What Is a Skin Microbiome?

You might have heard about your microbiome in relation to gut health, but what about skin care? It might sound a little bit sci-fi, but your skin microbiome is basically an entire ecosystem of microbes (aka skin flora) that live on your skin. This mini world consists of bacteria, viruses, and fungi that all have an impact on how our skin functions. They interact with our immune system, act as a natural defense mechanism, manage inflammation, protect us from infection, and even control how well products are absorbed into our skin.

A damaged microbiome could be a key reason why certain skin issues never quite seem to be resolved, or why products that have worked well for us in the past suddenly aren’t working at all. We’re treating a symptom (i.e. oily skin), rather than solving the problem (a skin microbiome that’s totally out of balance).

In case you’re currently freaking out about this little mini world living its life on your skin – don’t. It’s perfectly normal, and is the result of thousands of years of human evolution. Genetics, lifestyle, the recent heightened reliance on hand sanitizers, and even whether or not we have pets can affect our skin’s biome.

However, the environment around us has changed a lot, too. Pollution, hot showers, chlorine, soap, and our sugar consumption could all be affecting our microbiome, and therefore our skin’s condition. Overexfoliating, lathering soaps, skin-care products, and antibiotic use can all have an impact on our skin flora, too.

How Do You Know If Your Skin Microbiome Is Struggling?

It’s thought that the more strains of bacteria on the skin, the better. There isn’t much research just yet, but it’s thought that a damaged skin microbiome may manifest in a variety of skin issues. 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 aging.

In Europe, microbiologists are even culturing strains from healthy skin and diseased skin to draw comparisons in bacterial differences. They then replace the bacterial strains that diseased skin is lacking for long-term treatment study into whether the two are interchangeable.

Aging can play a part, too. As we get older we have less “good” bacteria on our skin – scientists can predict your age to within a few years just based on your microbiome – which leads to less protection from inflammation, loss of volume and further signs of aging.

It might not be that our skin barrier is damaged or that we just have sensitive skin after all, it could be that our skin microbiome is out of whack.

What’s the Solution to a Damaged Skin-Care Microbiome?

There are some probiotic and prebiotic skin-care products on the market, which in theory work to restore the balance, kind of like probiotics do for the gut. However, a one-size-fits-all probably isn’t the solution to restore a damaged skin-care biome. Each person’s biome is completely individual and unique to them, and just throwing probiotics and prebiotics onto the skin probably won’t address your exact problem. It could have some benefits and address some microbial issues, but might not deal with the exact cause. It’s all about maintaining a balance when it comes to your skin-care biome, rather than boosting.

The other problem is that skin-care usually needs preservatives to stay safe and stable for the skin. The same preservatives mess with the live microbes contained in the skin-care solutions.

So, is the solution just to stop with skin-care completely? Well, no – although the founder of microbiome brand Mother Dirt claims to have not showered for over 12 years, instead spraying his body with a bottle of bacteria – but again, it’s about balance.

Still interested in trying out some skin-care for your microbiome?

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