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11 Gel Creams That Will Strengthen Your Skin Barrier

A stronger skin barrier = a healthier complexion
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Don't touch your face. It's advice dermatologists, estheticians and skin-care savvy parents have doled out for generations. But if you still haven't taken it to heart, now's the time. "We normally do this about 300 times a day, and it can cause the spread of viral illness," says Dr. Melanie Palm, a San Diego area dermatologist.

But try not to touch your face when putting on and taking off masks several times a day. Then there's the act of wearing a mask itself, which can cause its own host of skin woes, including breakouts, scaly skin and redness near the mouth and nose. "When the natural microflora is disturbed, a disequilibrium in the skin microenvironment occurs, leading to inflammation and worsening of some skin conditions, like eczema, acne, and rosacea, among others," Dr. Palm says.

One way to raise your skin's defenses against bacteria and inflammation — whether it stems from face touching or mask wearing? Strengthen its protective barrier by keeping skin hydrated and its microbiome in balance. "The best advances more recently in moisturizers are those that provide hydration, repair the skin barrier, help the skin microbiome re-establish itself, and decrease overall inflammation in the skin," Dr. Palm says. "Some lighter or whipped formulations are great as they are actually lipid-derived bases that are processed to feel lighter."

Ahead, find 11 moisturizers that do all the heavy lifting that derms look for in a stellar hydrator — but in featherlight gel-cream formulations that won't leave skin suffocating when masked up or in summer heat.

Image via Imaxtree

Too many gel creams seem to linger on the surface of our skin, making it feel oddly damp, if not downright slimy. Not this baby. It disappeared immediately upon application and left the most supple, but not shiny, finish behind. The magic formula relies on jojoba esters and glycerin to balance the skin barrier, a cocktail of hyaluronic acids to deliver hydration and sea algae and squalane to lock it in.

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This fluid gel cream from a just-launched J beauty brand pulls a cool trick: it proves undetectable just seconds after application, yet leaves skin with a dewy (but not slick) finish. The formula's star ingredient? Plant-derived, biomimetic ceramides — moisturizing ingredients which "act as the cement between the cell 'bricks' of our upper layers of the skin," says Dr. Palm. "Ceramides form a protective barrier for the skin, and when they are depleted, dry skin conditions such as eczema worsen."

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"The microbiome in normal skin is composed of several strains of 'healthy' bacteria that prevent the growth and infection of harmful bacteria/yeasts/viruses, an important function of the skin barrier-preventing infection," says Dr. S. Manjula Jegasothy, a Miami-based dermatologist. "Including prebiotics in skin care serves to help the skin barrier with this task." This whipped gel-to-cream formula taps probiotics to help boost the microbiome and skin barrier function, along with lactic acid to exfoliate.

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"Antioxidants help calm skin to speed recovery," notes Palm — and his weightless cream-gel formula, which instantly sinks into skin, is chock full of them: vitamins A and C and anti-inflammatory niacinamide, along with microbiome-boosting peptides.

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