Barrier Creams: Protecting At-Risk Skin

Introduction to barrier creams

Delving deep into the world of barrier creams and their vital role in safeguarding skin from factors which could compromise skin health. Continue to read on to appreciate the significance of their uses in mitigating such risks.

This comprehensive article aims to explore why certain skin types are more vulnerable and need special care, shedding light on the criticality and vitality of barrier creams.

The journey begins with an understanding of the specific challenges that sensitive skin faces, leading us to discover the various types of barrier creams available and how they can benefit you. This article will guide you through the precise selection and application of these creams, ensuring you can protect your skin effectively.

However, that’s not all – it will also uncover common mistakes to avoid when you use barrier creams and emphasise key safety considerations. Furthermore, it aims to provide you with valuable insights on maintaining the health of your skin, extending beyond the use of barrier creams.

You will have a comprehensive understanding of how barrier creams can be your skin’s best defence, as well as practical knowledge to keep your skin healthy and strong.

Understanding at-risk skin

To appreciate the significance of barrier creams truly, it is imperative to grasp the concept of at-risk skin and the factors that render it susceptible to various issues. At-risk skin encompasses a diverse group of individuals who are prone to skin-related challenges due to a combination of factors. These can be broadly categorised into two main groups: medical conditions and age-related factors.

  1. Medical conditions:

At-risk skin often manifests in people grappling with medical conditions such as dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis, those undergoing cancer treatments such as radiation therapy or those with incontinence. These medical conditions can compromise the skin’s innate protective barrier, rendering it more susceptible to harm and damage. 1

  1. Age-related factors:

Vulnerable skin is prevalent among both the young and elderly. Infants possess delicate,developing skin that demands special care and attention. On the contrary, the elderly experience age-related changes in their skin, making them more prone to a host of skin problems, including sun damage, wrinkles, and pressure ulcers.

Skin vulnerabilities

Understanding the various environmental and lifestyle factors that can heighten skin vulnerabilities is paramount, as it directly informs the necessity for barrier creams in sustaining skin health. These factors, though complex, are essential for individuals of all backgrounds to comprehend:

  1. Moisture: Excessive moisture, stemming from sources like incontinence or heavy perspiration, can compromise and impact the skin’s structural integrity. Prolonged exposure to moisture can result in conditions such as diaper rashes or moisture-associated dermatitis. Essentially, when the skin remains wet for extended periods, it becomes prone to harm and skin issues.
  2. Friction: The repetitive friction and rubbing of the skin’s surface, often attributed to clothing or bedding, can inflict damage on the outer layer of the skin. This abrasion can create micro-tears, making the skin more vulnerable to irritation, inflammation, and other skin-related problems.
  3. Chemical irritants: Daily encounters with harsh chemicals found in detergents, cleaning agents, and various personal care products can strip the skin of its natural protective oils. This stripping effect leaves the skin exposed to irritants (preservatives, dyes, and fragrances) and allergens in the environment. Recognising the potential damage caused by irritants on the skin underscores the importance of protective measures.2

What are barrier creams?

Barrier creams, also referred to as skin barrier creams or ointments, are specialised topical products meticulously formulated to be applied directly onto the skin’s surface. These creams serve a key role in establishing and creating a protective barrier on the skin. This barrier plays a pivotal role by sheltering the skin from different irritants whilst concurrently ensuring moisture is efficiently retained within the skin’s layers.3

Barrier creams come in many forms, each possessing its own distinctive characteristics and applications:

  1. Ointments:

Characterised by their thick consistency and high oil content, they are recommended for intensive, targeted skin. These formulations  offer exceptional protection and possess the remarkable ability to retain moisture, rendering them particularly well-suited for individuals with severely dry skin.

  1. Creams:

They strike a harmonious balance between ointments and lotions. Combining the advantages of protection and ease of application for different skin types, they are the preferred choice for daily skin routines.

  1. Lotions:

Having a higher water content compared to ointments and creams, they are lighter and more viscous. A better suitability for those with fewer skin issues, as they are absorbed well into the skin.

How do barrier creams work?

The fundamental mechanism serves several crucial purposes that benefit both individuals with medical skin conditions and those seeking general skin health care.

  1. Creating a protective layer:

Barrier creams primarily operate by forming a robust and impermeable layer of the skin’s surface. This specific layer acts as a resilient barrier, shielding the skin from external threats, including moisture, friction, and more.

  1. Moisture control:

One of the main factors of barrier creams is the ability to regulate moisture levels within the skin. This is accomplished by sealing the skin's natural moisture and preventing excessive loss. Moisture control is beneficial for individuals with conditions like eczema or dry skin, where adequate skin hydration is necessary.

  1. Preventing irritation:

The barrier formed by these creams serves as a defence against irritation and inflammation, reducing potential risks such as allergens.

Benefits of barrier creams

 Barrier creams offer a spectrum of valuable advantages for those with skin problems.

  1. Prevention of dermatitis:

Barrier creams prove highly effective in forestalling the onset of contact dermatitis, a condition characterised by skin inflammation resulting from contact with irritating substances or allergens, by forming a shield on the top layer of the skin to prevent direct contact. Thus keeping irritants at bay and reducing the risk of dermatitis.4      

  1. Reduction of pressure ulcer risk:

Individuals with limited mobility face notable concern in the form of pressure ulcers, also called bedsores. These painful lesions develop due to prolonged pressure and friction on specific body areas. Barrier creams mitigate the risk by forming a protective layer over the skin, which in turn acts as a cushion that eases the burden on the skin, minimising ulcer development. 5

Enhancing comfort

The purpose of barrier creams is to improve comfort by alleviating skin irritation and discomfort commonly associated with a range of skin conditions. The capacity to soothe symptoms such as itching, burning and redness is highly appreciated by those with troubled and sensitive skin.

Promoting skin healing

Beyond their preventative role, barrier creams also facilitate the healing process of skin that has been damaged. Barrier creams form an environment for skin repair and regeneration, essentially aiding the skin to recover and rejuvenate.

Choosing the right barrier cream

Choosing the correct barrier cream is essential for ensuring effective protection. Keep in mind the following factors when doing so:

  1. Skin type:

Different skin types necessitate specific formulations of barrier creams. For example, those with dry skin find thicker ointments more beneficial, whereas those with normal or sensitive skin may prefer creams or lotions. 

  1. Allergies and sensitivities:

It is crucial to be aware of any allergies or sensitivities when choosing a barrier cream. Although many barrier creams are designed to be hypoallergenic, you should still review the ingredients and look for any potential allergens.

Product reviews and recommendations: Seek guidance from healthcare professionals to get better insights into the effectiveness of barrier creams to help guide your choice.

Proper application techniques 3

The effectiveness of barrier creams depends on their correct application. To ensure optimal results and comfort, it’s essential to follow these crucial steps when applying. A simplified step-by-step process entails:

Preparing the skin:

  1. Gentle cleansing

Cleanse the skin gently with mild soap and lukewarm water. After washing, pat the skin dry with a soft towel, avoiding vigorous rubbing, to withhold skin integrity.

  1. Dry skin

It is important to make sure that the skin is entirely dry before applying barrier cream. Any residual moisture can affect the effectiveness of the barrier cream.

Applying the barrier cream:

  1. Generous application:

Apply a generous amount of the barrier cream thoroughly all over the affected area. Avoid skimping on the product, as a thin layer may not provide adequate protection against skin irritants.

  1. Gentle spreading:

Spread the cream evenly on the skin using a gentle, outward motion. Refrain from excessive rubbing, as this would exacerbate skin irritation.

  1. High-risk areas:

Pay extra attention to areas of skin more prone to moisture or friction, such as the groin. These areas require extra protection, thus ensuring these areas are well-covered with the barrier cream.

The frequency of barrier cream application can vary based on individual needs. As a general guideline, it should be applied at least once a day. However, more frequent applications may be required if the situation warrants. Always refer to the product instructions for recommended application methods.

Maintaining skin health beyond Barrier Creams

A well-balanced diet that includes essential nutrients is critical for overall skin health. These nutrients contribute to skin vigour in simple ways:

  • Vitamin A -  supports skin cell production and repair.
  • Vitamin C - Helps collagen production, promoting skin strength.
  • Vitamin E - Acts as an antioxidant, protecting the skin from damage.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids - Contributes to skin hydration and elasticity.6

Common mistakes

Barrier creams are valuable for skin protection, but to ensure their effectiveness, it's important to be aware of common mistakes and pitfalls:

  1. Overuse of barrier creams
    • Mistake - Applying an excessive amount of barrier cream can lead to occlusion, this is when moisture is trapped beneath the cream.
    • Solution – Follow the recommended guidelines for application as given with the barrier cream, using more does not provide more protection and may hinder the cream’s effectiveness.
  2. Inadequate cleaning
    • Mistake - Failing to cleanse properly before applying the barrier cream reduces its effectiveness.
    • Solution - Start with clean, dry skin prior to application.
  3. Ignoring allergic reactions
    • Mistake – Ignoring signs of an allergic reaction, such as itching or rashes, as this can lead to further skin issues.
    • Solution – If the barrier cream usage causes a reaction discontinue use immediately and consult a healthcare professional. They can help to determine the cause of the reaction and recommend an alternative cream.
  4. Lack of consistency
    • Mistake – Inconsistency in using barrier creams alters their effectiveness.
    • Solution – To reap the full benefits of barrier creams, use it consistently and regularly.

Improper storage and handling can lead to contamination or deterioration of the barrier cream. To stop this from occurring ensure to follow storage instructions as labelled and seal tightly after use.


Barrier creams emerge as invaluable tools, providing a 100% barrier on the skin7 surface, protecting from a multitude of threats. Their versatile benefits span from preventing dermatitis to elevating comfort. Selecting the appropriate barrier cream, applying it with precision, and upholding comprehensive skin health practices are paramount for individuals with susceptible skin conditions.

This content provides a comprehensive overview of barrier creams, seeking guidance from healthcare professionals remains necessary. Always consult your doctor or physician regarding tailored treatment to outline risks and benefits.


  1. What is the primary purpose of Barrier Creams?

Barrier creams are designed to create a protective layer on the skin’s surface, shielding it from external irritants like moisture, friction, and chemicals whilst also locking moisture to maintain skin hydration.

  1. Who can benefit from using Barrier Creams?

Barrier creams are beneficial for individuals with at-risk skin, including those with medical conditions like eczema, as well as those of extreme ages (infants and elderly).

  1. Are Barrier Creams suitable for everyday use?

Yes, barrier creams can be used daily, especially for individuals with conditions that make their skin more vulnerable. However, the frequency of application may vary based on individual requirements.

  1. How do I choose the right Barrier Cream for my skin type?

Select a barrier cream formulation that suits your skin type. Ointments are ideal for dry skin, creams work for more skin types, and lotions are suitable for those who prefer a lighter texture. Consulting a dermatologist can help determine the best option.

  1. Can I apply Barrier Creams over other topical medications or treatments?

It is advised to consult with a healthcare professional before combining it with other medications.

  1. Can Barrier Creams cause allergies or skin reactions?

Whilst many barrier creams are formulated to be hypoallergenic, some individuals may still be sensitive to certain ingredients. It it  essential to monitor adverse reactions like itching and discontinue use if they occur.

  1. How often should I reapply Barrier Cream?

The frequency of application depends on individual needs and the specific product. As a general guideline, barrier creams should be reapplied at least once a day or more frequently, if required. Follow the instructions provided with the cream.

  1. Can Barrier Creams be used on the face?

Barrier creams are typically designed for use on the body and may not be suitable for facial skin. Consult with your doctor or physician for recommendations on facial barrier creams or alternatives.

  1. Are there any specific safety considerations when using barrier creams?

Be cautious of harmful ingredients, store barrier creams appropriately, and monitor for adverse reactions. If you experience any unusual reactions, seek advice.


  1. Branch NSC and O. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. 2017 Skin diseases. Available from:
  2. Parker ER, Mo J, Goodman RS. The dermatological manifestations of extreme weather events: A comprehensive review of skin disease and vulnerability. The Journal of Climate Change and Health [Internet]. 2022 Oct ;8:100162. Available from:              
  3. Barrier Cream Product Guidance [Internet]. NHS Bath and NorthEast Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire Clinical Commissioning Group; 2020. Barrier Cream Product Guidance . Available from:
  4. Banharak S, Panpanit L, Subindee S, Narongsanoi P, Sanun-aur P, Kulwong W, et al. Prevention and care for incontinence-associated dermatitis among older adults: a systematic review. J Multidiscip Healthc [Internet]. 2021 Oct 26 ;14:2983–3004. Available from:
  5. What is a pressure ulcer? | Information for the public | Pressure ulcers: prevention and management | Guidance | NICE [Internet]. 2014 Available from: 
  6. Dattola A, Silvestri M, Bennardo L, Passante M, Scali E, Patruno C, et al. Role of vitamins in skin health: a systematic review. Curr Nutr Rep [Internet]. 2020 Sep;9(3):226–35. Available from:
  7. Teichmann A, Jacobi U, Waibler E, Sterry W, Lademann J. An in vivo model to evaluate the efficacy of barrier creams on the level of skin penetration of chemicals. Contact Dermatitis [Internet]. 2006 Jan 54(1):5–13. Available from:
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Nisha Modhwadia

BSc (Hons) in Pharmaceutical and Cosmetic Science

I hold a BSc (Hons) in Pharmaceutical and Cosmetic Science, adeptly I combine my academic knowledge with practical experience in the intricate domains of medical and regulatory writing. My professional journey includes a wealth of experience in various pharmaceutical projects, with a primary focus on drug delivery.

As a dedicated member of esteemed organisations, including RAPS (Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society), TOPRA (The Organisation for Professionals in Regulatory Affairs), and the Royal Society of Biology, I maintain a strong network within the scientific community, enriching my work with a profound depth of knowledge.

My hands-on experience in pharmaceutical environments and my past role in the pharmacy sector provide a pragmatic dimension to her writing, contributing invaluable insights into the healthcare landscape.

My distinctive fusion of academic knowledge and practical proficiency positions me as a capable provider of comprehensive insights into the pharmaceutical, cosmetic, and healthcare industries. presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
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