The importance of maintaining healthy skin, the largest organ in our bodies, can’t be overstated. We need our outer layer to do the best job it can to protect us from illness and the risks posed by all the damaging elements we encounter. That’s why understanding what keeps our skin operating glitch-free is essential to know how to care for it.
One of the most fascinating findings about your skin in recent years is that it has its own microbiome. The microbiome isn’t a new concept, but it’s primarily been associated with our digestive tract and gut. It’s now understood that our skin has its own microbiome, and it has everything to do with the health of our outer layer.
Read on to learn more about the flora that lives in your skin and what you can do to support it to keep your skin fully functional and radiantly beautiful!
What is the skin microbiome?
The skin microbiome refers to the collection of natural microorganisms that reside on and in our skin. It consists of an estimated one trillion microscopic critters, including bacteria, fungi, viruses, mites, yeasts and protozoa. Your skin microbiome, also called skin flora, protects and keeps your skin healthy.
These microscopic critters are an integral part of the skin’s outermost layer, the epidermis, as well as the deeper dermis layer. Not only that, but the skin microbiome is also connected to the gut flora, and they’re in constant communication with each other. This is called the gut-skin axis.
For your body to function at its healthiest, your microbiome must be kept in the proper balance of “good” bacteria and “bad” bacteria. The latest research shows that your immune system is affected by both the gut’s microbiome and the skin’s microbiome, and an imbalance in one can cause a disruption in the other. Our lifestyle habits can lead to changes in the microorganisms of our gut or skin, creating this imbalance.
How does the microbiome affect skin health?
When all is harmonious among your skin flora, your skin can protect you from harmful pathogens seeping into your body. This is known as skin immunity. With excellent skin immunity, you are less prone to experiencing illnesses and unpleasant skin conditions.
Plus, your skin can maintain a more radiant complexion with a well-balanced flora since it will be able to retain moisture, absorb nutrients and heal itself much better.
A disrupted skin microbiome can lead to the following conditions:
The Propionibacterium acnes bacteria is present in healthy skin. But an imbalance in skin flora can result in an overabundance of P. acnes, the bacteria found in some forms of acne.
Though it’s not clear what causes eczema in the first place, an infection caused by the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria can result in an eczema flare-up. Skin biome disruption can increase this bacteria and lead to worsening eczema.
The gut and skin microbiomes play a significant role in inflammation. Psoriasis can become aggravated by inflammation due to an increase in bacteria and other pathogens.
Rosacea has been linked to a reaction to certain bacteria and is associated with certain skin mites known as Demodex folliculorum. Microbiome disruption could be a trigger for rosacea to occur.
Your skin’s hydration level depends mainly on the integrity of your skin’s protective barrier. An imbalance in beneficial skin critters will lead to a dysfunctional barrier, and moisture will easily escape, leaving your skin dry.
How to maintain a healthy skin microbiome
So, now you know why your skin microbiome is vital for healthy skin and a clear complexion. But how do you ensure your skin flora is kept in check?
Here are five ways to support an ideal balance in your skin microbiome and prevent many common skin conditions.
1. Cleanse your skin properly
Keeping your skin clean while maintaining its natural oils and bacterial balance can be challenging. Paying attention to how you cleanse can help, though. For example, you're more likely to alter your skin’s microbiome if you wash your skin too often, scrub too intensely, or use scorching hot water.
For best results, aim to wash your face two times a day, once in the morning and once before bed. Using just your hands is the most gentle way to cleanse, but you can try a soft cloth or pad and sweep it lightly over your skin. For the rest of your body, showering daily isn’t usually necessary unless you sweat a lot. And always use warm water instead of hot.
Keep in mind that exfoliating is still an important part of your skin routine to wipe away the dead skin cells that are building up constantly. Look for exfoliating products with softer, natural beads like jojoba for your face and body, and scrub gently.
2. Use gentle, all-natural products
Synthetic chemicals are more likely to be harsh and damaging to your skin. Any damage caused could throw your microbiome out of balance and put you at risk for infections and inflammation. That’s why we firmly believe that all-natural organic, nontoxic, and fragrance-free products are the best choice for healthy skin.
Your skin's pH is crucial to the integrity of your skin flora and your protective barrier. Toxic ingredients and harsh chemical surfactants are typically alkaline and will affect your pH, making it hard for some microorganisms to thrive. Try to keep your skin’s pH between 4.5 and 5.5.
Also, look for ingredients like vitamin C and other antioxidants, olive squalene and aloe vera. These natural plant-based ingredients will support a healthy microbiome in your skin.
3. Sweat more
Doing exercise that makes you break into a glorious sweat is an excellent thing for your skin. Besides improving blood and lymphatic flow, your sweat can support a favorable pH in which your skin flora can thrive. Plus, sweat contains natural antimicrobial compounds that will help reduce “bad” bacteria and allow “good” bacteria to save the day.
4. Get out in nature
Modern life isn’t always conducive to stepping out into nature on a regular basis. But the list of health benefits from going outdoors is forever growing. And it turns out that your skin microbiome can benefit as well!
Researchers have found a link between spending time outside and the diversity of microbes in your skin, explaining that the microflora found naturally in nature can actually transfer onto your skin.
It sounds too far-fetched to be true. But it’s another testament to how closely related humans are to the Earth. And it’s another reason to take a hike, walk or bike ride whenever you get the chance.
If you live in a city, find your nearest park or recreation area for some much-needed outdoor playtime.
5. Eat a balanced diet
The link between your skin and gut flora has been a topic of study recently. The gut-skin axis is a way of communicating when something is not right, and when one microbiome is out of balance, the other will be affected.
So, it makes sense that eating a nutrient-rich diet that supports good bacteria is the best way to go. A healthy, balanced diet for your skin flora includes plenty of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables, hearty whole grains, and various clean forms of protein. Avoiding processed food as much as possible is also key.
Try adding fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut and kombucha to your diet to boost your probiotic intake. Also, look to eat foods that provide prebiotics that serve as food for the “good” bacteria. These include high-fiber foods like oats, apples, and flaxseeds, and foods that contain fibers known as beta-glucans and inulin.
To sum it all up…
The teeny tiny critters in your skin can either help you or hurt you. It all depends on maintaining a balance that will allow your skin to function at its best so it can protect you from pathogens and help you look amazing. The skin microbiome is happiest when you use a gentle approach, live an active lifestyle, and eat well. Keeping your skin flora in mind will lead to the best habits for your best skin!