The Skin Barrier and Moisturization: Function, Disruption, and Mechanisms of Repair

Jeffrey Rajkumar, Neha Chandan, Peter Lio, Vivian Shi

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Background: The anatomic layers of the skin are well-defined, and a functional model of the skin barrier has recently been described. Barrier disruption plays a key role in several skin conditions, and moisturization is recommended as an initial treatment in conditions such as atopic dermatitis. This review aimed to analyze the skin barrier in the context of the function model, with a focus on the mechanisms by which moisturizers support each of the functional layers of the skin barrier to promote homeostasis and repair. Summary: The skin barrier is comprised of four interdependent layers - physical, chemical, microbiologic, and immunologic - which maintain barrier structure and function. Moisturizers target disruption affecting each of these four layers through several mechanisms and were shown to improve transepidermal water loss in several studies. Occlusives, humectants, and emollients occlude the surface of the stratum corneum (SC), draw water from the dermis into the epidermis, and assimilate into the SC, respectively, in order to strengthen the physical skin barrier. Acidic moisturizers bolster the chemical skin barrier by supporting optimal enzymatic function, increasing ceramide production, and facilitating ideal conditions for commensal microorganisms. Regular moisturization may strengthen the immunologic skin barrier by reducing permeability and subsequent allergen penetration and sensitization. Key Messages: The physical, chemical, microbiologic, and immunologic layers of the skin barrier are each uniquely impacted in states of skin barrier disruption. Moisturizers target each of the layers of the skin barrier to maintain homeostasis and facilitate repair.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)174-185
Number of pages12
JournalSkin Pharmacology and Physiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • Barrier disruption
  • Moisturizers
  • Skin barrier


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