ceramide creams are made equally. The most sought-after type of ceramide cream is one that incorporates the golden ratio of 3-parts Ceramide to 1-part fatty acids and 1-part Cholesterol (3:1:1). >>Read More About Bioactive Skin Lipids (COC311)

Ceramide creams with a 3:1:1 ratio are especially sought after because it is the most optimal ratio for skin repair and can prevent the most water loss from skin.


The next step is to begin incorporating daily use of sunscreen into your regiment. This step is paramount as the harsh UV rays from the sun can severely damage your skin cells and its barrier. Without proper protection from the sun, its strong UV rays will cause your skin to age prematurely and lose its ability to maintain a healthy skin barrier.

And if that doesn’t get you into a habit of applying sunscreen daily, UV radiation is also a proven cause of skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma, melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

The best type of sunscreens to get is one that has a minimum SPF of 30 and has a PA rating of ++++. When applying sunscreen, it’s important to remember that sunscreen doesn’t offer you full day protection. In fact, most sunscreen’s only last up to 2 hours after application, so if you’re going to be out in the sun for long periods, it’s a good idea to carry around a bottle of sunscreen for reapplication.

And for those who wear makeup and find it impossible to layer sunscreen over the makeup, there are also powder sunscreens you can use as a quick touch up when you’re out and about.

If you’re mostly indoors and think you can get away with no sunscreen, think again. While the less harmful UVB rays cannot penetrate through glass and windows, the stronger and more harmful UVA rays can and will.

Mild & Natural Skin Care

Finally, the last step is to begin incorporating mild and gentle washes and skin care into your regime. Look for products that are specifically labelled for sensitive skin with no added fragrances or harsh chemicals.

Your daily face and body wash would ideally be soap-free as conventional soap can strip your skin from its natural oils and disrupt its natural pH balance. Instead, try to look for products that use non-ionic surfactants like decyl glucoside. Often used in baby shampoo, this natural plant-derived cleansing agent ensures effective cleaning and maximum gentleness on skin. Our MedSkin 3-IN-1 Intensive Face & Body Wash is one such product.

For skin care, its best to find natural based products that are designed for sensitive skin. One of your best bets is to look for skincare products that utilise botanical extracts instead of specific chemicals or ingredients. Most botanical extracts can be just as effective as specialised skincare products that have a long list of chemical ingredients.

Skin whitening products are especially discouraged as often time they might have harsh chemicals like hydroquinone which can do further damage to your skin. But if you really can’t give up your whitening products, maybe look for ones that incorporate natural whitening ingredients like Skullcap Root Extract or Liquorice Extract that provide a natural and safe whitening effect to the skin. Both these ingredients are in our MedSkin 3-IN-1 Intensive Lotion.


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