Acid Mantle Skin: Function, Meaning & Repair

The acid mantle is an essential part of your skin, but if you haven’t heard of it before, don’t worry - you might have also heard it referred to as the moisture barrier or skin barrier. The acid mantle has a crucial role to play in the overall health of your skin. Here’s everything you need to know about what your skin moisture barrier does and how it helps keep your skin looking amazing! 

What Is the Acid Mantle of the Skin?

To put it simply, the acid mantle is a slightly acidic layer that forms over the outermost layer of our skin. It’s also called the moisture barrier because it helps your skin stay moisturised and healthy - here’s how.

The moisture barrier helps the epidermis keep any hydration in the skin, and prevents what’s called trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL). You know how your skin feels ultra-dry after a few hours on a plane or in an air-conditioned space? That’s due to TEWL - and if this happens for long enough, can cause damage to the acid mantle. 

Another crucial role of the acid mantle is that it doesn’t only help to keep moisture in - it helps to keep external irritants out. It plays a role in stopping acne-causing bacteria and pollution from setting up shop on your skin, ensuring that your skin is protected from any outside stressors. 

Above all, the acid mantle just helps your skin function as it should - this means that your skin can help to heal minor breakouts, as well as make the most of any amazing skincare that you’re using on it. 

As critical as the acid mantle is for healthy skin, a lot of us can accidentally damage it from time to time. It’s easier than you think to do, and can cause a few signs and symptoms that we don’t always know are caused by acid mantle damage!

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Declaré Anti-Irritation Serum | $85
This serum uses the power of panthenol to help maintain healthy, radiant skin.

Signs of a Damaged Moisture Barrier

If any of these describe your skin at the moment it’s likely that your acid mantle needs some help. These are just some of the clues when it comes to telling if you have a compromised moisture barrier. In more severe cases, a damaged acid mantle can be linked to skin concerns such as psoriasis or eczema - something that we recommend seeing your GP about. 

  • Skincare Stings Your Skin
  • Your Skin Easily Flushes Red
  • Unexplained Breakouts 
  • Your Skin Feels Tight and Itchy 
  • Visible Skin Flakes

There’s definitely an overlap between sensitive skin and dehydrated skin here, but there’s a reason for that - sensitive skin and dehydrated skin are actually conditions caused by a compromised moisture barrier. However, how does skin get to this point in the first place? 

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Lancôme Hydra Zen Nuit Soothing Recharging Night Cream | $102
Replenish ceramides overnight with this deeply nourishing moisturiser from Lancôme.

How Does the Acid Mantle Get Disrupted?

As important as this part of our skin is, it can easily become damaged with the wrong skincare habits. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s some of the most common reasons why you might be having issues with your moisture barrier!

Over Cleansing Your Skin

Constantly washing skin, especially with less than ideal cleansers such as bar soap can be damaging to your acid mantle. Frequently stripping away hydration and natural oils from the skin with overwashing gradually wear down the moisture barrier, leaving skin vulnerable to dryness and irritation.

Over Exfoliation

This one is super common. Picture this - you’ve just got your new exfoliant and you can’t wait to see the results it promises, like clearer skin and faded hyperpigmentation. The solution? Obviously to use it day and night for the next few weeks. 

The truth is, that’s a recipe for a damaged moisture barrier. Using exfoliants too frequently when there isn’t enough dead skin to slough off means that it essentially exfoliates away the moisture barrier - something that’s supposed to protect your skin from external irritation!

Using Hot Water On Your Face

Using hot water on your face falls in the same line as overwashing, but is much more common in the winter when we’re taking hot showers to try and warm up. When you wash your face with very hot water, any lipids and oils are rinsed away - including the natural lipids that make up the acid mantle. 

This leaves your skin open to irritation, plus it can’t hold on to as much water as it needs to stay healthy.

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Declaré Probiotic Gentle Cleansing Emulsion | $69
This ultra gentle-cleanser sweeps away dirt and impurities without stripping the skin.

Best Skincare Ingredients for Restoring Your Acid Mantle

Now that we’ve covered the signs of a damaged moisture barrier and what could be causing it, let’s talk about fixing it. The good news is that the acid mantle can heal and reform - you just need to be gentle with your skin and use the right ingredients. 

You’ll want to baby your skin as much as possible - and that might mean that you’ll have to temporarily cut out any active ingredients such as exfoliating acids and retinol to give your skin the best chance at bouncing back. Ingredients to look for to help regenerate your moisture barrier include: 

Niacinamide: One of the reasons why niacinamide is such a popular skincare ingredient is that it has a proven ability to improve the skin’s barrier function for healthy, happy skin.

Panthenol: Another member of the Vitamin B family (just like niacinamide) panthenol is a must-have when it comes to healing the skin barrier. It’s effective at preventing water-loss in the skin, improving overall skin function and boosting healing. 

Ceramides: This list would not be complete without ceramides! These skin-healing molecules fill in gaps to reinforce the skin's moisture barrier and ward off dryness for healthy, moisturised skin.

Glycerin: There’s a good reason why this is the staple humectant skincare ingredient - glycerin is incredibly effective at drawing water into the epidermis, plumping it full of hydration and replenishing any lost water.

Plant Oils: Think of these as replenishing any of the natural skin oils that have been lost; they’ll moisturise any dryness away, plus lock in any hydration to the skin. This works to keep skin glowing and boost its natural healing process for your acid mantle to be back in working order in no time! 

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Inika Organic Enriched Rosehip Oil | $39
Lock hydration into your skin with this certified organic rosehip oil from Inika Organic. 

Still looking for your perfect skincare routine? Try our skincare quiz!

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Alexis Adrienne

Alexis Adrienne

Alexis Adrienne is a passionate beauty writer with over 10 years of experience. She’s incredibly keen on all things skincare, makeup and cosmetics, with a fingertip on the pulse of the latest global beauty trends at all times.

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