‘Strength Training’ Your Skin Will Become the Single Most Important Part of Your Beauty Routine in 2024
Barrier health breaks through as the beauty industry’s latest heavy hitter.
It’s rare to find skin-care advice that’s one-size-fits-all, but in the dermatological world, there is an exception: Strong skin is healthy skin. No matter what type of complexion you have or your unique concerns, “a strong skin barrier is the single most important factor [in maintaining skin health],” says John “Jay” Wofford, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with U.S. Dermatology Partners. And in 2024, the beauty industry will deliver the tools we all need to achieve exactly that.
Your skin barrier is made up of lipids and cells, and serves as the first line of defense against the elements. It’s responsible for keeping bad stuff, like pollution and bacteria, out, while trapping good stuff, like moisture, in. When the skin barrier is functioning properly, your complexion will likely be hydrated and healthy; when it’s compromised, you become vulnerable to a whole host of concerns. Severe barrier issues can lead to skin conditions like eczema and rosacea, but even a minimally-disrupted barrier can lead to dryness, irritation, inflammation, and acne.
“Barrier health has always been a focus for dermatologists, but most people used to think it was only important if you had rosacea, sensitive skin, or eczema,” says David Kim, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York. But that isn’t the case, he says: Even people who don’t have an underlying medical condition can inadvertently weaken their skin barrier. “It can impact anyone in the general population, because when the barrier is disrupted, moisture escapes and the skin starts to get dry and cracked, which allows irritants and bacteria to enter the skin and trigger inflammation,” he says.
Every year that goes by, our society is becoming increasingly more focused on skin health
John Wofford, MD
Experts credit the increased overall attention on skin health as a key reason why barrier health is going to be so hot in the coming year. “Every year that goes by, our society is becoming increasingly more focused on skin health,” says Dr. Wofford, noting that this phenomenon started to pick up during the 2020 lockdown. “Before, the general population probably didn’t really want to hear about the skin barrier and the physiology of how the skin works, but now that they’re so much more focused on skin health, they want to understand what’s going on. So, companies are becoming more scientific with what they’re talking about to target their products and give consumers what they want.”
The skin barrier trend has been percolating over the last few years. In early 2022, #skinbarrier had 300 million views on TikTok, now it has more than 5.7 billion; searches for “skin barrier” increased 51 percent during that same period; and model Hailey Bieber launched her skin-care line Rhode in 2022 with a Barrier Restore Cream ($29). But in 2024, barrier health is coming closer to the forefront, because it’s no longer a want—it’s a need.
Research has found that the prevalence of atopic dermatitis—a type of eczema that’s characterized by an extremely weakened skin barrier and impacts 2 to 10 percent of adults in developed countries—has increased two- to three-fold in recent decades, and there are a few different factors at play to explain why. A 2023 empirical review posits that the extreme temperature fluctuations caused by the climate crisis are to blame. Other research has found that low temperatures and low humidity lead to a general decrease in barrier function. “As global warming gets worse and we have more severe weather fluctuations and more UV exposure, you have to supplement the skin with the right products so it can adapt to the environment,” says Dr. Kim.
In addition to environmental factors causing severe barrier disruption, dermatologists attribute some everyday concerns around skin barrier health (think: dryness, flaking, irritation, and acne) to what people are doing in their routines. “People are using more active ingredients, and their skin barriers are becoming compromised,” says Dr. Kim, noting that the improper use of harsh actives like retinol, vitamin C, and exfoliating acids can strip the skin, weakening the barrier and causing sensitivities. “Now, [people are] looking for ways to incorporate actives while keeping that barrier strong so it doesn’t get irritated.” (This, in large part, explains why niacinamide—a gentle antioxidant that brightens skin, evens discoloration, and fights acne without irritation—has been showing up everywhere lately.)
“People are using more active ingredients, and their skin barriers are becoming compromised.”
David Kim, MD, board-certified dermatologist
Thankfully, caring for your skin barrier is fairly straightforward. Ceramides, glycerin, and fatty acids have long been considered the “big three” for skin barrier repair (and have traditionally been staples in lotions and other products from industry heavyweights like Cerave and Cetaphil). Calming ingredients like Centella Asiatica and colloidal oatmeal are often included alongside them to soothe irritated skin. But though the solutions for strengthening skin haven’t changed in the four decades (since ceramides entered the cosmetic lexicon), the way they’re being delivered—and marketed—to consumers has.
Barrier-building ingredients were once exclusively available in thick creams designed to treat dry skin, but now, they’re making their way into lighter-weight products more suitable for boosting the skin barrier for oily skin and acne-prone skin. In October Paula’s Choice launched its Barrier Repair Advanced Moisturizer ($38), which boosts skin’s natural production of ceramides to strengthen the barrier and allow for better moisture retention; RoC introduced its Barrier Renew Essentials Collection ($50) that includes lightweight a.m. and p.m. moisturizers as well as a gel-to-foam cleanser, all of which are jam-packed with ceramides; Murad launched a Cellular Hydration Repair Serum ($72) that’s infused with peptides and fatty acids to boost your body’s natural production of ceramides, strengthening the skin barrier within 30 minutes of application. One month earlier, Payot launched an Adaptogenic Spray Moisturizer ($44) infused with antioxidants to defend against the environmental impacts on skin barrier health. At the end of this month, Drunk Elephant will release its Bora Bora Barrier Repair Cream, which promotes the natural production of skin-strengthening lipids; and in early 2024, Saint Jane will enter the barrier-care category with its new Beauty Star Flower Serum, which encapsulates niacinamide inside of micropearl bubbles that burst when they enter the skin to provide strengthening benefits from the inside out.
And for those dealing with more severe underlying barrier concerns, like eczema and rosacea, treating the symptoms at home has never been easier
Body care is getting a barrier-friendly upgrade, too. Marie Veronique, Cyklar, REN, and PerriconeMD all launched barrier-focused body products in the back half of this year. And at the top of 2023, Dove introduced its Shower Collection for Skin Conditions, which features three body washes designed to target eczema-prone, dry-cracked, and hyper-reactive skin. Looking ahead to the coming months, Evolved By Nature will launch a body wash that employs the brand’s proprietary activated silk ingredient to support the skin’s natural production of claudins, a protein that holds barrier cells together to keep moisture in and irritants out.
And for those dealing with more severe underlying barrier concerns, like eczema and rosacea, treating the symptoms at home has never been easier (though you’ll still want to consult a dermatologist for the best course of action for your individual needs). In the past year, drugstore and luxury brands alike—including No. 7, Olay, Murad, Typology, and Alpyn Beauty—have all introduced products that target these concerns, and in November, a new brand called Re/Cover hit the market with moisturizing patches that treat eczema flares in the same way pimple patches zap zits. In the dermatological world, a new eczema drug from Lilly called lebrikizumab has shown promise in strengthening the skin barrier in clinical trials (it works by blocking the proteins that trigger the inflammatory loop in the skin to stave off barrier dysfunction, itch, and infection), and could be available via prescription as early as next year.
Come 2024, strength training our skin will become so central to our routines that many of us won’t even realize we’re doing it—but our complexions will be all the better for it.
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