Ward off the negative impact of the sun, wind, and pollution.

Sleep, stress, and diet all have the potential to impact your skin positively or negatively. And while there’s no doubt that spending time outside is good for you, the natural elements can also take their toll on your skin. 

That’s because the environment impacts the outermost layer of your skin, called the stratum corneum, often referred to as the skin barrier. “It’s made up primarily of lipids, ceramides, and mostly-dead skin cells, and it acts as a [literal] barrier between the outside world and everything inside your body,” says Laurel Misuraca, a spa and wellness consultant in the California Bay Area. (Lipids are your skin’s natural fats and ceramides are fatty acids that promote moisture retention.) 

When the skin barrier isn’t healthy, you are more susceptible to infections and premature aging, explains Rawn Bosley, MD, a dermatologist based in the Dallas-Fort Worth area of Texas. 

Luckily, there’s a lot you can do to protect yourself from the elements and support skin barrier function. Details, ahead. 


How it can harm your skin barrier

Excessive ultraviolet light leads to a process called free radical formation, Bosley says. Free radicals damage skin cells and increase inflammation, breaking down collagen and causing DNA damage, which can lead to skin cancer. 

This process is sped up when your skin gets hot, Misuraca adds. “Increasing your skin’s temperature increases inflammation within the tissues,” she says. While not all inflammation is bad, the combination of sun and heat can increase your overall sun damage over time. 

What you can do 

Aside from wearing sunblock (SPF 30+ is the minimum, according to Bosley), you want to take a two-pronged approach. First, if you’ve spent several hours in direct sunlight, get your skin cooled down ASAP, Misuraca says. A cold washcloth can do the trick, or keep a soothing moisturizer in the fridge to slather on post-sun.

Next up is treating the long-term sun damage you’ve been accumulating since birth. Many of the ingredients that work on this long-term damage are also protective during your day-to-day sun exposure. Think: antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin E, beta carotene (a precursor of vitamin A), resveratrol, kojic acid, alpha arbutin, and ellagic acid. Phytochemicals and seed extracts that contain these substances include grapeseed oil, red raspberry seed, rosehip seed, carrot seed, and licorice root—all of which also have anti-inflammatory properties. 

Products to try

Senté Labs Invisible Shield: Bosley recommends this physical tinted sunscreen, which boasts SPF 52+ and includes an antioxidant blend for additional protection. 

Mab & Stoke Daily Defense Face Oil: “This is honestly one of the top oils I would recommend for defense,” Misuraca says. “Because it contains grapeseed, red raspberry seed, pomegranate seed, and rosehip seed oils, it does a really good job of hitting all the corners of concern in terms of fighting UV light, calming down the skin’s defense mechanisms, treating inflammation, and then also nourishing the natural ceramides and lipids you already have.” Wear it along with your SPF of choice.

Element #2: Wind/cold

How it can harm your skin barrier

“In cold, windy weather, you’re dealing with a lot of water loss and the breakdown of the oil in your skin,” Misuraca says. This can leave skin dehydrated (lacking water) and dry (lacking oil), causing it to flake, dull, and become prone to irritation and issues like eczema and acne. 

What you can do 

Misuraca suggests getting a humidifier. “If you can’t have one in all of your spaces, I’d say put one next to your bed, because you’re going to be there for a prolonged period of time.” Plus, your skin goes through temperature and pH changes while you sleep that cause you to lose moisture anyway, so sleeping in an environment with ambient moisture can help. 

Ingredients to prioritize include plant-based and essential oils, and ceramides. Also, using a moisturizing cleanser is key, as traditional soaps strip moisture from the skin, Bosley says. “Moisturizing cleansers or soaps contain humectants such as glycerin, sorbitol, and hyaluronic acid. Humectants act as magnets by attracting moisture to the dry skin.” 

Products to try 

Ranavat Luminous Ceremony Cream Cleanser: Misuraca loves this glycerin-containing creamy cleanser for cold weather. It removes debris and nourishes your skin barrier at the same time. Be sure to avoid washing with super hot water, which can exacerbate water loss. 

De Mamiel Skin Recovery Blend: Covering a nourishing oil like Mab & Stoke’s Daily Defense Face Oil with a winter face balm like this one is a smart move, according to Misuraca. A balm will have larger-molecule ingredients, which help hold the oil on your face despite moisture-stripping weather—so you can reap the full benefits. 

Element #3: Pollution

How it can harm your skin barrier

Unfortunately, pollution impacts most everyone: “Generally, if you live in an industrial country or more specifically in a metropolitan city, even ‘good’ air quality poses some risk,” says Bosley. Just like the sun, pollution can cause skin barrier disruption and premature aging thanks to free radical formation, Bosley adds. And similar to the wind and cold, pollution can be very dehydrating. 

What you can do 

Incorporate the same kinds of repairing ingredients you’d use for sun damage into your skincare routine, focusing on antioxidants and plant-based anti-inflammatories. And similar to cold/wind, you want a physical barrier between your skin and pollution particles. The oil/balm combination mentioned above can help here, Misuraca says. 

Thorough and consistent cleansing morning and night is also essential, according to Misuraca, as you want to be sure you’re removing all pollution particles from your skin before you apply any of your skincare products. 

Products to try

Ayuna Velo: This BB-cream-like product provides both physical and antioxidant protection, along with moisture. “It hits on both defense and repair,” Misuraca says. 
LILFOX Chlorophyll and Tourmaline Brightening Face Mask: Misuraca buys this mask over and over again because it pulls grime from skin, contains anti-inflammatory ingredients like matcha green tea leaves, and illuminates. “If you live in a city with heavy pollution, it’s great to use this as a nighttime mask once or twice a week to do a deep pull of whatever may have settled into the tissues of your skin,” she says. 

Other ways to support your skin’s barrier function 

To boost your protection from the elements, follow this advice. 

Don’t overdo it with harsh products. “Skin barrier function can be hindered by using harsh acids, which cause a pH imbalance and affects the skin’s natural microbiome,” Bosley says. For this reason, it’s important to avoid over-exfoliating and over-cleansing, which leaves you more vulnerable to environmental damage. Signs you’re overdoing it include redness, irritation, and often a tight, overexposed feeling, according to Misuraca. 

Keep tabs on quality. “In the current skincare space, there are tons of claims about various ingredients,” Misuraca points out. But it’s important to understand that not all versions of the same ingredient are created equal. “When it comes to oils in particular, the quality is super, super important,” she says. “How they’re harvested and processed really matters.”

There are a couple of ways to determine if a product uses high-quality oils, according to Misuraca. One is price. “Most brands that take the appropriate time and resources are generally a little bit higher in price because they have to go through the process to source the ingredients properly.” Another way is to notice how a brand talks about the quality of their oils. “They won’t just simply list the ingredients, you’ll see them mention the quality of their oil, or say that it’s 100% organic, raw, or cold-pressed.”

Focus on your lifestyle. There’s no skincare product that can replace a healthy lifestyle. Staying hydrated and keeping up with good nutrition can help optimize the skin barrier function, Bosley says. Similarly, minimizing stress is key, Misuraca notes.