Lately, there’s been a lot of buzz about the microbiome, but mostly pertaining to the gut. Today we are going to dive into another microbiome our body hosts which is known as the skin microbiome. This lovely ecosystem while still being researched is beginning to prove quite powerful in the regulation of many skin disorders and immune repsonses. Read on to learn more about your skin microbiome and why it’s so important!
What Is My Skin’s “Microbiome”?
Did you know that your skin is your body’s largest organ? The surface of healthy skin is home to over a thousand different species of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and mites. Your microbiome (or microbiota) refers to the ecosystem that lives on the surface of your epidermis. Everyone’s skin has a microbiome, which works as a barrier to protect us from a slew of ailments. Making sure that your skin’s microbiome consists of a healthy balance of beneficial microorganisms is an important facet of keeping your skin comfortable and looking its best. But the necessity of a balanced microbiome is often underestimated. What many do not realize is that this microbial life also impacts your immune system. Plus, impacting your associated internal health (more on this in a second).
The specific microorganisms that live on your skin will be dependent upon your region and personal environment, including ambient (external) temperature, humidity, and surrounding microbial life. These microorganisms feed off of the sebum (oil), salt, and water that are naturally present in your skin. Subsequently, this microbial life will also vary according to body temperature, skin pH, skin thickness, and density of hair follicles and glands. Areas of the body that have folds such as
- your neck,
- and between your fingers and toes.
These places on the body will tend to be a better environment for microbial life. The comparatively drier, flatter, and more exposed regions of your arms, legs, or forehead will host less of the microbial life.
My Skin’s Microbiome, Immune System & Gut Microbiome’s Connection
Now that you have a general idea of what the skin microbiome is and where these microorganisms hang out on the body, we want to go into a little more detail about how the microorganisms on your skin interact with your immune system and the gut microbiome. This will aid in understanding how and why making a few changes in the home can make all the difference!
To start, it’s important to understand that microorganisms from the skin microbiome communicate with the immune system and are found throughout all three layers of skin (epidermis, dermis, and subcutaneous fat). Through this network, the microorganisms are able to effectively communicate and recruit other cells to protect the skin from pathogenic microorganisms entering, which can cause psoriasis, eczema, and other skin diseases. Without these microorganisms, harmful bacteria could enter the body with little to no effort.
The skin is our first line of defense here, which is why it’s key to ensure it’s well taken care of.
When balanced and functioning properly, the microorganisms residing on your skin, known collectively as the skin microbiome, are able to send signals back to the immune system independent of the gut microbiome. These messages sent to the immune system help to regulate local anti-inflammatory & T-cell (immune system cells to fight pathogens) functions.
Additionally, the immune system also sends signals to the skin microbiome. If these messages from the immune system are disrupted in any way, the microbiota is altered and diversity begins decreasing. Therefore, leaving the skin susceptible to irritation or outbreaks. However, when the skin microbiome is diverse, the skin is healthy and allows the immune system to effectively communicate with the skin microbiome.
In fact, when healthy the skin microbiota is capable of promoting both the innate and the adaptive immune responses to limit pathogen invasion and maintain homeostasis. In one study, mice without adaptive immunity fail to control their skin microbiota, which allows for the pathogenic microbial invasion to occur.
Why Is My Skin’s Microbiome Important?
When your skin’s microbiome is unbalanced, the protective barrier provided by this ecosystem becomes compromised. This means that moisture will evaporate from the skin more quickly, commonly leading to skin that feels uncomfortably dry and itchy. But that is only the tip of the iceberg. Destroying the beneficial microbes in your skin’s microbiome (also known as your skin flora) can result in an over-abundance of detrimental microorganisms, leading to recurring problems like:
- atopic dermatitis,
- and acne.
How Can I Keep My Microbiome Balanced?
One way to encourage a balanced microbiome is to check on some of your diet and lifestyle choices.
Hydration is key
First, ensure that you are staying hydrated. Drinking plenty of water is critical to ensuring not just the health of your skin, but your organs as well.
Thankfully, that old adage about needing to drink eight eight-ounce glasses of water (or 64 ounces) daily has been updated. We now understand that our bodies receive hydration from a variety of foods, in addition to water and other beverages. While it is still true that drinks containing caffeine or alcohol can act as diuretics (cause increased urination) our bodies absorb more water from them than we excrete. Nevertheless, choosing plain water over sugary alcoholic or caffeinated beverages is a better choice for your overall health. This is especially true because your liver and kidneys can make use of this hydration without needing to process additional chemicals.
A good rule of thumb is to drink whenever you feel thirsty and making water your preferred beverage. Plus, drinking with each meal and any time you take medication. People who live in more extreme climates, are more physically active, or have certain health concerns (like chronic kidney stones) may benefit from drinking more water. On the other hand, those who are more sedentary or have thyroid, kidney, liver, or heart disease may benefit from drinking less water. Young children and the elderly may also have trouble sensing thirst. This can make dehydration more common. If you aren’t sure how much water is best for you, it is a good idea to check with your trusted health professional.
Eat Prebiotic & Probiotic-Rich Foods
In addition to keeping your body hydrated, another way to support your skin’s microbiome is to be sure to eat plenty of foods that are naturally rich in prebiotics and probiotics. Some popular prebiotic choices include
Plus, a couple of probiotic choices, which include yogurt, kefir, or kombucha. As described in this 2014 study published in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, ensuring a balanced gut microbiome is closely linked to maintaining a balanced skin microbiome and avoiding the inflammatory response associated with some common chronic dermatological conditions.
Choose Personal Care Products Wisely
Besides looking at the diet, you can consider lifestyle choices as well, such as what kind of soaps, shampoos, and other personal care products you choose. For instance, using antibacterial soap is another very common source of imbalance of the skin’s microbiome. This type of soap does not distinguish between the beneficial and harmful microbes living on your skin. Especially in recent years, you’ve likely noticed a barrage of antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers hitting the market.
While the world attempts to manage a widespread public health event, it has become even more common to see these types of products everywhere. Usually, these are promoted as a way to ensure you and your family are protected from dangerous microbial life. However, while this seems logical on the surface, the fact is that our skin needs to maintain these beneficial microbes. Otherwise, it is unable to maintain a healthy microbiome. If we don’t, there are no good bacteria to help ward off harmful bacteria and viruses.
Avoid Antibacterial Soaps
Soaps and other products that are labeled “antibacterial” can not distinguish between “good” and “bad” bacteria. Instead, they destroy as many microbes as possible. This makes sense at times. For example, if you need to ensure a sterile environment for laboratory work, medical procedures, or other less-common specific applications. But for daily life, using antibacterial products on a regular basis will harm your skin’s microbiome and potentially negatively impact your immune system, leaving you more susceptible to infection.
One suggestion to ensure that you are washing up in a safer way is to replace all of your daily-use antibacterial soaps and sanitizers with more thoughtful alternatives. Castile soap is a wonderful all-purpose product that can be purchased in liquid or bar form, in a variety of scents and recipes. You can use it for washing your body, hair, pets, dishes, laundry, floors, and anything else that needs disinfecting.
Support Your Skin’s Microbiome With Probiotics
Another option for hand and body wash is to choose a soap with added probiotic benefits. This means the soap actually includes beneficial microbial life in its ingredients. This can help to diversify your own skin flora. We are excited to offer our growing line of Lacto-Soap-Cillus as one such option, with both liquid and bar formulations available in several different scents. These bona fide all-natural and vegan soaps were one of our very first original products. And, we are very proud of our recipe. Our soaps are made using beneficial lactobacillus and bifidobacterium probiotics along with skin-loving organic coconut milk, as well as coconut, castor, and rice bran oils, and our original bokashi blend for added probiotic benefit. Of course, we also include a healthy dose of love in every batch. I mean, that is the most important ingredient of all, right?
While your skin microbiome is only one small part of your overall health, it is an important one to consider. WIth the skin being the largest organ in the body, taking proper care of it ensures fewer pathogens entering and wreaking havoc on the skin, immune system, or other parts of the body. If you have any questions or suggestions for future products or articles for our educational hub, please send us a message. We love to hear from our friends!