The skin barrier – also known as the stratum corneum – is the outermost layer of the epidermis. It acts as a protective shield, not only preventing water evaporation but also keeping allergens, irritants and bacteria from penetrating deeper into the skin, which is why investing in a good barrier cream is so important. When the barrier function is impaired, you get transepidermal water loss and this can lead to skin problems ranging from flakiness, tightness and redness to atopic dermatitis and eczema.
One reason why our skin barrier function can become compromised is improper application of products – either overuse or not using the right ones. This was particularly the case during the pandemic, when – perhaps with more time on our hands – we turned experimental, blasting skin with super-strong active ingredients. These can damage the barrier (so lay low on the Vitamin C, AHAs and retinoids for a while), as can over microdermabrasion. When you aggress the skin constantly, it will weaken it.
If this happens, you need to rebuild the barrier – and a great barrier cream can do just that. The stratum corneum is composed of neatly arranged skin cells, almost like bricks, and between these are layers of lipids – cholesterol, fatty acids and ceramides – which are essential for skin health and hydration. So look for products that contain a combination of these ingredients. Here is my edit of the best new barrier creams and facial oils to protect, strengthen and restore the skin barrier.
This is your all-round SOS barrier cream – you can use it every day. It has a thick, rich – but not cloying or sticky – texture and works like a moisturiser to rehydrate and smooth dry, inflamed skin. It contains Black Cumin Oil, which is a healing anti-inflammatory to soothe and calm, while antioxidants protect against external aggressors and strengthen barrier function. It also has Evening Primrose Oil, which has those essential fatty acids to plumpen and strengthen the skin and ProVitamin B5, which locks in moisture.
A moisture barrier cream that has a buttery, rather than a balm-like, consistency, this new launch is the richest moisturiser in Glossier’s skincare range. It’s more akin to a heavy-duty moisturiser for when skin is feeling very dry and/or sensitive, perhaps due to over-exfoliation or exposure to cold weather. Even though it’s rich, it is non-comedogenic so you can use it on sensitised oily skin as well. The plant-based ingredients include a Post-Biotic Ferment to restore the microbiome, as well as Linoleic Acid, a fatty acid essential, and Babassu Oil, which is Vitamin E-rich for skin regeneration.
This rich balm is ideal for excessively dry, irritated, tight skin (I wouldn’t recommend it for an oily complexion). The Italian skincare brand formulates its products using wild-foraged organic skincare ingredients grown in Sicily. This salve is packed with botanicals – vitamin-rich Carrot and Dandelion to soothe and nourish, Hawthorn and St John’s Wort to regenerate and replenish, and Spirulina for fighting free radicals. Use day or night over a moisturiser for luminous results.
This is a restorative overnight barrier cream designed as the final step in your skincare routine before you go to bed. I use it 2 to 3 times per week, or as needed. The intensive formula works towards strengthening the skin barrier and to accelerate the regeneration of skin cells and turbocharge collagen production. It also contains urea to improve elasticity, softening shea butter, as well as superhero antioxidant glutathione and lactobionic acid, a gentle exfoliator – a good balance of protective and reparative ingredients.
This is another multi-purpose (non-greasy) balm for dry, chapped and stressed skin. You apply it either onto damp skin or as the last layer in your skincare routine for instant comfort and relief. It contains Colloidal Oats and Microalgae, which are incredibly soothing, as well as myriad ceramides, amino acids and biomimetic actives (vitamins, antioxidants and anti-inflammatories) to up the skin’s hydration, as well as support barrier function and a healthy microbiome.
I’m a big fan of this brand – all Cultured Biomecare’s formulations are based around microbiome science and optimising skin health. The new Resilience Facial Oil is super-nourishing. It has a prebiotic action to balance and support a healthy microbiome (the trillions of microorganisms including bacteria, fungi and viruses that live on the surface of our skin), while fermented and activated oils amplify collagen, ceramide and lipid production, leaving skin plump and glowing. It’s super light and non-greasy – perfect for applying post-cleanser or over a moisturiser, in the morning or evening.
Allies of Skin
This is like an overnight bandage for sensitised skin. The beautifully formulated barrier cream is packed with reparative ingredients to soothe and repair. It has a tripeptide to calm and hydrate, Oat Protein and Niacinamide which accelerate recovery and regeneration, and ceramides to reinforce the skin barrier. If you’re looking for something that will strengthen, protect from urban aggressors and improve skin’s ability to retain moisture, this is it.
Jordan Samuel Skin
Super hydrating and nourishing, this is a rich daily moisturiser that you can mix and match with your oil and/or serum. Key ingredients include Squalane, an emollient that seals in moisture, hydrating glycerin, Ceramide NG that helps reduce transepidermal water loss, and shea butter which smooths and conditions for a soft, supple complexion.
This silky, gel-like mask contains ultra-hydrating Resurrection Plant to give dry, lacklustre skin a boost and the brightly-coloured Blue Tansy Oil, which is both an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Apply to dry skin after cleansing and leave for ten minutes, before massaging with moistened fingertips to create a silky milk, which you then rinse off. There is no greasy residue, just a feeling that skin has been instantly nourished and revitalised. It’s soothing, calming and smells like heaven.