We have all heard about our gut microbiome, but did you know that you also have a skin microbiome?
The skin is our largest organ, and there are billions of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and mites living, crawling and making their home on it!
The very idea may make you itch, but the reality is that these microbes are vital for keeping your skin healthy.
Having a thriving, well-balanced microbiome plays an important role in the overall health and appearance of your skin. It can help treat a range of skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis and rosacea and there is even some evidence that a healthy skin microbiome can slow down the aging process!
Let’s take a closer look at the skin microbiome
There are more than a thousand distinct species of bacteria, fungi and viruses living on the surface of your skin. In fact, the average person carries about two pounds of these microbes on their body surface! Some are also found in your gut microbiome such as Staphylococcus, Streptomyces, and Candida species as well as species of Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus.
The good news is that the vast majority are harmless and many are beneficial.
Your skin’s natural environment (cool, low pH) is pretty unfriendly to harmful bacteria, and sebum, your skin’s lubricant, is antimicrobial. Also, the good guys in your microbiome crowd out any bad bacteria who try to take up residence.
Interestingly, everybody’s skin microbiome is unique, rather like a fingerprint. We all have some bits in common, but others are determined by our lifestyle. Where we live and work, what we eat, what we wear and our hygiene habits all have an impact. Age and genetics have a role to play too, by affecting the natural pH of our skin and the number of oil producing glands we have.
Your skin microbiome is different all over your body, too. This means the skin microbiome on your face looks different from the one in your armpits or on your legs.
What impact does your skin microbiome have on your health?
Most people know the skin is the body’s first line of defence. Interestingly it’s not your skin’s cells that do the hard work, it’s the skin’s microbiome.
We’ve learned that microbial diversity is key. The greater the variety of microbial species on your skin, the healthier its barrier will be. A lack of diversity can lead to skin dryness, overproduction of sebum, breakouts or redness.
It can benefit your health more generally by:
- Protecting against infection – Recent research suggests a healthy skin microbiome protects against infection by inhibiting the growth of pathogenic (disease causing) organisms. It also helps maintain skin pH and produces essential skin lipids.
- Boosting the immune system – We now know the microbiome extends into deeper skin layers. While more research is needed, it appears that there is communication between the microbiome and our immune system.
- Reducing inflammation – Scientists have shown that our bacterial residents can inhibit the release of inflammatory compounds from the immune system and have a positive impact on inflammatory skin conditions such as dermatitis.
Top tips to help you maintain a healthy microbiome
Whilst many of the elements that control the makeup of your skin microbiome are out of your control, there are some things you can do to protect and promote these delicate communities.
#1 Eat healthy foods and keep hydrated
Eat a diet rich in healthy fats, vegetables, protein, and fibre. Include probiotic foods such as yoghurt and kefir. You may even want to include a probiotic supplement. This will boost your gut bacteria, which will in turn help your skin microbiome. Also, be sure to drink plenty of water.
Work up a sweat a few times a week! If your diet is good, the sweat you produce is likely to produce useful food material (prebiotics) for the skin’s microbes. When you exercise, you also increase the blood flow to your skin, nourishing your skin with vital nutrients and oxygen.
#3 Be smart about harsh soaps and hand sanitiser
Avoid antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizer when you can.
Easier said than done right now as we battle COVID-19, but hand sanitisers buffered with ingredients like aloe vera will help reduce the impact of high levels of ethanol.
Washing hands with soap when possible avoids the damaging effects of the alcohol in sanitisers. Choosing soaps which avoid sulphates and are not too alkaline will help. You could even try one of the microbiome soaps that are now on the market.
Finally, make sure you moisturize your hands regularly after washing and sanitizing.
The bottom line is that harsh soaps and sanitisers kill the beneficial microbes along with the bad ones. While it’s important to practice good hygiene, it’s also important to make sure you are still letting the good bacteria stick around on your skin.
#4 Try using a probiotic skin cream or cleanser
Probiotic skin-care formulas are a growing area of research. While some contain live cultures (probiotics) to boost the skin’s supply of bacteria, others include prebiotics, which feed existing skin microbes, encouraging them thrive.
There are lots on the market. We have a hand-picked range of some of the best on the market in our shop. All our products are recommended by dermatologists.
With each passing year, we have come to realise how important the skin microbiome is for overall health. Not only does it help your skin look good and feel healthy, it helps protect your body. Maybe this is the right time for you to take better care of yours!