While we add new skincare ingredients into our skincare routines to solve our skin problems, we sometimes end up opening the door for new skin problems. And one such problem is a damaged skin barrier caused by using certain skincare products. And one of the easiest ways to deal with that is barrier creams.
A barrier cream is a cream formulated to protect and repair the skin barrier. That’s why barrier creams are sometimes called skin barrier repair creams.
While a barrier cream can be used as a preventative measure to protect your skin against drying weather conditions, it is commonly used as a treatment method to repair and rebuild the skin barrier.
Using irritating active ingredients like retinol, over-exfoliating with hydroxy acids, and exposing your skin to drying products can strip the skin’s lipids leading to a damaged skin barrier.
As a result of an impaired skin barrier, your skin becomes vulnerable to UV damage, bacteria, and inflammation. And it starts to look red and feel dry. Moreover, certain skin disorders like rosacea also wear down the skin barrier.
But that’s where barrier creams come in. Barrier creams “contain the problem”, so to speak. So they prevent the progression of your problem. And secondly, they actually solve your problem, meaning that they help repair the skin’s barrier function.
Before diving in, here’s what to look for you in barrier creams.
What to Look For in a Barrier Cream?
Look for ingredients like ceramides, squalane, fatty acids, and amino acids in your barrier cream (1). These are primarily helpful as they are components of your skin’s natural moisturizing factor. So the aim with these is to replace what’s lost.
Additionally, you can take things up a notch and look for Centella Asiatica, colloidal oatmeal, and vitamin E as these are moisturizing, and soothing for the skin. They’re helpful if you’re dealing with redness too.
Additionally, barrier creams are usually thick in texture. Some barrier repair creams are like ointments you can use to spot treat dryness on your face.
But other options, like the ones you find at Sephora, tend to be more cosmetically pleasing. And this makes it easier to use them as your daily moisturizer.
If you want to use your skin barrier cream to treat dry areas on the face, go for balms, and ointments. But if you want to use it daily, look at the overall formulation and ensure it’s something you can use as a daily moisturizer.
The Best Barrier Creams
Below are the best barrier creams.
Let’s make one thing clear. You absolutely do not need to spend $80 on a cream to repair your skin barrier. Because in terms of functionality, Vaseline literally shields your skin barrier and helps repair it. And it’s backed by science. Petroleum jelly, which is what Vaseline is made of, reduces transepidermal water loss by more than 98% (2). It works by forming a barrier on the skin, sealing moisture in, and preventing it from evaporating. So if an impaired barrier is your problem and you’re on a budget, this is it. On the flip side, Vaseline is far from being an ideal, pleasant cream. It’s thick, greasy, sticky, messy, and overall uncomfortable. And if you’re prone to breakouts, there’s a chance it might make it worse especially if you don’t properly remove it from your skin. Personally, my skin is like an indoor plant. The rules of outdoor plants don’t apply to it. So no matter what dermatologists say, my skin does not like this one. But again, yours might. So if you’ve ever used Vaseline before and you don’t mind the feeling, this is the most effective and the most budget-friendly barrier cream out there.
I talk about this cream whenever I talk about dryness, irritation, sensitivity, and rosacea. Because this is a multi-tasking moisturizer and one of those tasks is to help repair the skin barrier. It’s comfortable on the skin and it’s formulated with everything your skin’s familiar with. It’s got ceramides, squalane, amino acids, and fatty acids to restore the skin lipids. In addition, it utilizes vitamin E and vitamin B3 (niacinamide) to boost moisture and repair the skin barrier.
If you’re looking for a barrier cream and your skin is prone to redness, then this soothing cream is for you. Because it’s made with anti-inflammatory ingredients to instantly soothe the skin. Colloidal oatmeal, feverfew, allantoin, green tea, and licorice extract address redness. Plus, the cream utilizes ceramides, squalane, and shea butter to prevent dryness, increase moisture, and repair the skin barrier. The fragrance-free formula is also ideal for super sensitive skin.
Finding a good barrier cream for oily and acne-prone skin is tricky. On the one hand, you’re dealing with an impaired skin barrier as well as dryness. On the other hand, slathering on petroleum jelly is not an option because it might clog your pores. For that reason, this cream is oil-free and perfect for oily skin. It’s made with fatty acids, amino acids, ceramides, and squalane, which are emollient enough to restore your skin’s lipids but still light enough to keep your pores clear.
If you don’t wish to use your barrier cream as a daily moisturizer and can afford to try something thicker to spot treat dryness, you can try this balm. It’s a bit more intense than a thick winter cream, but it’s incredibly moisturizing. It’s made with shea butter but it also contains soothing vitamin B5 (panthenol) as well as madecassoside, a component of Centella Asiatica. So it instantly calms the skin, reduces irritation and redness, and allows the skin to heal.
Another daily moisturizer you can comfortably use as a barrier cream is this one. And it works because it’s formulated with all that is missing from a damaged skin barrier. It’s got lipids with a concentration of 3%. And it’s got ceramides, squalane, cholesterol, and hyaluronic acid to replenish the skin and increase moisture. And the base of the cream is made with shea butter to seal everything in. The fragrance-free formula is perfect for improving the skin barrier while ensuring a pleasant feeling on the skin.
This is the perfect example of how moisturizer application changes everything. And that’s why you can make this one work both as a spot treatment to treat dryness and as a daily moisturizer. But first things first. This is a fragrance-free moisturizer you can use for your face and for your body. Its base is formulated with petroleum jelly and it contains ceramides to restore the skin barrier. The texture is pretty thick and can be difficult to spread on dry skin. However, when your skin is damp and wet, it applies super easily and turns into a very light lotion. If your skin is particularly damaged, use it on dry areas to make it work like an occlusive moisturizer. If you wish to make it your daily moisturizer, use it on wet skin. It disappears into the skin but instantly revitalizes your complexion and leaves it plump.
A patented, impressive formula is this barrier cream made for mature skin types. It’s literally made to mimic the composition of a healthy skin barrier. The cream utilizes 4% cholesterol, 2% ceramides, and 2% fatty acids to replace the loss of lipids on aging skin. And it has sunflower seed oil, which is rich in vitamins and fatty acids too, to lock moisture in and prevent further moisture loss. In time, the cream helps repair the skin barrier that’s damaged with age and restores a more resilient, stronger barrier function.
Similarly, this one also utilizes a certain ratio of lipids to rebuild the skin barrier. But in addition to fatty acids, ceramides, and cholesterol, this one also has niacinamide, which helps stimulate the skin to produce its own ceramides. And it has a blend of plant extracts like calendula and turmeric for their anti-inflammatory benefits too. Basically, it packs anything and everything you need to increase the water content in the skin, boost circulation, and increase moisture retention.
So these are some of the best barrier creams you can use to protect and repair your skin barrier. Remember, moisture is only one part of the story. So don’t forget to go easy on your skin with the rest of your products too. Use a gentle cleanser, moisturize often, ease up on the exfoliants, and wear your sunscreen.
- Rosso, J. D., Zeichner, J., Alexis, A., Cohen, D., & Berson, D. (2016). Understanding the Epidermal Barrier in Healthy and Compromised Skin: Clinically Relevant Information for the Dermatology Practitioner: Proceedings of an Expert Panel Roundtable Meeting. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology, 9(4 Suppl 1), S2–S8.
- Sethi, A., Kaur, T., Malhotra, S. K., & Gambhir, M. L. (2016). Moisturizers: The Slippery Road. Indian journal of dermatology, 61(3), 279–287. https://doi.org/10.4103/0019-5154.182427