Barrier Repair Solutions

Emblem for Skin Support Module - Using Barrier Repair Formulations to Improve Skin Health and Stability

Executive Summary

Finding a suitable barrier repair formulation can aid the natural repair process and resolve many of the underlying factors in inflammatory skin disease.


A large variety of creams, lotions and cleansers which aim to improve skin barrier function are available. Each one is slightly different and has it’s own unique principles behind the formulation.

These principles parallel the unique characteristics of the specific skin conditions, which are represented by very specific barrier defects. Granted, some skin conditions can have significant overlap (atopic dermatitis, seborrheic dermatitis, psoriasis), slightly different barrier abnormalities are still present.

Despite of this, most barrier repair solutions are still primarily composed of fatty acids (oils), ceramides, and cholesterol. It is actually the ratio of these individual components which is adjusted depending on specific barrier abnormalities [1].

Finding the right barrier repair solution can assist the start of skin repair process be and may play a critical role in ending further skin disease progression.

Documented Benefits

Appropriate utilization of barrier repair formulations has be shown to:

  • Improve stratum corneum hydration (outermost layer of the skin) [2]
  • Enhance expression of antimicrobial peptides [3]
  • Stabilize sebum composition [4]
  • Restore epidermal function [5]
  • Reduce trans epidermal water loss (amount of moisture lost through the skin) [6, 7]
  • Reduce irritation from cleanser and/or shampoo usage [8, 9]
  • Reduce skin inflammation by correcting underlying abnormalities [10, 11]

Why It’s Important for Inflammatory Skin Disease

Characteristics most important for individuals affected by inflammatory skin disorders:

  • Improved skin stability and hydration
  • Reduced irritation to environmental factors

Expected improvements:

  • Reduced skin dryness and flaking
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Reduced sensitivity

Ideas for Integration

Given the depth of available solutions, testing different formulations can be useful and here are a few tips to consider when looking through viable solutions:

  • Fully occlusive solutions can help prevent transepidermal water loss, but are not recommended as they slow epidermal maturation and barrier repair
  • Semiocclusive solutions can help prevent transepidermal water loss, but do not interfere with barrier repair
  • Physological lipids (such as linoleic acid) are preferred as they are incorporated deeper into the skin and may result in more gradual, but better sustained improvements [12]
  • Nonphysiologic lipids (such petrolatum jelly) can produce quick results, but are not preferred as their effectiveness is only limited to the top later of skin [13, 14]

To help you navigate the various options available and reduce the time you spend searching, here are few tips specific to seborrheic dermatitis prone skin:

  • There is no reference in any medical literature to the avoidance of oil based formulations in the management of seborrheic dermatitis
  • Studies investigating the sebum of seborrheic dermatitis affected individuals actually show decreased lipid availability in the sebum [15]
  • Avoidance of oleic acid rich formulations may be warranted, as released free fatty acids may trigger symptoms [16, 17]
  • Slightly acidic formulations (pH below 5.5) may be useful in jump-starting the natural barrier repair process [18]

Additional Notes

  • Spot testing on smaller areas of skin is always recommended to see how your skin responds
  • You can obtain a variety of free product samples in most pharmacies, clinics and dermatologist offices
  • The cost of something does not always relate to it’s effectiveness
  • Regular (daily) application may actually produce structural changes in the skin with persistent beneficial effects [19]
  • Ceramide dominant emollients appear show most potential for atopic dermatitis [20]
  • Barrier repair products can help offset the negative aspects of prevailing acne treatments [21, 22]

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