Barrier grief: Brands need to be more specific about skin barrier claims – expert

By Amanda Lim

- Last updated on GMT

An expert emphasises the need for greater specificity on the complex skin barrier system. [Getty Images]
An expert emphasises the need for greater specificity on the complex skin barrier system. [Getty Images]

Related tags skin barrier Skin health skin microbiome Skin care Sensitive skin

A skin barrier expert has expressed concerns over the lack of clarification on barrier-enhancing claims in the cosmetic industry, emphasising the need for greater specificity on such a complex system.

In the last decade, beauty consumers have shrugged of their apprehension of acids and retinoids, using them to slough off surface skin to reveal smooth, glass-like complexions.

However, there are instances where we may stray into excessive use of these exfoliating actives and end up compromising our all-important skin barrier.

Cultivating a healthy skin barrier is vital to maintaining healthy skin. It acts as a protective layer from external threats – a fact that boosted its relevancy during the COVID-19 pandemic and any compromise in its integrity can result in a host of complexion issues.

In 2024, the skin barrier is still a powerful buzzword.

It has drummed up interest in ingredients such as ceramides, niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, and squalene.

Furthermore, it has also spawned trends such as slugging, skin cycling, and skin rewilding.

Products that claim to enhance the skin barrier have consistently been popular, including La Roche Posay’s Cicaplast Baume B5, CeraVe’s Advanced Repair Ointment, and Aestura’s Atobarrier 365.

The latter is a best seller with cumulative single sales exceeding three million units in the last five years, according to parent company Amorepacific.

Behind the buzzy products and trends, Dr Jeong Sekyoo expressed concerns that the industry has oversimplified and overgeneralised the skin barrier.

Jeong has studied the skin barrier for over 25 years and is a member of the Korean Society of Skin Barrier Research and the Pan-Asian Pacific Skin Barrier Research Society. He is currently director and chief technical officer at South Korean ingredients firm Incospharm.

He told CosmeticsDesign-Asia​ that the skin has multiple barrier functions, including permeability and antimicrobial functions.

“You can imagine that there are many barrier functions performed by the skin. So, you cannot simply say that a product improves the skin barrier function or is just good for skin barrier function. Because what type of barrier function, you’re talking about is a very critical point.”

Multiple functions, one claim?

Jeong added that cosmeceutical skin care brands, being so-called ‘doctor brands’, needed to be even more discerning with their claims.

Today, I’m sure that most dermocosmetic products have some barrier function claim, like enhancing the skin barrier or improving the skin barrier.It is quite straightforward to say that dermocosmetics should work to repair the skin barrier in some way because the impairment of the skin barrier function is a general symptom of almost every kind of skin disease or sensitive skin – nearly every kind of skin disease has some defects in the skin barrier function.

“So, while it should be one of the claims, simply claiming improvement in skin barrier function is not enough. You could specify exactly what skin barrier function you are addressing. That’s how dermocosmetics should be.”

Distinguishing the differences between the barrier functions is also important as each would require different ingredients.

“Ceramides mostly works on enhancing the permeability function. For hydration, you can use [natural moisturising factors] or other types of humectants. And you would need anti-microbial ingredients for the anti-microbial barrier. So, specific barrier functions should be clarified, especially for dermocosmetics claims,” ​said Jeong.

An antioxidant skin barrier?

There is still much we stand to learn about the skin barrier and all its functions.

Jeong told us that he, along with several colleagues, are researching the skin’s antioxidant barrier function.

“Myself, my colleagues, dermatologists, and other researchers, are interested in expanding the skin barrier function to the antioxidant barrier function. We believe there is but there’s not enough information on it right now.

“We are working on the antioxidant barrier system and how it is established, what kind of key molecules are involved for constructing the skin’s antioxidant barrier function, and how to improve or enhance it.”

The primary objective was to develop a novel ingredient that can effectively enhance the skin’s antioxidant barrier function.

“As a cosmetic ingredient manufacturing company, our ultimate goal is to develop new ingredients or discover molecules that will target antioxidant skin barrier functions.”

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