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What is a Barrier Cream and How to Use It?

What is a Barrier Cream and How to Use It?

, by AussiePharmaDirect, 7 min reading time

When factors like weather and seasonal changes, ageing, or skin conditions (hello, eczema!) come into play, they can compromise the skin’s natural barrier, allowing moisture to escape and leaving your skin vulnerable to dryness. So, when your skin is dry, it's like wearing a tight, itchy sweater made of sandpaper. You're constantly tempted to scratch and peel away the layers, like a kid unwrapping a never-ending gift of discomfort. 

Among the wide range of skincare products available, barrier creams stand out as a solution to address skin barrier damage. These creams are specifically formulated to nourish and repair the skin's protective layer, aiding in sealing in moisture and preventing further dryness.

To understand barrier creams better - what they do, how they work, and the best ways to apply them, we’ll walk you through all of them to unravel the science behind their effectiveness.

What is a barrier cream?

A barrier cream is a type of skincare product designed to create a protective barrier on the skin's surface. It is typically formulated with ingredients that help reinforce the skin's natural barrier function and prevent moisture loss. By forming a physical barrier on the skin, these creams help to reduce transepidermal water loss (TEWL), which is the process of water evaporating from the skin's surface. This helps to retain moisture and keep the skin hydrated. 

Since barrier cream plays a role in promoting skin hydration, that makes it the same as moisturisers, right? Not exactly. While barrier creams and moisturisers share a common goal of promoting or supporting skin hydration, there are differences between barrier creams and moisturisers. In essence, moisturisers focus on delivering hydration to the skin, while barrier creams prioritise the repair of the skin’s natural barrier to prevent moisture loss.

Think of it this way: Moisturisers are like a refreshing rain shower on a hot summer day, quenching your skin's thirst and replenishing its moisture like a cool drink for a parched traveller. On the other hand, barrier creams are akin to a sturdy umbrella shielding your skin from the torrential downpour, creating a protective barrier that keeps it safe from the elements like a fortress guarding a precious treasure.

What is barrier cream used for?

Barrier cream or also known as skin barrier repair cream serves a versatile purpose and is used for various skin conditions.

  • Reduce skin friction and irritation caused by harsh fabrics or repetitive friction from activities
  • Soothe and protect minor burns, providing a gentle barrier that minimises further irritation and aids in the healing process
  • Soften and moisturise dry skin 
  • Reduce skin sensitivity due to allergic contact dermatitis, irritant contact dermatitis, and eczema management
  • Protect and promote healing in minor cuts, scrapes, or abrasions
  • Prevent and treat diaper rash in infants and senior adults
  • Used as occupational skincare for those who are constantly exposed to harsh chemicals or substances that may irritate the skin
  • Minimising the risk of developing pressure ulcers or bed sores (also known as pressure injury), particularly in individuals who are bedridden or have limited mobility

What do barrier creams contain?

Occlusive ingredients take centre stage in the formulation of barrier creams as these substances have high molecular weights and do not easily penetrate the skin. Common occlusive ingredients found in barrier creams include petrolatum (also known as petroleum jelly), lanolin, dimethicone, zinc oxide, glycerin or mineral oil, which form a physical barrier on the skin, trapping moisture and preventing its evaporation. 

Emollients, such as plant oils or fatty acids, humectants, and other soothing agents from the likes of beeswax, shea butter, coconut oil, calendula extract, aloe vera, and jojoba oil are often combined with occlusives to provide additional moisturisation, hydration, and skin-soothing benefits.

Some barrier creams used for medical purposes that are available online or in the market often contain a combination of zinc oxide and gentle, natural oils, providing effective protection and nourishment for the skin.

How to apply barrier cream?

When it comes to applying barrier cream, they can be incorporated into your skincare routine but remember to use them as the final step. So this means applying it after your moisturiser during the day, and the same goes with your nighttime routine! After indulging in a hydrating mask that replenishes your skin while you sleep, it's time to bring in the barrier cream, allowing your skin to truly soak in all the goodness overnight.

Barrier creams complement certain types of skincare products beautifully. Think of serums, moisturisers, or treatments like peptides that you have incorporated into your routine. When used in conjunction with these products, barrier creams help lock in their nourishing properties, allowing them to work more effectively.

When applying barrier cream for bed sores, it's important to clean the area gently and ensure it is dry. Then, apply a thin layer of the barrier cream, covering the entire affected area and slightly beyond the edges. If necessary, dress the wound or bed sore according to medical advice.

Here's an interesting tidbit: Barrier creams aren't just for skincare enthusiasts. They make the perfect cream for dermatitis during industrial or occupational work. While they can offer some level of protection, they are not a substitute for proper protective clothing or equipment. It can be used before exposure to potential irritants but if you find yourself dealing with paint, glue, or sealants that stubbornly stick to your hands, barrier creams make it easier to remove these substances without resorting to harsh solvents, saving your hands from unnecessary discomfort.

How much barrier cream to apply?

When it comes to applying the barrier cream, let's remember that slathering on a thicker layer doesn't necessarily mean you'll get extra protection. Instead, it is recommended to apply a liberal amount, roughly the size of a pea, to the desired area of the body. Simply rub the cream into the skin, similar to the way you would apply a regular lotion. Skin barrier creams come in different varieties, with some offering extended protection for up to 72 hours, while others provide a shorter duration of around 24 hours.

So, you don’t necessarily need to reapply again until the next day, even after gentle washing.

What could be the possible contraindications of using barrier creams?

Barrier creams are usually incredibly well tolerated and safe to use, which is great news for your skin! While it's pretty rare, some people may experience allergic contact dermatitis as a result of using barrier creams. This can happen if your skin is sensitive or allergic to certain components found in the cream, such as preservatives, fragrances, or other ingredients. If you happen to notice any signs of skin irritation like redness, itching, or a bothersome rash after using a barrier cream, it's best to play it safe and discontinue use.

Now, it turns out that some occlusive barrier creams, especially when applied to the face, can be a bit tricky for acne-prone skin. They create a barrier on your skin's surface, which can trap oil and sweat, potentially leading to clogged pores and unwanted breakouts. So, if you're someone who's prone to acne or you're just a bit concerned about potential flare-ups, it's a smart move to consult a dermatologist before slathering that barrier cream on your face.

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