Understanding your skin’s microbiome
Did you know that there is an entire microscopic world living on the surface of your skin? This natural ecosystem is called the microbiome, a system of microorganisms including bacteria, fungi, protozoa, viruses and more, that is responsible for the health and function of our skin. You may have read or heard the skin microbiome referred to as the “skin flora,” similar to how the system of microorganisms in the gut is called “gut flora.” Why is this natural ecosystem on the surface of skin so important? Read on below to discover more about your own skin microbiome.
What is its role?
If you think about it, skin - the body’s largest organ - is essentially the biggest shield between us and the outside world. It protects us from things like pathogens (harmful bacteria or viruses that can cause disease), so it’s important that the skin microbiome is healthy, flourishing, and functioning optimally. The microbiome also hosts a slew of impressive functions including but not limited to reducing inflammation, communicating with your immune system and protecting us from environmental stressors, and more. Research into the microbiome is uncovering something new nearly every day!
The skin microbiome and skin barrier connection
As we mentioned, modern science is regularly uncovering new information into the complex world of our natural microbiomes. Although it’s a super complex topic, it’s helpful to have a top-level overview of how two of our vital defenses, the skin microbiome and barrier, function and work in tandem.
If you’ve been reading our blog posts on skin care, you’re probably familiar with the term “skin barrier,” it’s the outermost layer of skin made up of lipids and skin cells. A functioning skin barrier locks moisture in, and blocks harmful bacteria from entering. The incredible skin microbiome is a vital and essential component of an optimally functioning skin barrier as discussed above by keeping healthy flora at a premium, and pushing the bad guys out.
How to keep your skin microbiome healthy and flourishing
First, you should know that a healthy microbiome results in skin that’s hydrated, balanced, lacks inflammation and is clear. Microbiome imbalances are often linked to eczema, acne, allergies or dandruff and can also result in sensitized or dry skin. Several factors can all affect the overall health of skin flora including diet and topical products, two factors that are easily in your control!
If you’re dealing with chronic breakouts and using antibacterial treatments but not getting the results you’re hoping for, consider that those antibacterial creams or washes may be killing the bad and the good bacteria, resulting in a decimated skin barrier. While we can’t emphasize enough the complex science that is microbiome research, we do have a few steps to implement daily to help care for your skin’s microbiome:
- Don’t always opt for an antibacterial cream or wash if you’re experiencing acne. As we explained above, antibacterial treatments often kill off the good bacteria that keeps your microbiome balanced and healthy. You also run the risk of bacteria building up resistance to antibiotic treatments with repeated use. Look for natural antibacterial options like tea tree essential oil, blue chamomile essential oil and thyme essential oil to name a few.
- Do not over cleanse. Research shows that our natural flora thrives in a more acidic environment (the skin’s natural pH is on average just below 5). We recommend washing your skin with soap once daily at most with a pH balanced cleanser. By not overcleansing, you also ensure that you’re not overly disrupting the natural flora (including all of the healthy, beneficial bacteria).
- Introduce probiotics into your diet. As we’ve touched on before, there is an incredible link between your gut and skin flora. When skin is out of balance and experiencing any number of inflammatory conditions, oftentimes, your gut flora is the culprit. Opt for an everyday probiotic. You can also get creative with your diet and introduce natural sources of probiotics from fermented foods like kimchi, yogurt or kombucha.
- Don’t over exfoliate. We’re often told that we must scrub away those dead skin cells in order to reveal fresh, bright skin. What if we told you those dead skin cells hold an important purpose? They are what makes up that important outermost layer of the epidermis called the stratum corneum. They are essential for helping to retain moisture and protect newer cells below. Opt for a gentle exfoliator that you can use 1-3 times per week (depending on your skin’s needs).
All skin types are different, but learning how your skin microbiome works is essential to achieving that glowing complexion.
If you found this interesting, check out these related stories:
What You Need To Know About Double Cleansing
Feed Your Skin From The Inside Out