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The skin microbiome – what is it and how to support it?

Sofia Latif skin microbiome

An introduction to the skin microbiome. Photo by New Africa

In recent years, the importance of healthy bacteria in the gut and how we can promote this has become more widely recognised. We’re now looking to learn more about its role across the body, empowering us to make choices which are kinder to ourselves, inside and out. Today we are giving you an introduction to the skin microbiome and how you can take extra special care of it for happy, healthy skin…

 

WHAT IS THE SKIN MICROBIOME?

The skin is the largest organ your body has and its microbiome is a unique, protective layer which is invisible to the naked eye. It’s home to billions of microorganisms called skin flora which work to keep the skin looking and feeling healthy by communicating with the immune and digestive systems. Collectively, these produce skin nutrients and lipids, regulate pH (the skin is normally acidic, inhibiting pathogen growth), determine your skin type (dry/oily/combination/sensitive) and prevent unwanted organisms from passing through the skin’s barrier.

The skin microbiome can become imbalanced (called skin dysbiosis) which leads to a weaker, damaged skin barrier; this can then reduce tolerance, impact the levels of transepidermal water loss (when water evaporates from the skin’s surface) and increase exposure to certain skin conditions (such as rosacea, acne, eczema, contact dermatitis, allergies and psoriasis), environmental toxins, sensitivity, inflammation and infections. A variety of internal processes, external lifestyle factors and using products which are gentle on your face and body can all contribute to a balanced microbiome and in turn, glowing, resilient skin. So, how can you make sure you are supporting the skin microbiome?

 

You might also like to read: What Does Healthy Skin Mean To You?

 

TOP TIPS FOR SUPPORTING A HEALTHY SKIN MICROBIOME

  • Minimise products with preservatives, particularly at night. Preservatives are used in products containing water to prevent mould from forming, however they can also kill healthy bacteria on the skin. By keeping products with these in to a minimum, you enable the skin microbiome to thrive and do its work. Check the ingredients list of the products you are using, and if it contains water then it will contain preservatives. A long shelf-life indicated by no expiry date is another clue.

 

  • Choose SLS / sulfate free skincare. SLS stands for Sodium Lauryl Sulphate which is known for being a drying and foaming chemical as it strips the skin of all bacteria, leaving it exposed. Although it is currently deemed ‘safe’, this synthetic ingredient (often found in cleansers) has been proven to compromise the skin’s barrier by altering pH, as well as having an impact on the environment (for example, Palm Oil is used to produce SLS but for this, the forest ecosystem has to be destroyed). Choosing products which are free from sulphates is good for the skin microbiome and our wonderful planet.

 

  • Opt for plant-oil skincare products which are rich in essential fatty acids and antioxidants. These will support a healthy skin barrier by nourishing it, leaving it looking and feeling much plumper. We’re not able to naturally produce EFAs in our bodies so we need to obtain these through our food and skincare. As we get older, we find ourselves needing more of these for increased elasticity, softness and protection.

 

  • Be mindful of the impact of topical products prescribed for skin conditions. These can increase the physiological process of transepidermal water loss – something which is usually regulated by the body. As a result, the skin becomes very dry and even dehydrated. To avoid this, use topical products minimally and only in the area(s) required. We do not recommend the use of topical steroids for skin conditions due to the way it compromises the skin’s barrier (skin thinning), and ability to heal itself.

 

  • Look for clinically-proven probiotics and prebiotics skincare. Probiotics (live bacteria) and prebiotics (bacteria food) can help maintain microbe health, thus keeping the skin microbiome balanced by taking care of skin flora. Clinically-proven probiotics and prebiotics supplement our bacteria, while others can be used by harmful bacteria; therefore, it’s important to look at which your skincare contains. Don’t forget, you can also support the gut microbiome with probiotics and prebiotics from the foods you eat and certain supplements.

 

  • Avoid over-scrubbing and exfoliating too frequently. While exfoliating is great for removing dead skin cells and revealing a fresh layer, doing it too often can damage the skin microbiome, leaving it more vulnerable. The skin regenerates itself, however over-exfoliation can hinder this. For radiant skin and a healthier skin barrier, we also recommend using warm (not hot) water, being especially gentle when cleansing in the morning and patting your skin dry rather than rubbing it.

 

  • Maintain a healthy diet. As the gut microbiome plays a part in functions throughout the body, it is important for the skin that we are receiving the nutrients we need from within, in the form of what we are consuming. This means regularly eating a balanced diet with lots of fresh foods, plenty of water and enjoying a little of whatever we fancy every now and again. It’s also good to know any trigger foods which exacerbate any skin issues you have.

 

  • Let a little dirt in. From time to time, we need to let our skin and gut microbiomes be a little exposed to germs to increase microbial diversity. It is possible for us to be excessively clean which ultimately damages the microbiome, reducing its effectiveness. We can best achieve this by avoiding heavily antibacterial components.

 

  • Protect your skin with SPF. Discover more about this in this post.

 

You might also like to read:  Why I Believe In Healthy Skin And Not Perfect Skin

 

HOW DO YOU SUPPORT A HEALTHY SKIN MICROBIOME?

We’d love for you to tell us in a comment below.

 

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