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This Is Exactly How Long It Takes To Repair The Skin Barrier, From A Derm

Young Woman Applying Cream On Face
Image by Javier Díez / Stocksy
August 26, 2022
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One beauty trend that's mbg-approved: prioritizing skin barrier repair. While tending to your barrier should be something you focus on always, "barrier repair" has been a particularly buzzy term as of late. Of course, we're not upset about it.

However, there are tons of products and techniques in the beauty space today (we're looking at you, slugging) that certainly encourage healthy barrier repair. This is ideal for overworked, over-exfoliated, or just stressed-out skin in general—but how long does it take for your barrier to actually heal? Board-certified dermatologist Whitney Bowe, M.D., explains below. 

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How long does it take to repair the skin barrier?

Per usual, Bowe took to TikTok to answer some of her followers' most pressing questions—this time, about how long it takes to truly repair the skin barrier. First, she notes: "It actually has to do with how damaged the skin barrier is." Don't worry, she provides examples to follow. 

The perfect example of a severely damaged skin barrier is a sunburn. Think about it: Your skin may be red, peeling, burning, and maybe even itching. Bowe explains, "You could even apply something as gentle as a fragrance-free moisturizer designed for eczema, and it's going to sting and burn." That reaction alone is a telltale sign of severe barrier damage. 

When your barrier is in this state, it will take a minimum of a couple of days to heal, Bowe explains. A mildly damaged barrier, on the flip side, will heal much more quickly. You'll know your barrier is slightly compromised if it's red, sensitized to your usual skin care products, or has trouble holding moisture. 

This kind of damage is typically caused by skin dehydration, over-exfoliation, using too much of a retinoid, etc. Luckily, Bowe explains, you may be able to repair the damage within an hour or so if you use ultra-hydrating products

Not sure which products to use? Well, everyone's skin is different, but in this case, it can be helpful to think about what not to use. Stay away from exfoliating ingredients of any kind (be it physical or chemical), acids, retinoids, fragrance, and essential oils. 

One gold-star repair product for the face: The Bowe Glow Microbiome Nourishing Cream from Bowe's own skin care line. (The "Bowe Glow" is very much real.) "We found that after just one application, in one hour, we were able to repair the skin barrier." Pretty impressive, no? As for body care, check out our list of barrier-supporting body lotions.

No matter which product you decide to use for hydration, remember to stay out of the sun and keep up with gentle, hydrating, and fragrance-free formulas. As Bowe says, "Less is more until your barrier recovers."

The takeaway. 

If you have a damaged skin barrier, you should look to hydrating, fragrance-free products to encourage a speedy recovery. If your barrier is only slightly damaged, you may even be able to repair it within a few hours. A severely damaged barrier, however, will take a few days to heal at least. So be patient, keep up with your gentle products, and remember to stay out of the sun until your skin is fully healed.

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Hannah Frye
Hannah Frye
mbg Assistant Beauty Editor

Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more. She previously interned for Almost 30, a top-rated health and wellness podcast. In her current role, Hannah reports on the latest beauty trends, holistic skincare approaches, must-have makeup products, and inclusivity in the beauty industry. She currently lives in New York City.