Can Acne and Anti-aging Treatments Damage the Skin?

If acne and wrinkle treatments can damage our skin barrier, we shouldn’t use them, right? Well, it depends. Fortunately, we have developed ways to treat these skin concerns without permanently damaging the skin barrier. But, before we talk about that, let’s understand the skin barrier. There’s the epidermis (the top skin layer), the dermis, and the hypodermis. There’s also the pilosebaceous unit, a structure from where the hair follicle emerges. The pilosebaceous unit is different from the pili muscle which makes our hairs stand up when we have goosebumps. Next, we have keratinocytes. Keratinocytes come up from the stratum basale layer (deepest layer) to the top layer of the skin, the stratum corneum. Finally, there’s the acid mantle which sits on top of our stratum corneum.



While the top layer is constantly renewed (keratinocytes coming to the top layer), the acid mantle sits on top of it like a layer of oil. It contains fatty acids and cholesterol. This acid mantle is kind of like our skin’s lubrication and transportation system. It can transport antioxidants, other fatty acids, and gives us the surface of our faces less friction. Furthermore, the acid mantle helps to waterproof our skin so it doesn’t become dry and brittle. A healthy acid mantle helps the production of collagen, but if you have something like eczema or psoriasis, a deep fissure, or wounds in the skin, your barrier including your acid mantle may be damaged.

This is a point of concern because the skin barrier stops pathogens, bacteria, microbes, and all sorts of things from getting inside of our bodies and causing damage. It also protects us against the sun and helps us thermoregulate (control body temperature). So. for example, it enables us to feel heat, cold, pain, and different sensations. The skin is such a complex and important thing so what she would do if our anti-aging or acne treatments are compromising it? 

So how do we use something that’s bacteriocidal without harming our skin barrier?

First of all, cuti bacterium or propionibacterium acne is the bacteria that causes acne, and it naturally lives inside of our skin. Unfortunately, if the acne bacteria and oil grows too much, all of that can get stuck in the pilosebaceous unit, and that’s when things like whiteheads or pimples start to arise. 


To prevent this, we usually use ingredients like exfoliating acids (i.e salicylic acid). Salicylic acid is oil-soluble meaning it will break down the oil of that acid mantle layer, penetrate deeply into the skin and the pore to reduce bacteria. While this is excellent and very good for acne, salicylic acid also works to dissolve some of our acid mantle or “oily layer.” 

So, what happens to our acid mantle when we use an even more potent ingredient like benzoyl peroxide? 

Benzoyl peroxide is really potent. If you’ve ever used it, it can cause dryness and irritation. It’s great for treating acne because it literally kills bacteria by putting it in contact with oxygen. Acne bacteria is anaerobic so giving it oxygen kills it. Unfortunately, it can irritate the outside of the skin and damage the skin barrier. 

Next, retinoids are another potent treatment for acne. They can penetrate, and they actually bind to receptors in the skin. The process causes the skin to renew itself quicker, and that’s fantastic for acne. 

But what does using retinoids ultimately mean for the skin barrier?

Retinoids thin out the stratum corneum. If you've ever used a retinoid, especially a retinoid prescription one, you may have experienced a period of  mild irritation, peeling, and flaking. This indicates damage to the skin barrier, and especially if you have dry skin, you’re causing a little bit more temporary damage to fade the acne.

Given that, is it safe to use more intense things like chemical peels, microneedling, or lasers?

These treatments work by damaging the skin and provoking an inflammatory response. Your body sends immune cells to the treated area to heal it, bring it nutrients, and create more collagen. A lot of people may find this daunting, but sometimes in order to get acne ingredients where they need to go or to stimulate collagen, we do have to penetrate through that barrier. 

This brings us to our next point on how the skin barrier reacts to wrinkle treatments.

How do anti-aging treatments affect the skin barrier?

Firstly, let’s define a wrinkle. There are many things that contribute to wrinkles including the sun. The sun, specifically UVB rays, are the number one contributor to wrinkles and collagen degradation. Another natural cause of wrinkles is actually facial expressions. Every time we smile, laugh, and frown, we create indentions, and overtimes these turn into wrinkles. Wrinkles are natural, and they make us look like humans. Wrinkles are not a negative thing, however, if someone wants work on them, there are different ways to do that. For example, there’s microneedling, chemical peels, and certain LED treatments of the 660 nanometer range really help. Also, another common procedure for wrinkles are facelifts. 

With wrinkles, we’re trying to smooth out the divets or creases, and that’s why facelifts can be one of the best things for wrinkles. You're actually pulling the skin, while on the other hand, things like Botox are a preventative measure. Botox is more preventative because it hinders some of your facial muscle groups from contracting, and therefore, the skin on top of those muscles cannot wrinkle and crease. All of these treatments and procedures can reveal a glowy, fresh appearance and help smooth out wrinkles, but they can also cause damage. 

Now, what are we supposed to do when we want to protect our skin but treat acne and wrinkles at the same time?

The best thing is to keep using actives. Don’t give up on retinoids, chemical peels, etc. but be aware of the necessitated damage you’re causing to your skin barrier. Use this awareness to balance and space out your treatments. Don’t exfoliate every day because this will cause more than microdamge, and most importantly, wear sunscreen. Sunscreen not only prevents this collagen from degrading in the first place, but it also prevents acne scars from setting in.

In addition to sunscreens, using barrier cream along with acne/wrinkle treatments comes in handy. As mentioned before, the acid mantle is made of fatty acids, antioxidants, and omega fats. So, if we want to strengthen our skin’s barriers, we can use moisturizers, hydrators, humectants, and protectants to go on the outside of our skin. These help to strengthen the acid mantle and barrier, especially if your using acne and anti-wrinkle treatments.

Upon using anti-aging and acne treatments, here are a few ingredients to follow up with and support you skin barrier. 

  • Ceramides np, eop, and ap.

  • Omega fatty acids

  • Cholesterol

  • Squalane 

Here are also a few products that provide these ingredients.

Purito Dermide Cica Barrier Sleeping Pack - $19.66


The INKEY List Ceramide Hydrating Night Treatment - $14.99

Ceramedx Gentle Foaming Facial Cleanser -$12.08



Juice Beauty STEM CELLULAR Anti-Wrinkle Overnight Cream -$75

Antioxidants like green tea, black tea, or caffeine are gentle, but they also help to support the barrier. As long as they don’t include things like fragrance, they work phenomenally. Occlusives such as petrolatum and emollients like shea butter can support your skin barrier by locking in your skincare routine. Overall, let’s treat our skin kindly, and when it comes to anti-aging and acne treatments, do what makes you comfortable in a healthy and informed manner.

For more on this topic, you can see a video   here.