Beauty journalist Clare Austin on protecting the skin barrier

Feeling a little sensitive? Experiencing the perimenopause and menopause can be a challenging time and not just for our emotions. We may notice our skin becoming more sensitive as we get older; something we can help to manage by protecting our skin’s barrier.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that dealing with unpredictable skin was just for teenagers. However, as we go through the fluctuating hormone levels of the menopause journey, our complexions may start to behave in a whole new way and suddenly all bets are off when it comes to following regimes that we’ve tried and tested for years.

We may notice increased dryness, sensitivity, irritation, itchiness and even breakouts (one of the great skincare myths is that, as we get older, lines and wrinkles replace spots, yet both can be an issue in the throes of the perimenopause).

The temptation can be to turn to skincare and treatments with strong active ingredients in a bid to bring our skin back into line and to recapture youthful bounce and glow. However, they can have the opposite effect, upsetting our skin further by stripping the skin’s delicate barrier.

Our skin’s barrier is a great ally. A quiet superhero that gets on with the job of defending and protecting our complexion. It seals moisture in and fends off aggressors such as pollution and bacteria. Choosing skincare that nourishes the skin’s barrier can go a long way to keeping skin healthy and happy.

What is the skin’s barrier?

Our barrier sits in the stratum corneum, the outer layer of the skin’s structure. It is made up of the microbiome, the acid mantle and the lipid barrier. Together these three layers, which we collectively call the skin’s barrier, play a vital role in keeping skin healthy by trapping moisture in, keeping environmental aggressors and bacteria out and regulating the skin’s temperature.

Dr Sophie Shotter, Aesthetic Doctor and Hormone Specialist explains, “One of the crucial jobs of the skin is to act as a barrier for what’s inside your body and what’s outside of it. What we refer to as the barrier is how the skin protects us.”

When the barrier is working well skin looks and feels soft, smooth and hydrated. When the barrier is compromised, skin appears dry and dull.

How the skin’s barrier changes as we get older

A recent study carried out earlier this year by the University of Manchester with No7 and published in the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology found that in post-menopausal skin, the barrier was thicker, ‘a sign that the barrier is compromised and working less effectively’. The research showed that changes in the balance and health of the skin barrier following the menopause may in part explain issues such as dryness, sensitivity and dullness.

“The skin barrier function deteriorates with age in most women,” confirms Dr. Shotter, “As the skin becomes thinner, drier and more dehydrated it is often functionally affected.” A weakened barrier can also mean that skin is more prone to redness and inflammation.

What happens when the barrier is compromised

“When the skin barrier is compromised it makes the skin more vulnerable to the environment, sun, bacteria, pollution. This could lead to inflammatory skin conditions, redness and rosacea,” explains Dr. Shotter. The overuse of high strength products such as retinoids, acid toners and exfoliators, either in the salon or at home, can strip the skin leaving the barrier vulnerable. Trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL) can be triggered, causing skin to become drier.

It’s not uncommon to find yourself dealing with spots during this time, whether that’s the odd one or two, or full-blown acne. Dr. Shotter says, “Acne and breakouts during perimenopause are often related to hormone imbalances. A depleted skin barrier is more likely to cause acne-rosacea than it is pure acne. But a disrupted microbiome, that can be connected with a depleted skin barrier, can contribute towards acne and breakouts.”

The good news is that there are some simple things we can do to boost the barrier function and make our skin more comfortable.

Barrier care
Adopt a barrier-friendly daily routine: opt for a gentle cleanser and a hydrating moisturiser, and use them regularly. When washing your face, use lukewarm water as hot water can strip the skin of natural oils causing dryness and irritation. Always pat, rather than rub, dry.

When it comes to stronger products and treatments, it may be worth rethinking your routine while going through the perimenopause, menopause and even post-menopause to best suit your skin.

Many of us enjoy the glowy results that we get from using retinoids, acid toners and exfoliators but overdoing these products is bad news for the barrier. Opt for gentler acids and exfoliators and low dose retinoids and consider doing such treatments just once a week rather than more often.

“When we are younger, we can often use very active skincare without negative reactions, however, when we hit perimenopause we often find the skin to be more sensitive, so it is best to avoid very strong ingredients at this stage,” advises Dr. Shotter.

  • To protect your skin barrier as you get older, Dr. Shotter has the following tips:
  • Wear SPF every day, whether you think it’s sunny or not
  • Focus on dryness. Include lipids and ceramides in your skincare regime
  • Don’t over-strip your skin
  • Take an omega 3 supplement


Healthy skin that glows is a much more uplifting goal than trying to eradicate the natural signs of living. If we are lucky enough to age, let’s enjoy our time celebrating the skin we’re in!

The content of the QVC website is for information only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on the QVC website.

We understand there’s a lot of information out there on the menopause. You can read through the NICE guidance on menopause management, as well as the NHS overview on the menopause.