Everything You Need to Know About Skin Barrier Cream for a Glowing Complexion

<p>Getty Images</p>

Getty Images

The change of seasons can cause changes in our complexion. Colder temperatures in late fall and winter are an obvious cause, but not the only one. Come summer, skin is up against high temps, excessive UV rays, and comforting-but-dehydrating AC, which can lead to a dryer, duller, and more lackluster complexion. Thankfully, barrier creams can help. Unfamiliar with the category? We chatted with a couple dermatologists to unveil everything there is to know about skin-barrier creams. Keep reading to learn more.

What Sets Barrier Creams Apart

All moisturizers add a layer of hydration to the skin, but barrier creams are built different.

“A skin-barrier cream moisturizes and prevents water from escaping the top layer of the skin called the ‘epidermis,’” says board-certified dermatologist Kseniya Kobets, MD, director of cosmetic dermatology at Montefiore Einstein Advanced Care Westchester. According to Kobets, the epidermis is made up of ceramides, free fatty acids, and linoleic acid, all of which create a barrier to help protect the skin from outside threats. Since this layer of skin turns over every 28 days, it’s important to keep it healthy and supported to ensure safe-guarding. That’s where barrier creams come into play.

Meet Our Expert

  • Kseniya Kobets, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and the director of cosmetic dermatology at Montefiore Einstein Advanced Care Westchester.

  • Marisa Garshick, MD is a board-certified dermatologist who practices in New York City and New Jersey.

“A skin-barrier cream is designed to help support the skin’s natural barrier, working to help lock moisture in and protect the skin from external irritants,” says board-certified dermatologist Marisa Garshick, MD.

How Skin Barrier Creams Work

As you’ve just learned, the natural skin barrier keeps skin safe from outside irritants and skin-barrier creams reinforce that function. More specifically, though, Kobets says that skin-barrier creams help to “maintain a healthy skin barrier that protects us from external pollution, allergens, sun damage, and pathogens like bacteria, yeast, and viruses.”

In short, Garshick says that you can think of a skin-barrier cream as a physical skin barrier. “It protects the skin and minimizes sensitivity and irritation,” she says. 

Ingredients to Look For

<p>Getty Images</p>

Getty Images

Since the main function of skin-barrier creams is to hydrate and protect the skin, it’s important to look for formulas with key complexion-boosting ingredients. For hydration, Kobets says to look for ingredients that infuse skin with moisture and help seal it in. She recommends hydrators like glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and panthenol (B5), as well as moisture-locking emollients like ceramides, niacinamide, dimethicone, and petrolatum. The latter of these ingredients may ring a bell, as they’ve been making a buzz with the slugging trend—which, BTW, is a barrier-boosting skincare technique. “If the skin starts to peel, hydrating ingredients like glycerin, ceramides, hyaluronic acid, aloe, and niacinamide can be followed by Vaseline or petroleum, or dimethicone that helps seal in the moisture,” Kobets explains.

If you like to know the why and not just the what, you’ll be glad to know that Garshick further broke it down for us. “A skin-barrier cream may include ingredients like ceramides which are fat molecules that help to support the natural skin barrier to help retain moisture, emollients like squalane and shea butter to soften and smooth the skin, and occlusive ingredients like petrolatum which may help to provide a protective barrier for the skin,” she explains. “Other ingredients may include colloidal oatmeal which serves as a skin protectant, and niacinamide which can soothe the skin and also boost ceramide production. Hydrating ingredients such as humectants like hyaluronic acid and glycerin help to draw moisture in, [as well].”

When to Apply Skin Barrier Cream

Barrier cream can be beneficial in all skincare routines but especially during transitional seasons and periods of harsh weather exposure. Just remember: This goes both ways. While many people think that winter is the harshest season on the skin, summer comes with its fair share of side effects. For example, salt water, air conditioning, and increased UV exposure can all dehydrate the skin. Barrier creams can help restore it.

For the best results, Kobets says to use barrier creams preventatively not reactively. If you know you’re going on a salt- and sun-soaked summer vacation, rearrange your skincare routine a few weeks out, making room for a barrier cream. It will strengthen and protect your skin so that it will be less affected on vacay. Then, while traveling, continue your applications. Meanwhile, if you’re tackling an entire summer bucket list under the sun, you may want to maintain use of a barrier cream all season long. It really can’t hurt. According to Garshick, it can be applied one to two times per day as the last step in a skincare routine prior to sunscreen. 

The Best Skin Barrier Creams

Glad to have the ingredient knowledge but hoping for a cheat sheet on barrier creams? Ahead, shop eight dermatologist-recommended barrier creams worth working into your summer skincare routine. 

La Roche-Posay Cicaplast Balm B5

<p>La Roche-Posay</p>

La Roche-Posay

The La Roche-Posay Cicaplast Balm B5 is a fantastic formula according to Kobets and over 9,000 Amazon shoppers. “It has dimethicone, glycerin, and shea butter, as well as prebiotic complex and panthenol (B5),” Kobets says. A word to the wise? Apply sparingly (if at all) to acne-prone skin, as Kobets says it may be irritating to the skin type.

CeraVe PM Moisturizing Lotion



Looking to accentuate your nighttime routine? Kobets and Garshick recommend the CeraVe PM Moisturizing Lotion, which is formulated with ceramides, niacinamide, and hyaluronic acid to hydrate, plump, and protect skin. “This moisturizing cream works to both hydrate the skin and restore its natural barrier to help dry skin without leaving the skin feeling greasy,” Garshick says. “The patented MVE delivery technology helps deliver moisturizing ingredients to the skin over 24 hours, keeping the skin soft and smooth all day, making it great for those with dry skin. It’s also fragrance-free, making it an especially good option for those with sensitive and eczema-prone skin.” In other words, it makes sense why this lotion is a drugstore staple with over 42,000 5-star reviews.

First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream Intense Hydration

<p>First Aid Beauty</p>

First Aid Beauty

If you have sensitive skin or prefer thicker formulas, consider the ultra-gentle First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream Intense Hydration, a colloidal oatmeal barrier cream beloved by over 345,000 Sephora shoppers. “Not only does this cream help with hydration, but it also helps to protect the skin and offers a barrier effect, protecting the skin against irritation and sensitivity,” Garshick says. “It contains a blend of colloidal oatmeal, shea butter, and allantoin, which together help to protect, soften, and soothe the skin.”

La Roche-Posay Lipikar Balm AP+M

<p>La Roche-Posay</p>

La Roche-Posay

La Roche-Posay is renowned for its barrier-supporting formulas so don’t be surprised to see a few of its products on this list. “The La Roche-Posay Lipikar Balm has shea butter, dimethicone, glycerin, niacinamide, and prebiotic thermal water to maintain [a] healthy microbiome,” Kobets says, noting that this cream can be used from head to toe. No wonder over 18,000 Amazon shoppers are seemingly obsessed.

La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer

<p>La Roche-Posay</p>

La Roche-Posay

The La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer is another effective barrier cream. “It’s similar to the La Roche-Posay Lipikar Baume but great for the face,” Kobets says—and Amazon reviews back it up! This stellar face moisturizer touts over 27,000 5-star reviews

SkinMedica HA5 Rejuvenating Hydrator



If you’re willing or able to splurge on your barrier skincare, Garshick suggests the SkinMedica HA5 Rejuvenating Hydrator. “It incorporates hyaluronic acid, [which] helps to boost moisture in the skin and works to help the skin retain moisture, helping to support the natural skin barrier,” she explains. “It’s especially good for those looking to target signs of skin aging, [as] it can help to improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.”

Vaseline Original Healing Petroleum Jelly



Remember: Slugging is a form of barrier support so Vaseline is a go. “Tried and true, this drugstore favorite not only helps to lock moisture in but also provides a protective barrier using 100 percent pure petrolatum helping to protect the skin from external irritants, making it especially good for dry, chapped, or cracked skin,” Garshick says. “This can be applied multiple times throughout the day as well as at bedtime.”

Prequel Barrier Therapy Skin Protectant



For a multi-tasking barrier-supporting formula, check out Prequel’s Barrier Therapy Skin Protectant. “A great option for the face and body, this cream helps to boost moisture and support the skin barrier to reduce itchiness and irritation of the skin,” Garshick says. “It contains colloidal oatmeal and absorbs easily and won’t leave the skin feeling greasy or sticky.”

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