The Skin Microbiome: Take a Closer Look
So maybe by now you’ve gotten used to the idea of having a gut microbiome. We’ve all heard of the various forms of bacteria that live there, the “good guys” and the “bad guys.” But did you recall that your skin is a microbiome, too? Having avoided thinking about it for a while -- hey, are you feeling a bit itchy now, too? -- we thought it might be time to truly examine the skin we’re in and learn how to genuinely “love up” everything on and in it.
Your skin provides shelter to many bacteria, archaea, fungi and viruses. That’s right. Even though the very idea may make you want to go take a shower, this “skin flora” or “skin microbiota” mainly offer mutualistic benefits to us. So it’s important to treat your skin -- and its flora -- well.
As it turns out, skin-deep beauty is actually kind of fascinating.
The skin microbiome is basically dominated by bacteria. There are about 1,000 species of bacteria on the skin. Some are helpful. A balanced bacterial ecosystem gives you healthy, radiant skin.
But some are not. The less-than-helpful bacteria on your skin can cause infections. So it’s important to keep a balance in your skin microbiota.
The condition of your body’s bacteria may influence viral conditions, enzymatic reactions and even genetic expression.
Archaea are single-celled organisms without any nucleus. A fairly recent discovery, archaea are suspected to help with the process of the body’s skin cleanup under dry skin conditions. They are also believed to lower or help keep skin at lower pH levels. They typically flourish most on the skin of people under 12 and over 60.
Skin fungi… could anything sound grosser?
Skin fungi can be found at many locations on the body, from head to toe. Some common spots where fungi are found on your head are the ear canal, behind the ears, the nostrils, the point between the eyebrows, and the back of the head. The feet also harbor fungi at the heel, between the toes, and in the toenails. But that’s not all! You can also find “fungi rich areas” on the palms, the forearms, and the crook of the elbow, as well as the chest, trunk, groin, and back.
One study (by the National Human Genome Research Institute) found 80 species of fungi in the heel, what it deemed “the richest habitat.” So, yeah. Feel like getting a pedicure, anyone?
Microbiota help regulate the mucosal immune system and help maintain the status quo. While these microbiota can protect against viral infections, certain bacteria can also aid them. More studies are needed to fully understand the potential of skin microbiota to regulate immunity.
Just some bacteria, fungus, and viruses. Nothing to see here, folks.
So... what does having all this skin flora mean for you, anyway?
Harsh ingredients such as the foaming agent sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) can disrupt the surface of your skin and the microorganisms living there. In fact, any soap can be drying, whether it has irritating ingredients or not.
The skin microbiome can be damaged by:
- Beauty and skincare products
- Soaps (especially those with harsh ingredients)
- The environment itself
Irritant contact dermatitis (ICD) is a condition that results from friction to the skin, a cold environment, water over-exposure, or chemicals (including acids, alkalis, detergents and solvents).
So be careful of your skin and mindful of what you put on it.
And what are the symptoms of a suffering skin microbiome?
The result of harmful ingredients leading to ICD can show up on your skin as a rash, itching, irritation, or visible blisters or bumps. Also look for dryness, breakouts, redness, overproduction of sebum, and skin discomfort.
If you see any of these signs, you may want to change up your routine and talk to your cosmetologist, dermatologist, or other health care providers.
How can you ensure a healthy skin microbiome?
Here are some tips:
As mentioned above, even if you use a non-abrasive soap, rapid friction during drying can upset the balance in your skin’s microorganisms. Soooo, take it easy.
Eat well and drink lots of water. Sounds boring, right? We know, we know. It really matters, though.
The aforementioned SLS is a big one, but any synthetic products may destroy your skin’s natural ecosystem and cause irritation.
Take note of which cleansers and moisturizers you use and the effects they have on your skin. Reach for something gentle to do the job. The same can be said of makeup and other skin care and beauty products.
Probiotics are also considered beneficial for overall, glowing skin health as well as gut health, as they promote healthy bacteria. (By the way, Kasvi just happens to contain 8 kinds of probiotics.)
In addition to taking care of the surface of your skin, remember that beauty starts from the inside--based on what you eat and how your body metabolizes your daily regimen of food and activity. What nutrients your body is getting on a regular basis will make a difference to your skin. Healthy, well-nourished skin simply glows.
Be a gracious host.
When thinking about microbiota–host interactions, remember your skin represents a complex and dynamic ecosystem. Your skin is your body’s largest organ! To preserve this living protective layer, you can make an effort to use ethically sourced, natural, and non-abrasive products on your skin.
Even if it’s a little off-putting to think of what the skin microbiome entails, there’s something beautiful about it. There’s a gorgeous symbiotic relationship between you as the host and these tiny microorganisms that -- when in balance -- contribute to your skin’s beauty, health, wellbeing.