If you’ve found yourself struggling with skin issues like rosacea, breakouts, eczema, or just sensitive, dry skin, pause from searching for the next skincare solution for just a moment. Your skin is where you first meet the environmental pathogens, which is why it can be so sensitive and difficult to predict. This is also why we should think about the skin’s defenses at its surface, where it meets these pathogens and irritants.
It’s important when trying to establish your skin’s health to first understand your skin microbiome. The skin microbiome is like a diverse rainforest, made up of trillions of microbes of many different types and species, that form a balanced and connected habitat on your skin. Every human has a unique skin microbiome, like another personal fingerprint, that needs nurturing and support. If you’ve heard of your gut microbiome, your skin microbiome is just as important to your health!
Gladskin has been on the frontline of skincare and microbiome research for over a decade, giving us first hand insight into the latest developments and discoveries. Today, we’re going to provide a quick overview of your skin microbiome to help you along your skin journey, and possibly uncover simple solutions to some of your most difficult skin problems.
Balancing the microbiome:
What Is the Skin Microbiome?
Your skin microbiome, also known as the skin flora or microbiota, is the collection of trillions of bacteria, fungi, and viruses that live on your skin’s surface. Like the rainforest analogy above, it is incredibly diverse, with an average of 1,000 different species of bacteria living on your skin --using the water, salt, and oil (sebum) that your skin releases to survive. Recently, researchers have found that these microbes can have significant positive and negative effects on the health of your skin, from healing wounds to worsening skin conditions.
Typically when we hear the word “bacteria,” we think of creepy crawlies, infections, or maybe even acne. But not all bacteria are bad, both on your skin and in places like your gut. In a healthy, well-functioning microbiome, these good bacteria work together to defend against disease and other environmental threats.
Skin Microbiota & Gut Bacteria
Similar to those in your gut, the skin microbiome has groups, or phyla, of bacteria. Specific areas of your skin have distinct combinations and proportions of bacterial types from other areas, depending on the environment. This lends to the theory that the balances of your skin microbiome contribute to skin conditions such as eczema and rosacea, and why they can show up in different areas of the body.
As Dr. Peter Lio, board certified dermatologist, explains, “Historically, the thinking was that the microbiome is a reflection of what's going on inside. So that if the skin was in good shape, the microbiome should be in good shape. But I would argue that this is changing, that now we're understanding more than ever that the microbiome is not the cart being pulled by the horse. It may actually be the horse in some situations.” In fact, new research about eczema, rosacea, acne, psoriasis, and more has unveiled how an unbalanced skin microbiome may play an active role in many of these skin conditions.
How the Skin Microbiome Affects Your Overall Health
Your skin is the largest organ of the body; on average, the skin makes up 16% of an adult’s total body weight. It is the body’s protective barrier and first line of defense against foreign invaders. When your skin microbiome is well-balanced and fully functioning, it acts as a smart shield or filter, deciding what to allow to enter the skin, and what should be blocked. It also communicates with the immune system and its cells to help keep you healthy.
Both of these functions help it to fight off irritants that could harm your skin and to signal the immune system that it needs backup to respond to a threat that’s been absorbed into the skin. However, while backup may seem helpful, it also means a more severe response – and when a microbiome is unbalanced, sometimes it misidentifies harmless things and creates an overreaction.
Connection to the Immune System
Because of the skin microbiome’s communication with your immune system, it’s also partly responsible for the body’s inflammatory responses. The presence of good bacteria keeps inflammation at bay. But when the bad bacteria outweigh the good, an inflammatory response is triggered that can cause or worsen skin conditions, such as eczema or rosacea.
As you can tell, the skin plays a major role in the overall wellbeing of your body. Without a strong protective outer skin barrier, your body 1) becomes more susceptible to pathogens, and 2) calls for an inflammatory response that, if it becomes chronic, can lead to other unwanted effects in the body. This is how the microbiome can affect skin conditions if unbalanced, because not only will it get irritated easier, but it will also trigger unnecessary inflammation in response to minor “threats”.
The role of the microbiome:
Restoring Your Skin Microbiome
Now that we understand the microbiome’s importance, we need to understand how to heal and maintain it. The key word here is balance. Both good and bad bacteria will live on the skin. The goal is keeping those two types of skin flora and bacteria in an ideal ratio, because when the bad overrides the good, you’ll start to notice symptoms like facial redness, flaking, itching, eczema, and more. There are many small changes you can make to your lifestyle to improve your skin microbiome, but these are the most critical to controlling skin conditions.
Be gentle to your skin.
Modern hygiene practices, over-exfoliating, and over-cleansing with harsh ingredients may kill off bad bacteria, but this also kills off the good bacteria. There is such a thing as “too clean” and we call it over-sanitization. It’s the same reason why excessive use of hand sanitizers and antibiotics is discouraged. Killing off both the bad and the good bacteria may end up simply weakening your body’s defenses. So instead, opt for gentle cleansing for your skin that doesn’t disrupt your skin microbiota.
Pay attention to your pH.
The environment of your skin is naturally acidic, and your microbiome prefers it that way. Many soaps on the market today are actually alkaline and have the potential to throw off the pH balance of your skin when overused. Unfortunately, many bad bacteria and harmful parts of the microbiota thrive in a more alkaline environment. By keeping your skin’s pH around 5 (a neutral pH is 7, with lower being more acidic), it helps keep bad bacteria and inflammation at bay.
Take care of your gut.
Your organ systems don’t work independently of one another. In fact, research has shown that your gut can influence everything from your skin to your brain to your endocrine system and beyond. That’s why it’s no surprise that there’s evidence showing the gut’s involvement in skin conditions like rosacea and acne. Because of this, we suggest nourishing your gut with healthy whole foods, water, fiber, and probiotics to also help strengthen your skin. This will not only keep your skin microbiome healthier and better-prepared, but the rest of your body as well.
Try microbiome-balancing skincare products.
With growing awareness of the importance of the skin microbiome, more and more skincare products contain microbiome-targeted ingredients to help restore healthy skin flora. This makes it more sensible to try a product that specifically targets this area. This could be the missing piece in helping your skin heal.
For example, our Eczema Cream and Redness Relief Cream both use a patented smart endolysin protein called Micreobalance®, to bring balance to your skin microbiome while also moisturizing. Endolysin proteins essentially police the bad bacteria around us so that the helpful ones are protected. This takes the cutting edge of research on the subject and applies it directly to your skin.
As Dr. Lio explains, “Endolysin is kind of a genius approach to solving this problem. It has been refined over a very long time, far longer than our human terms, to make a near perfect way to break the cell wall down to bacteria. And, it's also so targeted that it will only affect a particular bacteria, without hurting any of the other bystanders. But more important than that... because it has been so refined over all these years, we know that it really is unlikely to see any kind of resistance to it.” By using a targeted approach, we can eliminate the bacteria that are unbalancing the microbiome and restore stability and health.
Only the Beginning
The skin microbiome is a new frontier of research and we’re still discovering more about it, its bacteria, and its impact on not only the skin, but potentially other parts of the body. One thing is clear however – that it has more significance than we previously thought, and is certainly a factor that should be discussed when it comes to skin health.
While following these tips is part of maintaining a healthy and diverse skin microbiome, they work best in combination with products and treatments that build on these foundations. See how Gladskin Micreobalance® or our Biome Care™ products can give your skin relief today!