What Is The Microbiome?
The microbiome is the new "buzz word" in the skincare industry as of late. But what exactly is the skin microbiome and how does skincare effect it? A microbiome is simply the collection of microorganisms; bacteria, fungi or viruses that live on the surface of our skin. There are over 1,000 different bacterial species and up to 80 different fungi species live on the skin. Most are found in the superficial layers of the epidermis and the upper parts of hair follicles.
These microorganisms vary depending on the amount of light exposure to a particular area and whether the area is moist, dry, hairy, or oily. The microbiome differs with age and gender also, for instance, a hormonal teenage boy who is active in sports is very different microbiome than a sedentary, postmenopausal woman.
What Does the Skin Microbiome Do?
- Communicates with our immune system - We once thought that our microbiome only existed on the surface of the skin and that the deeper dermal layers were sterile. We now know that's not true. In 2013, scientists did a deep dive into the dermis looking for microbes, which were found all the way to the subcutaneous fat layer. While the researchers noted that more studies are needed, it appears that the most intimate communication between the microbiome and our immune system takes place at this layer.
- Protects us against infection - From what we can tell, a healthy skin microbiome protects against infection in much the same way a good gut microbiome does: by crowding out the overgrowth of pathogenic organisms. The skin microbiome prefers a relatively acidic environment (pH is around 5.0), which also inhibits the growth of pathogens.
- Tempers inflammation - The microbiome and skin immune system "talk" to each other regularly, dampening inflammation. When the microbiome is out of line, the immune system can release various antimicrobial peptides such as cathelicidin to help balance things out. Likewise, our good bacterial residents can inhibit the release of inflammatory compounds from the immune system.
- It might reduce the incidence of autoimmune diseases - Newer research in mice suggests that in early infancy, the skin microbiome is involved in inducing "tolerance," which researchers hypothesize may reduce the incidence of autoimmune diseases later in life. Antibiotic exposure that damages the skin microbiome in infancy may compromise the development of tolerance, allowing for the development of autoimmunity.
- Protects us from environmental aggressors - The microbiome also aids in wound healing, limits exposure to allergens and UV radiation, minimizes oxidative damage and keeps the skin plump and moist. In fact, new research shows that it can protect us from melanoma. The study found that when mice with the bacteria Staphylococcus epidermidi were exposed to cancer-causing UV rays, they developed significantly fewer tumors than the mice without it.
Is Cleaner Better?
With all these bacteria floating around one would think that cleaner skin is better but in reality we may be doing more harm than good by being "germ-phobic".
You're probably familiar with the idea that excess cleanliness and loads of antibiotics and other medications can damage the gut microbiome and could increase the risk of allergy and autoimmunity, among other issues. This is called the "hygiene hypothesis," and there's a lot of research to support this important concept.
It is the same for the skin microbiome. Excess use of antimicrobial hand sanitizers and soaps contributes to skin dysbiosis and antibiotic resistance, thus stoking various skin conditions. An imbalanced microbiome, or skin dysbiosis, is associated with many diseases, including psoriasis, allergies, eczema, contact dermatitis, acne, poor wound healing, skin ulcers, dandruff, yeast and fungal infections, rosacea, and accelerated skin aging. The microbiome and skin immune system, when healthy and balanced "communicate", reducing inflammation. When the microbiome is out of line, the immune system can release various antimicrobial peptides to help balance things out. Likewise, good bacterial can inhibit the release of inflammatory compounds from the immune system.
How Can Skincare Help?
Topical prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics can balance the symptoms from inflammatory induced skin conditions. These supplements are known mostly for helping with gut health when ingesting prebiotic or probiotic-rich foods or supplements but topically they mimic a wound-healing response without being overly aggressive to the skin or causing inflammation. They also stimulate the action of live microorganisms, balancing the skin's good and bad bacteria, thus resulting in healthy and balanced skin. Check out more about the benefits and differences between prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics on our blog page and to find your perfect, skin healthy and microbiome balancing skincare regimen take our GLOWBIOTICS skin quiz.