Generally speaking, we assume that as the weather cools down, our face moisturizers should get thicker. And while that’s partially true, what really matters is whether the ingredients in that luxurious gel or cream are actually forming a protective shield over our skin. Because while we love any opportunity to take a selfie in the middle of a picturesque snowfall, that’s also the kind of weather that leaves our skin red, chapped and in need of a face mask… or three.
For that reason, experts recommend a barrier cream, which we can now confirm is an actual thing. Ahead, two pros give us the 411 on exactly what they are, the types of formulas that hydrate and guard against the elements and a handful of both affordable and luxe options to get you started.
What’s a barrier cream anyway?
First, understand that our skin is the natural protective barrier between our bodies and the outside world. In the simplest terms, according to Dr. Naissan O. Wesley, Arbonne scientific advisor, barrier creams are those that enhance the skin’s ability to protect and nourish us. They should also prevent water loss, increase hydration and help protect against external environmental damage.
Dr. Elena Ocher, founder of Chuda and specialist in pain management, migraines and nerve system disorders, adds that barrier creams were actually first formulated in the late 1800s with the discovery of petroleum jelly, and they grew in popularity at the onset of World War II. “As more and more women entered the workforce, exposure to dust, chemicals, heat, sun, etc., created a need for creams that formed a barrier and protected the skin,” she says.
The must-have ingredients
Our skin is exposed to a lot on a daily basis, including UV light from the sun and blue light from electronics, so now more than ever, maintenance is often required to help repair the skin from these elements. Ingredients that help protect the skin include ceramides, lipids that form the skin’s barrier and help it to retain moisture, and adaptogens.
“Besides sun protection, topical creams with ceramides aim to replace fatty acids where they’ve been lost, leading to improved hydration,” says Wesley. “Adaptogens are plant-derived ingredients that are meant to help our bodies adapt and recover from stress. Bacteria that normally live on the skin surface can also help ward off harmful bacteria that can infect the skin and cause inflammation.”
She also adds that vitamin C has multiple skin care benefits, as it’s an antioxidant that helps to repair free radicals created from sun and environmental damage.
In addition to those, barrier creams that are insoluble in water also prevent water loss in the skin. According to Ocher, “They typically use ingredients such as petrolatum, urea, silicone and dimethicone. Dimethicone at levels above 1.1 percent are approved as an OTC [over-the-counter] drug for the protection and healing of skin.”
Humectants such as glycerine, sorbitol, urea, seaweed extract, hyaluronic acid and alpha-hydroxy acids also increase the skin’s ability to hold onto water. Oily and acne-prone skin types are particularly thirsty for adequate hydration this time of year, since “as hydration is depleted, the body tries to counteract by producing more oil, which in turn can clog pores and cause irritation and breakouts,” our experts explain.
And if your skin is on the dry side, Ocher says you should look for products that contain some form of hyaluronic acid and, ideally, ingredients that are effective at combating oxidative skin damage (caused by pollution, sun and stress), such as vitamins A, C and E and nutrients that provide essential fatty acids such as linoleic and linolenic acids.
Yes, we know that’s a lot to keep track of, so we’ve cut down your search by gathering products that contain one or some of the expert-approved ingredients we just went over. Take your pick!