Skin microbiome 101

SKIN MICROBIOME 101

We typically think of skin only as it relates to beauty. But it is so essential to our overall wellbeing. As it is the largest organ in the body and protects us from the external world every day. Our skin is also home to a vast array of microbes. And research has just begun to piece together the important role they play in our overall health.
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01 What Is the skin microbiome?

The skin microbiome, also referred to as the skin flora, is the term for the trillions of bacterias that live on our skin. There are 1,000 different bacterial species and up to 80 different fungi species. Some of these are also residents of your gut microbiome. There are also a few Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus species on certain areas of the skin but much less so than in comparison to the gut.

The skin microbiome changes depending on the patch by person to person. And the little bugs also vary depending on the amount of light and whether the area is moist, dry, hairy, or oily. And the microbiome differs with age and gender. For instance; a hormonal, sweaty teenager has a very different microbiome than a postmenopausal woman.

“An imbalanced microbiome, or skin dysbiosis, is associated with many health conditions, including psoriasis, allergies, eczema, contact dermatitis, acne, poor wound healing, skin ulcers, dandruff, yeast and fungal infections, rosacea, and accelerated skin ageing.”

02 How does it play a role in our health?

Communicates with our immune system.

We once thought that our microbiome only existed on the surface of the skin and that the deeper dermal layers were sterile. Now we know that this is not true. In 2013, scientists did a deep dive into the dermis looking for microbes, which were found all the way to the subcutaneous fat layer. While the researchers noted that more studies are needed, it appears that the most intimate communication between the microbiome and our immune system takes place at this layer. Mind-blowing!

Protects us against inflammation.

From what we can tell, a healthy skin microbiome protects against inflammation in much the same way a good gut microbiome does: by crowding out overgrowth of pathogenic organisms. The skin microbiome prefers a relatively acidic environment (pH is around 5.0), which also inhibits the growth of pathogens.

As the microbiome and skin immune system “talk” to each other regularly, it is dampening inflammation. When the microbiome is out of line, the immune system can release various antimicrobial peptides such as cathelicidin to help balance the micorbiome. Likewise, our good bacterial residents can inhibit the release of inflammatory compounds from the immune system.

Protects us from external influences.

The microbiome also aids in wound healing, limits exposure to allergens, minimizes oxidative damage, and keeps the skin plump and moist. In fact, new research shows that it can protect us from harmful UV rays. The study found that when mice with the bacteria Staphylococcus epidermidi were exposed to UV rays, they developed significantly fewer tumors than the mice without it.

Glowing Face Vertical

03 How is the microbiome compromised, and what happens?

You’re probably familiar with the idea that loads of antibiotics, other medications, and a poor diet can damage the gut microbiome. This is called the “hygiene hypothesis,” and there’s a lot of research to support this important concept.

Ditto for the skin microbiome. Excess use of antimicrobial hand sanitizers and soaps contributes to skin dysbiosis and antibiotic resistance. An imbalanced microbiome, or skin dysbiosis, is associated with many health conditions, including psoriasis, allergies, eczema, contact dermatitis, acne, poor wound healing, skin ulcers, dandruff, yeast and fungal infections, rosacea, and accelerated skin ageing. Anything you can imagine and most conditions you have read about before.

How does the skin microbiome get compromised?

  • what you put on our skin, and
  • what you put in your body.
Hand Sunshine

You are using the wrong products.

So if you’re addicted to “clean,” you could be damaging your skin microbiome.

Soap

Take soap, for example: By its very nature, it’s alkalinizing. That’s how it works to remove dirt and microbes. But recall that our skin microbiome prefers a pH of about 5. At this relatively acidic pH, the healthy microbiome thrives. It’s also understood that the opportunistic bacteria—the dysbiotic players—do better at a higher, more alkaline pH. And soap has a pH of up to about 10. Thus, we may actually be damaging our microflora with soap or other alkaline topical products and setting the stage for increased risk for skin issues.

Also interesting: A recent study showed that kids who hand-wash dishes have a lower incience of allergies compared to those in families that use a dishwasher. That sounds paradoxical given what I’ve just mentioned about soap, but the authors speculate this has to do with the benefits of skin exposure to the microbes on the dirty plates.

Deodorant

Take deos as well, for example: Deos with sodium bicarbonate, by its very nature, it’s alkalinizing. That’s how it works to remove the healthy bacteria and ultimately the unwelcoming smell. But recall what we mentioned above and you learned so far about skin microbiome – even under our armpits – prefers a pH of about 5. At this relatively acidic pH, the healthy microbiome thrives. It’s also understood that the opportunistic bacteria—the dysbiotic players—do better at a higher, more alkaline pH. And sodium bicarbonate has a pH of up to about 10. Thus, we may actually be damaging our microflora with deodorant that contains sodium bicarbonate or other alkaline topical products and setting the stage for increased risk for skin issues.

Your gut microbiome is compromised, too.

New research shows that anything damaging to your gut microbiome also influences what’s happening to the skin. It’s called the gut-skin axis, and scientists are just beginning to understand the connection. To date, much of the research has been done on the gut-acne connection, but the connection is strong: “The lines of communication, as mediated by gut microbes, may be direct and indirect, but ultimately influences the degree of acne by a systemic effect on inflammation, oxidative stress, glycemic control, tissue lipid levels, pathogenic bacteria, as well as levels of neuropeptides and mood-regulating neurotransmitters.”

“Every time one exercises, it increases the blood flow within your body and particularly to your skin – nourishing your skin with essential nutrients and oxygen providing you with a natural glow. You don’t need to do hard-core exercises. “

04 How can I support my microbiome?

If you think you might have done some damage to your microbiome over the years, by using incorrect products impacting the balance of your skin – don’t worry. The good news – you are aware now so you can start today to support its function. Following the tips below:

Eat healthy and stay hydrated.

We recommend a balanced diet of good fats, proteins, carbohydrates, rainbow-coloured vegetables, and filtered water. Keep processed foods and extra sugar out of the diet. Research shows that what you put into your body can influence your skin and ultimately the skin microbiome.

Keep a food diary.

Since we know that your skin microbiome may be influenced by internal inflammation, look to limit foods that are known skin irritants. Keep a food diary. For example, dairy and gluten are both associated with exacerbating a range of skin issues, including eczema and acne. However, this varies by person and best to maintain a diary to observe what you may react to. For example; when our founder Sarah eats chickpeas, peanuts or Avocado – her skin flares up and she gets inflammations across her chin, forehead and cheeks.

Gut-Skin connection.

Remember the Gut-Skin connection: As we know, skin issues are influenced by the gut microbiome and gut health in general. If you think, you might not get enough probiotics to support your gut flora, read up on it and contact a nutritional therapist, to review and get a  high-quality probiotic recommended. Much research exists on the use of probiotics in supporting a healthy gut and therefore skin microbiome. Please note, this varies from person to person thus please consult a professional on this topic.

Keep your stress levels in check.

Just as elsewhere in the body, stress likely negatively influences what’s happening with your skin. Find a stress management method that works best for you, such as yoga, meditation or mindfulness.

Use hand sanitizers and harsh soaps wisely.

Let your microbiome thrive. While, yes, it’s critical to practice good hygiene, it’s also important to make sure you are still letting the good bacteria stick around on your skin. While easier said than done right now, you can tend to your skin by using more gentle surfactants (look for coconut derived surfactants, rather that sulfates and detergents), as well as hand sanitizers that are buffered with ingredients like aloe vera to help keep your skin barrier in check. Finally, make sure you moisturise your hands regularly after washing and sanitizing. And if possible, avoid using soap for your body care.

Face Washing

Be mindful of your Cleaning.

Be mindful of your cleansing rituals. As less is definitely more in this department. Every time we wash our face with water, we disturb our skin microbiome. After each cleansing step, it takes time for it to recover from it and to continue protecting your skin from outer influences. Thus, review and challenge the steps you are doing and if you need to wash your face less.

Work up a sweat a few times a week.

If you’re eating well, the sweat you produce is likely a fortifying prebiotic for the skin microbiome. Not to mention, working out leads to better skin health overall. Every time one exercises, it increases the blood flow within your body and particularly to your skin – nourishing your skin with essential nutrients and oxygen providing you with a natural glow. You don’t need to do hard-core exercises. Why don’t you simply start with power-walking three times a week and observe what might change.

Try a topical probiotic.

Topical probiotics, like found in several skin care lines, are a growing area of research. If you are one to DIY, we recommend trying a probiotic powder mixed with coconut oil or shea butter to their skin. Research also shows that kefir or yogurt on skin also may benefit the microbiome.

In Summary

We increasingly come to realize how important our skin microbiome is for our overall health. Not only will it help our skin aesthetically, it helps protect our body. If you want to make sure your microflora is flourishing, just be mindful of harsh products and keep your skin moisturized.

Your skin microbiome is a strong, yet delicate thing. To ensure you are not inadvertently compromising it’s function, look at your topicals and evaluate your gut microbiome health.

Our skin microbiome has many roles to play in keeping our body healthy, namely: communicates with our internal immune system, fights off infection, eases inflammation, and protects us from outside harm.

April 14th, 2021|Beauty|Comments Off on Skin microbiome 101