Your skin microbiome is the population of microorganisms that live in and on your skin. Did you know that about half of the cells on your body are not human cells but microbial cells? These colonists play some very important roles in our bodies and on our skin. On our skin they contribute to the barrier that helps prevent infections and they also regulate our immune system. For a long time, we have understood the importance of our gut microbiome, now it is time for us to pay attention to our skin microbiome too.
What is the Skin Microbiome?
First let’s have a look at who lives there! The microbiome of the skin is made up of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and mites. Don’t panic though, the majority of these are considered commensal – meaning they cause us no harm, some are symbiotic – there is a mutual benefit between us, and others are pathogenic meaning they can cause us problems.
In a healthy and functioning microbiome, they all co-exist without any problems. But dysbiosis, a disruption in the balance, can lead to disease. Factors that can affect our skin’s microbiome are illness, antibiotic use, diet, the cosmetics we use and our lifestyle and environment. Our microbiome is resilient though and with the right treatment can stay in a healthy balance.
A Balanced Skin Microbiome
How can we make sure our skin microbiome is kept in balance? When we have a gut microbiome that is imbalanced after a dose of antibiotics, we know about the benefit of taking good quality probiotics to build our microbiome diversity back up. Or we take prebiotics to feed the beneficial bacteria and give them an advantage over the more harmful ones. Does the same apply in skincare with a microbiome that is upset?
A lot of skincare products claim to be probiotic these days. The term probiotic has been defined as “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host”. There is a challenge of incorporating live probiotics into skincare.
Skincare products are formulated with preservatives to be safe, have long shelf lives and avoid the growth of bacteria and fungi so it is very difficult to incorporate live bacteria into a product. Some companies have stepped up to the challenge though including our partner Esse. Esse keep their probiotics inactive in an oil solution and on contact with your skin’s moisture they begin to grow again.
Other brands have overcome the challenge by using postbiotics and prebiotics. Postbiotics can be dead or lysated and so we can still get the beneficial pieces like cell fragments and chemical by-products without the difficulty of having a live strain of bacteria involved. They are often created by fermenting and are easily available to skincare formulators.
Lactobacillus is a strain that populates our skin when we are young but declines with age, it teaches our skin to act young, it helps protect the skin and its barrier function. When it comes in a postbiotic form it provides things like oligopeptides and fatty acids. These chemical by-products can communicate with receptors on our skin to improve skin hydration and support the skin’s immune system.
Prebiotics is when you feed the beneficial bacteria on your skin with things like plant sugars or other complex carbohydrates. The “food” for the beneficial bacteria in your skin helps them work more efficiently. Some of our partner brands such as Aurelia, Gallinee and Tula use postbiotic and prebiotic ingredients to support the skin with hydration and decreasing inflammation.
Your Lifestyle Can Affect Your Microbiome
However, even if we pack our products full of pro/post/prebiotics we can still upset our skin microbiome by some of our lifestyle choices including our skincare routines. Our relationship with bacteria until very recently has been one of warfare, of constant washing and sanitation, made more extreme in recent years by COVID hygiene measures but we are learning that we need to live in harmony with our microbiome.
A study was carried out on nurses’ hands that found that irritation on the hands caused by frequent washing and wearing of gloves was also associated with a change in the skin’s microflora. The irritated hands all had a higher percentage of pathogenic or not friendly bacteria on them compared to healthy hands. So, when we pick a skin care routine it is best that we choose one that suits our skin type and that does not irritate our skin.
What Does Your Microbiome Tell You About Your Skin?
One of the most exciting things about the skin microbiome though is that it is a biomarker and can tell us more about our skin. By looking at the population of microorganisms on our skin we can tell if skin is dry, oily, or balanced and also if it has conditions like psoriasis or acne. In the age of extreme personalisation being able to get a non-biased view of our skin and any issues it may have is valuable.
By truly understanding what kind of skin you have you can select the most appropriate skincare to use and feel assured that you are giving your skin exactly what it needs and not just what you want!
Discover your skin’s unique microbiome and join us at Skin Trust Club. We want to empower you to Know Your Skin!