The microbiome has been a buzzword in the wellness scene for a while now. Though it may seem like an overhyped term, research continues to reveal how these microbes play an essential role in our health. However, the digestive tract is not the only organ where microbes inhabit. The skin, our largest organ, hosts millions of microbes that play the same role as those in the gut: regulating the immune system, inflammation, and protecting against pathogens.
Let us look at what skin microbiome is all about and how to keep yours healthy.
Credit: Polina Kovaleva
What is Skin Microbiome?
According to dermatologist Dr Marnie Nussbaum, “the skin microbiome is the billions of bacteria, fungi, and viruses that comprise the skin microbiota.”
Sometimes referred to as skin flora, the skin microbiome is a collection of billions of bacteria and yeast that reside on your skin. Your skin may not be 100% sterile, but these microorganisms are vital for the functioning of your skin. Each individual’s microbiome varies and is unique in different spots on your own body.
How Does It Work for The Skin?
The skin microbiome communicates with our internal immune system, playing a role in keeping our bodies healthy. In particular, our skin microbiome:
Fights off infection and inflammation
The skin microbiome loves a relatively acidic environment (about pH 5.0), which inhibits the growth of hostile bacteria. When harmful bacteria overgrow and cause inflammation, the microbiome crowds out the overgrowth. This is done by alerting the immune system to release antimicrobial peptides.
Protects us against environmental stressors
The microbiome helps keep our skin plump and moist. It helps limit exposure to allergens, helps heal wounds, and even minimises oxidative and UV damage. Recent research found that mice with the bacteria Staphylococcus epidermidis developed significantly fewer tumours when exposed to UV rays than mice without it. Though we are not mice, this research indicates that microbes may have the same protective abilities against UV rays as humans.
Credit: Angela Roma
Signs of an Unbalanced Microbiome
Now that we know the primary functions of the skin microbiome, it is key to identify the factors that can compromise this unseen barrier. These imbalances or disruptions can result in visible symptoms like:
- Contact dermatitis
- Worsened eczema and rosacea
- Premature ageing
- Slowed wound healing
Causes of Unbalanced Microbiomes
As we mentioned, the skin microbiome thrives at a pH of roughly 5. Overly alkaline and acidic products like select cleansers, AHAs and BHAs can cause the skin’s pH to be skewed away from optimal. Opt for skincare products that restores balance in the skin’s pH levels.
From our beds, offices and even nature, bacteria that could imbalance our microbiome exists everywhere. Prolonged exposure without proper care can cause the skin’s microbiome to be open to harmful bacteria. In addition to bacteria in the environment, temperature and humidity changes can impact the balance of the skin’s microbiome.
While a changing environment can impact the microbiome, poor skincare habits can worsen it. From improper cleansing, UV protection and missing the benefits of pre and probiotics, small habits in our routine can snowball into a weakened skin barrier.
How to Support Skin Microbiome
At this point, it may seem that the odds are stacked against your microbiome. But, like most skin issues, your skin microbiome can be improved and supported. Here is how to go about it:
Stay hydrated and eat well
What you put in your mouth directly impacts your skin and its microbiome. After all, healthy skin comes from within. Some general rules about your diet include hydrating often and enjoying a balanced diet of greens, fruits, grains and proteins.
Enhance your skincare routine and habits
Although this section may seem like the toughest recommendation to implement, as your resident skincare experts, we have narrowed it down to three simple steps.
1. Double cleanse at the end of EVERY day
We know that after each day, you want nothing more than to be tucked in bed ready to sleep. However, skipping a simple extra cleanse can lead to a rude awakening with breakouts or dry patches greeting you in the morning. Double cleansing at the end of each day can help to remove harmful bacteria, dirt and oil build-up.
2. Always apply SPF
Prolonged UV exposure has been shown to impact the skin’s natural microbiome. Thus, a simple solution would be to apply SPF every day (regardless of whether you would be indoors or outdoors). Once you have gotten into the habit of applying SPF daily, take an additional step towards reapplying your SPF throughout the day for the ultimate protection.
3. Invest in Pre, Pro and Postbiotic rich products
Calling back to what the skin’s microbiome truly is – a balance of good and bad bacteria – your best skincare investment would be in products that restore this balance. A good guide would be to look for products rich in:
Prebiotics– Nutrients/food needed to keep the microbiome functioning.
Probiotics– Living microbes that exist on the skin and help to restore balance.
Postbiotics- Beneficial byproducts that probiotics generate as they break down on and within the skin’s surface. They help maintain effective moisture balance plus strengthen the skin’s barrier against environmental stressors.
We hope this article will help you take a step back and incorporate practices that enhance your skin appearance from the inside out.