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The Great Barrier Thief

Great article excerpt by Dawn Gantt, licensed esthetician and business manager at Bioelements. How do you manage sensitivities in your clients?


The best estheticians are the ones who think and act like detectives. Every facial starts with an interrogation (a friendly one, of course) to determine what complexion corruption has occurred, and ultimately solve the crime for the client.

Many estheticians tell me that these days, they’re seeing more clients than ever before who are worried about a specific type of "crime" that leads to redness, stinging, dryness, UV damage, flakiness, irritation, visible capillaries, premature lines, flushing and a host of other signs of sensitive and sensitized skin.

So, why the increase in these sensitive and sensitized clients? It turns out that the causes of sensitivities are becoming more and more prevalent. Specifically, that our clients’ skin is facing a daily barrage of influences that effectively weaken and damage its hydro lipidic barrier, robbing it of its protective abilities. These are the barrier thieves. They can strike at anytime from anywhere, wreaking havoc from pore to pore.

While more and more clients are worried about the signs of a weakened or damaged barrier, our job as estheticians is to talk to them about what their barrier is, how it works and what they should do to help it perform at its best.

The Skin’s Security Guard

The hydrolipidic barrier is a natural, protective layer that resides directly on top of the stratum corneum, and it is made up of sebum, lipids, water and sweat. Think of it like your skin’s security guard. It stops the bad things from entering, and protects the good things inside. This includes protecting the skin’s microbiome (the trillions of microbes and friendly bacteria that impact how the skin looks and functions from day to day).

A strong skin barrier is necessary to protect the skin and its contents from damaging substances that would otherwise penetrate and absorb into the skin. They also help to keep in nourishment, moisture and in some cases, allow bodily functions to take place and necessary substances to be transferred to wherever they need to go.

As estheticians, we have long recognized that a depleted hydrolipidic barrier is a major common denominator for accelerated aging, signs of sensitivity and unhealthy skin that looks older than its years.

Without the protection that the hydrolipidic barrier provides, the skin is laid bare to every attack and will become increasingly weaker and the aging process will accelerate the longer the barrier is left out of balance. Plus, without a strong barrier to protect it, any skin care benefits are only temporary.

So, what are the barrier thieves? Some are unavoidable and intrinsic (chronological aging or genetics), while some are more preventable and extrinsic (incorrect product use, pollution and environmental assaults). Now let’s look deeper at these barrier thieves and how they rob the skin.

Chronic Barrier Thieves

Barrier breakdown is an unavoidable part of having a genetic "sensitive" skin type, with skin that easily gets red, irritated, flushed or is reactive. In addition, chronological aging will negatively affect the skin barrier; as we get older, so too does our barrier structure. This category also includes a growing number of people with chronic skin disorders that can rob the barrier, the numbers of which we will show here.

  • Rosacea is reported in 16 million Americans; only a fraction are being treated.

  • Eczema has shown symptoms in 31.6 million Americans; half of those are moderate to severe.

  • Psoriasis is reported in more than 8 million Americans.

  • Lupus has been found in 1.5 million Americans and 5 million people worldwide.

  • Diabetes is found in 30.3 million Americans (9.4% of the population).

  • Acne is the most common skin condition in the United States.

  • Over 40% of people say they have sensitive skin.

Here’s where things get interesting. This category includes event-based barrier breakdown. It’s the category where most clients do not realize the damage they can do to their own skin. Use the list of questions below and ask your clients during their skin analysis to see if they are their own barrier?

Do you over-cleanse? Cleansing more than twice a day can weaken the hydrolipidic barrier.

Are you using products for your correct skin type? Using a product for an incorrect skin type can strip skin of the natural sebum it needs.

Do you exfoliate too frequently? Aggressive at-home products and peels are often marketed as a way to get great skin, but over-exfoliation is a surefire way to damage the skin’s barrier

Do you use too much pressure when manual scrubbing? Just as over-exfoliation can be damaging, so too can scrubbing with too much pressure. This can physically scratch away the skin’s protective layer.

Are you using unnecessary skin care tools? These can include overly-aggressive rotating brushes, hand mitts, buff puffs and pore strips.

Do you over do it? Sometimes a "more is better" philosophy can backfire. Do not apply more product than needed, apply it more often than directed or over-book clinical treatments.

Are you on medications for colds, allergies or acne? Medication-induced sensitization from some prescriptions can cause fluctuations in oil production and dehydration, weakening the barrier.

Do you tan? Tanning and UV rays via natural sunlight or the use of tanning beds is another avoidable barrier thief.

Even if your clients are not visibly seeing the effects of a damaged barrier, it’s still beneficial to talk about the importance of preventative barrier care. Especially for a younger demographic who wants to ensure the skin barrier remains strong to avoid future sensitization and age signs.

When consumers were asked what they look for in barrier-reparative, sensitive skin lines, 94.9% said that they want sensitive skin care that not only calms sensitivities, but also delivers high performance results.

Skin with a weakened barrier and signs of sensitivities need a 360° approach, using a wide array of effective ingredients that target the multiple triggers of sensitivities. The best approach is a system of products that blend the best of both worlds—incredibly calming, while actively advocating for a stronger barrier.

Your Barrier-building Ingredient Glossary

Look for the ingredients below to successfully target and improve your clients’ barrier breakdown.

Beta glucan. Derived from baker’s yeast, it soothes irritation, rebalances and protects skin’s barrier by reducing trans epidermal water loss. Clinical testing of beta glucan on eczema showed it decreases itching, irritation, tension, dryness, redness and roughness.

Ceramides/lipids. Look for a concentrated blend of ceramides 3, 6 and 1, plus phytosphingosine and cholesterol (which can help the skin produce even more ceramides). Together, they help restore barrier function, enhance moisturization and prevent moisture loss.

Hemp seed oil. Pressed from hemp seeds, this oil is packed with anti-inflammatory omega-3 and-6 essential fatty acids, phospholipids and skin-friendly sterols. It’s been shown to boost hydration and reduce inflammation and redness. It also helps restore skin’s elasticity.

Hyaluronic acid. A naturally occurring substance that retains up to 1000 times its weight in water; hyaluronic acid binds moisture to surface layers.

Olive, jojoba and plant oils. Polyphenol-rich olive oil is a natural skin soother and antioxidant (that means it helps protect against skin-aging free radicals). Together with jojoba, they target dryness without any irritation.

Plant glucosides. These strong antioxidants can helps prevent skin redness by targeting the major inflammation factors in the skin. It has soothing, protective benefits, and it even brightens skin.

Silver ear mushroom. A natural alternative to hyaluronic acid, this mushroom holds up to 500 times its weight in water, so it has an even stronger ability to hydrate the skin. Plus, it helps form a barrier-protective hydration film to keep skin nourished over longer periods of time. In fact, its hydration effects are cumulative, with skin hydration doubling after just two weeks (in-vivo tests).

Vitamin E. A tried-and-true, potent antioxidant and moisturizing ingredient, this is a verified hero for delicate skin with a weakened barrier.

In the Treatment Room

Every spa menu should include a barrier-focused, calming facial designed to help the hydrolipidic barrier. Designed for skin that’s stressed, red or delicate, this advanced facial should be is the best of both worlds—incredibly calming, as it advocates for a strong, healthy barrier. Use clean, clinical ingredients like the ones above to target sensitivities and actively nourish skin’s barrier, all with soothing massage techniques. Market this service as an ultimate barrier-corrective facial for chronic sensitivities, event-based sensitization or preemptive care.

Dawn Gantt is a licensed esthetician, with 25 years of experience in the industry. She is currently the regional education and business manager for Bioelements. She is also a makeup artist with a degree in education. She’s certified in aromatherapy and manual lymphatic drainage, and is a sought-after authority in the industry. Learn more at


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