Does your skin feel or look dry, flaky, red, itchy or rough? You may have a compromised skin barrier, according to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Terrence Keaney. Instead of grabbing your usual body lotion or face moisturizer, try a cream made to support and repair your barrier.
“Repairing the skin barrier means giving it what it needs, which is replenishing the essential lipids and increasing water hydration,” says Dr. Stacy Chimento, a board-certified dermatologist. Unlike your typical cream or lotion, barrier creams do more than just hydrate the skin; they also heal the barrier and protect against the loss of water and an influx of allergens and irritants, says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Stephen Suah.
We spoke to board-certified dermatologists about what exactly your skin barrier is and how to shop for a barrier cream. We also rounded up expert-recommended and Select staff-favorite creams to consider.
How we picked the best barrier creams
- Ingredients: When choosing a quality moisturizer for your skin, you may find a combination of humectants, occlusives and emollients. However, it’s important to find ingredients that target the skin barrier, whether it’s supporting or repairing. Ceramides, a type of emollient that is also the foundation of your skin barrier, is found in a majority of barrier creams.
- Consistency: Barrier creams vary in thickness, with some being rich and thick while others are lightweight. Depending on your skin type or environment, you may be prone to choosing one consistency over another. For example, for those with dry skin or living in colder seasons, consider a thicker cream. If you are living in a hotter environment or have oily/acne-prone skin, you may want to choose a lighter consistency, according to experts.
The best barrier creams of 2023
Below is a compiled list of our experts’ favorite barrier creams, some top-rated creams, as well as Select staff favorites.
This cream is great for both the face and body since it’s fast absorbing, non-greasy and has three essential ceramides and hyaluronic acid, says Chimento. The 2023 NBC Select Wellness Award winner is suitable for all skin types, including oily and acne-prone skin, since it’s non-comedogenic, meaning it won’t clog pores. It’s also great for those with sensitive skin because it’s hypo-allergenic and fragrance-free, according to the brand. You can find this formula (which has the National Eczema Association’s Seal of Acceptance) in two sizes, including 12 ounces and 19 ounces.
This fast-absorbing barrier-supporting cream comes recommended by board-certified dermatologist Dr. Stephen Suah. It has ingredients like ceramides to support the skin, panthenol to reinforce the barrier and prevent water loss and glycerin to add moisture to the skin, according to the brand. You can also purchase this moisturizer in a mini travel size.
This facial moisturizer helps mimic the natural levels of lipids in your skin, according to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Terrence Keaney. It happens because tThe cream has ceramides to support and add moisture to the skin, cholesterol to help speed up the recovery of the skin barrier and fatty acids to help with the structure and improve elasticity, according to the brand. For the most effective application, take a small amount and warm and melt the cream between your fingertips. Then apply it in patting motions to your face, neck and chest, according to SkinCeuticals.
A recent favorite of mine has been this moisturizer from Tower 28 because it’s gentle enough for my dry, sensitive, eczema-prone skin. It has hyaluronic acid to hydrate the skin, ceramides to support the barrier and allantoin to reduce any irritation and lock in moisture, according to the brand. Although you can apply this morning and night, I love using it in the morning because the lightweight cream feels hydrating all day and layers nicely under my sunscreen and makeup.
A go-to for Chimento is this facial moisturizer because it helps support the barrier with ceramides, and helps give the skin a hydrated appearance and feel while also calming down any redness and irritation with the help of niacinamide and prebiotic thermal water. You can apply this lightweight moisturizer in the morning and at night to both your face and neck, according to the brand. The fragrance-free and non-comedogenic cream is available in two sizes, including travel-size; it is also available in a sunscreen version.
The Skinfix face cream, which has a 4.2-star average rating from over 2,900 ratings at Sephora, has a combination of humectants that include hyaluronic acid and glycerin, emollients like squalane and occlusives like shea butter. For the most effective results, apply one to two pumps in the morning and at night on clean and dry skin, according to the brand.
This cream has zinc and copper sulfate, lipids and thermal water to soothe, hydrate and repair the skin and can go on both the face and body, according to Chimento. The rich, occlusive cream helps repair and hydrate the skin and protect it from external aggressors, according to Avene.
This rich barrier cream not only adds hydration and supports the barrier, but it also helps reduce the appearance of any redness with the help of ingredients like colloidal oatmeal, glycerin and niacinamide, according to the brand. You can apply this cream, which is a Select Wellness Award winner and also has a 4.8-star average rating from over 500 reviews at Ulta, on your face morning and night. You can also use this as a spot treatment for areas that are sensitized, dry, itchy or rough, according to Kiehl’s.
If you’re looking to repair your body’s skin barrier, consider this moisturizer that comes recommended by Keaney. The cream has ceramides to retain moisture and support the skin barrier, shea butter to hydrate and replenish the lipids in the skin barrier, glycerin for moisture and hydration and niacinamide to help calm the skin, according to the brand. You can use this in the morning and at night by massaging the product onto your skin until it fully absorbs, according to La Roche Posay.
If you have mildly irritated skin and are experiencing some acne outbreaks, Suah recommends this overnight repair cream because it’s non-comedogenic. The moisturizer has hyaluronic acid and ceramides to hydrate and support the barrier, Japanese indigo to reduce irritation and mondo grass to support the skin’s microbiome, according to the brand. For your final step in your nighttime skin care routine, apply a pearl-sized amount of this fragrance-free cream nightly to your face, neck and decolletage, according to Tatcha.
This SkinMedica moisturizer is a lightweight hyaluronic-based product that goes on before your daily face cream, according to Keaney. With five different types of hyaluronic acid, this helps the skin’s overall health by adding hydration back to the skin, according to the brand. Apply this with wet fingertips all over your face, neck and chest, according to SkinMedica.
This fragrance-free cream, with a newly updated formula, comes recommended by Suah because it’s a great option for those with irritated skin that isn’t overly dry. The moisturizer has panthenol to support the barrier and maintain moisture. At the same time, the madecassoside helps reduce irritation and protects the skin from external aggressors and green tea extract acts as an anti-inflammatory, according to the brand. You can apply the non-comedogenic product in the morning before your sunscreen and at night as the last step in your routine.
To help repair her combination skin, especially after using a drying acne treatment, Select associate updates editor Zoe Malin uses this thick and creamy balm because it’s the only product that gets rid of dryness overnight. The moisturizer combines butters to lock in moisture, apricot kernel oil to protect the skin and pea extract to reduce redness and any irritation, according to the brand. “I also have sensitive skin, and I find this product particularly soothing when my skin is raw and stinging,” says Malin. A little goes a long way, so melt the balm with your fingertips and apply it to your entire face at night, according to Versed Skincare.
How to shop for barrier creams
When shopping for barrier cream, it helps to consider key factors like ingredients to ensure the efficacy of repair and support. Our experts recommend considering the following when shopping for one:
Although it’s important to find ingredients that directly target the skin barrier, like emollients, other types of ingredients need to be in your barrier cream to help maintain and support its function, including humectants and occlusives.
Emollients: This type of ingredient tends to help repair the skin barrier and includes fatty acids, ceramides and more. One of the essentials in this category are ceramides, which are lipids that make up a significant portion of the skin’s outer layer, says Keaney. They help to form a protective barrier, lock in moisture, and prevent water loss.
Humectants: Humectants are another common skin ingredient category that prevents water evaporation from the skin, says Keaney. Common humectants include hyaluronic acid, glycerin and linoleic acid, according to experts.
Occlusives: Occlusive creams are insoluble to water and occlude the skin to form a protective layer, says Suah. This barrier helps physically lock in the moisture and avoid transepidermal water loss, according to experts. It also helps prevent the entrance of irritants and allergens, according to Suah. Some common occlusive ingredients that you should keep an eye out for include petrolatum, zinc oxide, plant oils and dimethicone, according to both Suah and Chimento.
The consistency of your barrier cream may depend on your current skin condition and the season that you are living in, according to Keaney.
Generally, the most common moisturizers have a combination of lipids and water. When you have a thicker moisturizer, it means it has more lipids and less water, according to Keaney. These thick moisturizers can be really effective at locking in moisture but can be more occlusive, says Keaney. The most occlusive options may come in the form of a rich salve or ointment and can be great for those with an underlying condition like atopic dermatitis, according to Suah.
If you have oily or acne-prone skin, consider a lightweight barrier cream that isn’t as heavy, occlusive or thick since those can worsen the condition and can cause unwanted acne from forming, according to experts.
Meet our experts
At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and without undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.
- Dr. Stacy Chimento is a board-certified dermatologist at Riverchase Dermatology. Her areas of expertise include pediatric and adult dermatology, hair restoration, chronic skin conditions, aesthetic treatments and more.
- Dr. Terrence Keaney is a board-certified dermatologist and founder of SkinDC. He is also an Assistant Clinical Faculty of Dermatology at George Washington (GW) University and Howard University and is the Director of the Laser and Lipoatrophy Clinic at the Washington DC VA Hospital. His areas of expertise include medical and cosmetic dermatology, among others.
- Dr. Stephen Suah is a board-certified dermatologist at Foxhall Dermatology in Washington, DC. His areas of expertise include medical dermatology, surgical dermatology, cosmetic dermatology and skin of color.
Why trust Select?
Bianca Alvarez is an associate reporter and has been covering beauty, including how to build a skin care routine, eye creams and sunscreens. For this piece, she interviewed three dermatologists and researched many barrier creams on the market. Bianca recommended products the dermatologists shared with us, met their shopping guidance and ones we have tried ourselves.