Skin Microbiome: What It Is, Why it’s Important, And What You Can Do To Maintain A Healthy Skin Microbiome

5 min read

AUG 24, 2022 - Annie moberg
SKIN SCIENCE

Skin Microbiome: What It Is, Why it’s Important, And What You Can Do To Maintain A Healthy Skin Microbiome

5 min read

AUG 24, 2022 - Annie moberg
SKIN SCIENCE
If you could put your skin under the microscope at this very moment, you might be shocked to see trillions of microorganisms crawling around on your skin surface. Collectively called the skin microbiome, these bacteria, fungi and viruses are essential to maintaining skin health. In fact, without a healthy and diverse community of tiny organisms, your skin could no longer protect the rest of your body against the threats of the outside world. Curious to learn more? Let’s dive into the science and uncover how you can keep your precious skin ecosystem healthy and thriving.
If you could put your skin under the microscope at this very moment, you might be shocked to see trillions of microorganisms crawling around on your skin surface. Collectively called the skin microbiome, these bacteria, fungi and viruses are essential to maintaining skin health. In fact, without a healthy and diverse community of tiny organisms, your skin could no longer protect the rest of your body against the threats of the outside world. Curious to learn more? Let’s dive into the science and uncover how you can keep your precious skin ecosystem healthy and thriving.
01

What is the skin microbiome?

Also called skin flora, the skin microbiome is made up of roughly 39 trillion microbes that live on the body's surface. [1],[2] These microorganisms are fed by the water, oil, and salt that your skin releases to keep itself cool and lubricated. Like neighborhoods in a large city, human skin is home to a number of different microbial communities, each one with its own unique makeup. For instance, the microbial community on your face is vastly different from the one living in your armpit. Why are they so different? Across the body, different areas of skin have different climates: some are warmer and more moist while others are more acidic or full of hair follicles. These unique climates determine which microbes feel most at-home in those areas. [3]
01

What is the skin microbiome?

Also called skin flora, the skin microbiome is made up of roughly 39 trillion microbes that live on the body's surface. [1],[2] These microorganisms are fed by the water, oil, and salt that your skin releases to keep itself cool and lubricated. Like neighborhoods in a large city, human skin is home to a number of different microbial communities, each one with its own unique makeup. For instance, the microbial community on your face is vastly different from the one living in your armpit. Why are they so different? Across the body, different areas of skin have different climates: some are warmer and more moist while others are more acidic or full of hair follicles. These unique climates determine which microbes feel most at-home in those areas. [3]
02

What does the skin microbiome do?

The skin microbiome contains both beneficial and harmful bacteria, fungi, and viruses. In healthy skin, positive microorganisms keep pathogenic ones in check–creating the ideal environment for healthy barrier function and protection against outside pathogens irritants. When this healthy balance of good microbes is disrupted, bad microbes seize their chance to do damage. In fact, according to Queensland Health, microbiome disruption may increase the risk of inflammatory skin conditions like acne, rashes, eczema, dandruff, and dermatitis. [4]
02

What does the skin microbiome do?

The skin microbiome contains both beneficial and harmful bacteria, fungi, and viruses. In healthy skin, positive microorganisms keep pathogenic ones in check–creating the ideal environment for healthy barrier function and protection against outside pathogens irritants. When this healthy balance of good microbes is disrupted, bad microbes seize their chance to do damage. In fact, according to Queensland Health, microbiome disruption may increase the risk of inflammatory skin conditions like acne, rashes, eczema, dandruff, and dermatitis. [4]
03

How is the skin microbiome different from the gut microbiome?

Thanks to recent scientific breakthroughs, most of us are familiar with the gut microbiome: an ecosystem of trillions of microorganisms living inside our digestive tract. Like the skin microbiome, our gut health depends on good microbes dominating pathogenic microbes in this ecosystem. While the study of the gut microbiome is still in its nascent stages, there is strong evidence that the gut microbiome may impact a number of health factors including psychological disorders, allergies, and skin health. [5] Studies have shown that babies born vaginally contain more gut bacteria than those born by cesarean section due to the child interacting with the mother's bacteria during birth.[6] Babies born via cesarean were found to have a higher risk of developing asthma, allergies, and obesity–impacts that scientists believe may be linked to lower gut diversity. [7]It's also important to note that the gut microbiome influences the skin microbiome; for example, short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) from fiber fermentation in the gut positively affect the development of specific beneficial skin microbes. These microbes help regulate skin inflammation and immune response, meaning a poor gut microbiome degrades the skin's protection against outside aggressors. [8]
03

How is the skin microbiome different from the gut microbiome?

Thanks to recent scientific breakthroughs, most of us are familiar with the gut microbiome: an ecosystem of trillions of microorganisms living inside our digestive tract. Like the skin microbiome, our gut health depends on good microbes dominating pathogenic microbes in this ecosystem. While the study of the gut microbiome is still in its nascent stages, there is strong evidence that the gut microbiome may impact a number of health factors including psychological disorders, allergies, and skin health. [5] Studies have shown that babies born vaginally contain more gut bacteria than those born by cesarean section due to the child interacting with the mother's bacteria during birth.[6] Babies born via cesarean were found to have a higher risk of developing asthma, allergies, and obesity–impacts that scientists believe may be linked to lower gut diversity. [7]It's also important to note that the gut microbiome influences the skin microbiome; for example, short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) from fiber fermentation in the gut positively affect the development of specific beneficial skin microbes. These microbes help regulate skin inflammation and immune response, meaning a poor gut microbiome degrades the skin's protection against outside aggressors. [8]
04

How can I maintain a healthy skin microbiome?

Nourish your gutBecause skin health is tied to gut health, it’s a good idea to provide a happy home for good bacteria throughout your body by ingesting nutritious foods. Some of the best ways to support whole-body microbiome health are to take antibiotics only when absolutely necessary, limit your intake of artificial sweeteners, and consume prebiotic and probiotic foods. [9] Prebiotic foods like leeks, garlic, soy milk, oats, onions, and legumes feed healthy bacteria while probiotic foods like kefir, kimchi, and yogurt contain beneficial microbes that help restore the body's microbial diversity, stability, and composition.[10] Probiotics can also be found in capsule form, with a recommended daily dosage of 10-20 billion CFU for adults.[11]Bathe regularly but gentlyBathing regularly is essential for good hygiene, but overdoing it is problematic for the millions of creatures that call your skin home. Soaking in super hot water or scrubbing your body with foaming cleansers can compromise the oil-loving bacteria that live on your skin.It’s also important to consider skin pH. Most soaps are alkaline, while the skin is naturally acidic. If you cleanse your skin too often, you can disrupt your skin’s natural acid balance and make it more vulnerable to alkaline-loving pathogens. If you struggle with inflammatory skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis, you may want to be even gentler with your skin, opting for lukewarm showers and super gentle cleansers. Choose beauty & cleaning products wiselyMake a habit of checking ingredients for harmful chemicals that can disrupt your delicate skin ecosystem. At the top of that no-no list? Antibacterial soaps and harsh household cleaners, which kill both the harmful and beneficial microbes on your skin, leaving the body vulnerable. Here’s an easy list of ingredients to avoid.
  • Triclosan: This antibacterial compound commonly found in deodorant, facial cleansers, shampoo and toothpaste can cause skin irritation and allergic reactions.
  • Triclocarban Benzalkonium Chloride: Commonly found in cosmetics, wet wipes, hand and surface sanitizers. Excessive exposure can cause redness, swelling, blisters, and more.
  • Benzethonium chloride: Also known as thiamine, this antibacterial agent is commonly found in household cleaning items.
  • Chloroxylenol: Found in antibacterial soaps, wound-cleansing applications, and household antiseptics. Excessive exposure can damage your skin microbiome.
  • Sodium hydroxide: Also known as caustic soda, sodium hydroxide is a prevalent ingredient in cleaners and soaps. Its highly alkaline nature can upset skin balance.
Avoid synthetic fabrics in favor of natural fibersMany synthetic fabrics, especially tight ones that hug the skin, can affect your skin microbiome balance by trapping excess heat and moisture against the skin. Because these fabrics don’t readily allow air to pass through their fibers, you may produce more sebum and sweat, resulting in a microbial imbalance. Natural fibers like cotton, wool, and linen allow for more airflow so your skin can regulate temperature, oil production, and sweat more easily.
04

How can I maintain a healthy skin microbiome?

Nourish your gutBecause skin health is tied to gut health, it’s a good idea to provide a happy home for good bacteria throughout your body by ingesting nutritious foods. Some of the best ways to support whole-body microbiome health are to take antibiotics only when absolutely necessary, limit your intake of artificial sweeteners, and consume prebiotic and probiotic foods. [9] Prebiotic foods like leeks, garlic, soy milk, oats, onions, and legumes feed healthy bacteria while probiotic foods like kefir, kimchi, and yogurt contain beneficial microbes that help restore the body's microbial diversity, stability, and composition.[10] Probiotics can also be found in capsule form, with a recommended daily dosage of 10-20 billion CFU for adults.[11]Bathe regularly but gentlyBathing regularly is essential for good hygiene, but overdoing it is problematic for the millions of creatures that call your skin home. Soaking in super hot water or scrubbing your body with foaming cleansers can compromise the oil-loving bacteria that live on your skin.It’s also important to consider skin pH. Most soaps are alkaline, while the skin is naturally acidic. If you cleanse your skin too often, you can disrupt your skin’s natural acid balance and make it more vulnerable to alkaline-loving pathogens. If you struggle with inflammatory skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis, you may want to be even gentler with your skin, opting for lukewarm showers and super gentle cleansers. Choose beauty & cleaning products wiselyMake a habit of checking ingredients for harmful chemicals that can disrupt your delicate skin ecosystem. At the top of that no-no list? Antibacterial soaps and harsh household cleaners, which kill both the harmful and beneficial microbes on your skin, leaving the body vulnerable. Here’s an easy list of ingredients to avoid.
  • Triclosan: This antibacterial compound commonly found in deodorant, facial cleansers, shampoo and toothpaste can cause skin irritation and allergic reactions.
  • Triclocarban Benzalkonium Chloride: Commonly found in cosmetics, wet wipes, hand and surface sanitizers. Excessive exposure can cause redness, swelling, blisters, and more.
  • Benzethonium chloride: Also known as thiamine, this antibacterial agent is commonly found in household cleaning items.
  • Chloroxylenol: Found in antibacterial soaps, wound-cleansing applications, and household antiseptics. Excessive exposure can damage your skin microbiome.
  • Sodium hydroxide: Also known as caustic soda, sodium hydroxide is a prevalent ingredient in cleaners and soaps. Its highly alkaline nature can upset skin balance.
Avoid synthetic fabrics in favor of natural fibersMany synthetic fabrics, especially tight ones that hug the skin, can affect your skin microbiome balance by trapping excess heat and moisture against the skin. Because these fabrics don’t readily allow air to pass through their fibers, you may produce more sebum and sweat, resulting in a microbial imbalance. Natural fibers like cotton, wool, and linen allow for more airflow so your skin can regulate temperature, oil production, and sweat more easily.
Key Takeaways:
  • The skin microbiome is a delicate ecosystem of millions of microbes that work to keep our skin healthy and protected against harmful pathogens.
  • Disruption to the skin microbiome has been linked to inflammatory skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis and acne.
  • Research has shown there is a link between the health of our gut microbiome and the microbial communities that live on our skin.
  • Eating a probiotic-rich diet, avoiding antibiotics unless necessary, and using gentle cleansers on your skin can help maintain the health of your skin microbiome.
Key Takeaways:
  • The skin microbiome is a delicate ecosystem of millions of microbes that work to keep our skin healthy and protected against harmful pathogens.
  • Disruption to the skin microbiome has been linked to inflammatory skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis and acne.
  • Research has shown there is a link between the health of our gut microbiome and the microbial communities that live on our skin.
  • Eating a probiotic-rich diet, avoiding antibiotics unless necessary, and using gentle cleansers on your skin can help maintain the health of your skin microbiome.

Reviewed by Alessandra Zonari, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) and Co-Founder of OneSkin

Alessandra earned her Master’s degree in stem cell biology, and her PhD in skin regeneration and tissue engineering at the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil in collaboration with the 3B’s Research Group in Portugal. Alessandra did a second post-doctoral at the University of Coimbra in Portugal. She is a co-inventor of three patents and has published 20 peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals.

Reviewed by Alessandra Zonari, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) and Co-Founder of OneSkin

Alessandra earned her Master’s degree in stem cell biology, and her PhD in skin regeneration and tissue engineering at the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil in collaboration with the 3B’s Research Group in Portugal. Alessandra did a second post-doctoral at the University of Coimbra in Portugal. She is a co-inventor of three patents and has published 20 peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals.

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