If you’ve come across words like "microbiome,” “skin flora” or “microorganisms” in the skin care aisle but are drawing a blank, you’re not the only one. Although these terms might sound like something you would cover in a biology class, they are very important to the health of your skin. Read on to learn more about microbiome skin care so that you can level up your skin care game.
Did you know your skin is home to a thriving and friendly group of about a trillion microorganisms? We call this the skin microbiome, and it plays a vital role in your skin's health. The microbiome is the skin’s unique ecosystem of bacteria and fungi existing on and in the layers of your skin. Like a protective layer, the microbiome works to support the skin barrier and is the first physical point of contact with your immune system. It’s also as unique to you as a fingerprint.
You can think of a microbiome as a completed puzzle (a trillion-piece puzzle of course) with each piece (each microorganism) working in alignment to contribute to the health of your skin. With the right mix of microorganisms, we have a barrier that acts as a shield from unhealthy microorganisms, protecting you from outside influences (such as pollution, allergens and UV rays) and internal influences (such as stress and diet). These all work to support the skin barrier's function.
According to WebMD, the skin microbiome:
- Helps to fight infections
- Supports your immune system
- Heals wounds
- Controls inflammation
An unhealthy biome is a puzzle put together with the wrong pieces. It's an ecosystem of microorganisms that aren't working together correctly. Some overwhelm the system while other vital microorganisms are missing altogether. This barrier is flimsy, unbalanced, and worse, can’t protect you from bad microbes entering the skin barrier and causing havoc on the normal flora. An unhealthy microbiome can encourage the flourishing of unhealthy microorganisms leading to inflammation, breakouts and a bad immunity to infection, plus dry or stressed skin that ages visibly faster as it attempts to battle any foreign nasties.
An imbalance in the microbiome can lead to a compromised skin barrier which can result in:
- Red skin
- Dull skin
- Skin conditions like acne, psoriasis, eczema and atopic dermatitis
- A slower healing response
- Dry skin that can’t retain moisture
- Accelerated signs of aging, resulting in wrinkles or an uneven skin tone
Have you ever noticed irritation in one part of the body but not another? Due to the different conditions experienced by different body parts, the makeup of your skin microbiome changes throughout the body. For example, the microbiome of the face is exposed to UV and pollution almost daily compared to the sweaty, more humid environment of the feet, which are usually tucked into shoes and socks.
Your microbiome can be affected by genes, diet, weight and age as well as:
- Air pollution
- Poor sleep
- Climate, temperatures and humidity levels
- UV light exposure
- Stress and lifestyle factors
- Using harsh skin care products, cosmetics, soaps and hygiene products
According to WebMD, lifestyle factors, such as food choices, stress, hygiene and minimal time in nature can also throw the microbiome off balance. We have all been exposed to an increasing amount of chemicals thanks to increased hygiene practices, such as hand washing, sanitizing and wearing face masks. These factors have been noted to imbalance the biome and strip natural oils from the skin.
How Can You Improve Your Skin Microbiome?
If you are seeing unusual flare ups, pimples or breakouts that are slow to heal, an unbalanced microbiome could be the cause. The good news is that the skin microbiome is resilient and self-renewing. It flexes and changes with new influences so there’s always an opportunity to improve it.
One way we can support a healthy, functioning biome is to select microbiome-friendly skin care that works in alignment with your skin. The correct products should help to balance out the effects of environmental stressors caused by modern life. You might love a daily exfoliant or the feeling of an intense face mask but consider dialing back your usage to once or twice a week. Ensure your daily routine is filled with gentle, replenishing products that nurture the harsher ones that can throw off the biome’s delicate balance.
Here are some simple rules you can follow:
- Avoid daily use of AHAs, BHAs, exfoliants or other ‘tingly’ skin care products that can shock the skin.
- Use probiotic skin care (read more on this below).
- Avoid high pH soaps or over-cleansing. Healthline suggests reaching for moisturizers with a pH from 5 to 7 and cleansers with a pH of 4.5 to 7.
- Be aware of new influences from repeated hand washing, sanitizing or even washing powder from reusable masks. Don’t forgo using moisturizers and hand creams to replenish the skin.
According to Healthline, topically applied probiotic skin care can work to minimize skin conditions like eczema, acne, dry skin, and UV-induced skin damage. Prebiotics come from non-digestible compounds in fiber-rich foods and stimulate the growth of healthy, probiotic bacteria. Think of them as supporting the growth of more good bacteria, as probiotics feed on prebiotics to flourish. Although there is less research on prebiotics in skin care, studies are promising and suggest that when applied to the skin microbiota directly, prebiotics can increase the likelihood of normal skin microbiota.
When the probiotics have eaten, postbiotics are the metabolites left behind by probiotics. You’re probably familiar with a few examples of postbiotics in skin care already, such as enzymes and peptides, plus bacterial fermentation products, such as lactic acid and glycerol — all well-established skin care hero ingredients. According to Healthline, a postbiotic skin care product can be a great way to "give the skin a boost.”
Do you have any burning questions about the skin's microbiome? Ask us in the comments below or on social media.