What if I told you that you have a silent friend that is with you all the time, placing a beautiful, sheer, protective barrier around you. This friend creates the barrier by hosting billions of warriors, that are invisible to the naked eye, and these all work together to protect you as you interact with the world.
Pretty amazing to visualize, right?
Well, this microscopic army is a real thing. It is not a figment of the imagination and science finally has access to give it the attention and study that it deserves.
Get acquainted with your microbiome
You may already be familiar with its close relative, the gut microbiome, because the wellness movement has been steadily educating the public on how gut health affects the body. We have been learning that our bodies are ecosystems that harbor a microbial universe and within that are microbiomes (collections of microorganisms in a particular place).
The gut microbiome is the entire collection of microorganisms in the gut. Within this education, the connection between the microbiome and our health has been agreed on almost universally. Good gut health has been confirmed as integral to all other physical functions and organs.
In response, our grocery stores have flooded with probiotics, prebiotics, and there is a universal emphasis on consuming fresh foods to help our guts maintain a balanced intestinal flora for optimal overall health.
But have you heard of your skin microbiome?
Recently, the microbiome study elevated to another organ, confirming without question, our protective friend with its microscopic community exists. This protective layer has been fighting for us without any public fame or attention and its time to shine has come.
This silent hero is the skin microbiome and it needs our help.
How was the skin microbiome discovered?
Back in 2009, when I graduated as a holistic esthetician, the skin’s layers were a fundamental part of the course work. During Esthiology Science you learn that the skin is made up of 3 layers.
Original layers of the Skin
As you delve deeper into these layers you discover there are actually 7 layers. These layers converge to help us feel and interact with the world around us, they help regulate our temperature and protect us from countless interactions within our environment.
The epidermis is the uppermost layer of skin, the one you can see and feel on the surface. It is made up of 5 distinct layers. This collection of layers are in charge of making new skin cells, preventing evaporation of water and giving skin its appearance (including texture and color).
It is also home to diverse special cells that send messages to your brain, provide protection against abrasion and friction, and are an integral part of your immune system to keep you healthy.
The dermis has a handful of functions that include sweating to keep you cool and detox your system, it helps you feel the world around you by using nerves endings to send signals to the brain, it sustains your hair growth cycle, it makes oil to keep your skin soft, smooth and waterproof, and it brings blood to feed your skin and carry away toxins via blood vessels.
The subcutaneous fat layer
The bottom layer of skin is the subcutaneous fat layer. In addition to working alongside the dermis blood vessels to maintain appropriate body temperature, this layers’ fat cells act as a cushion against physical trauma to internal organs, muscles, and bones.
In times of starvation, the body will utilize this fat to provide power to its various processes, especially brain function, strengthening your chances of survival when you need it most.
New outer shell – skin microbiome
Science is now studying a new ecosystem, the skin microbiome. With consistent discoveries in science, it is not surprising to me, a mere 10 years after my cutting edge training in Esthiology Science, we are learning there is an additional part of our skin I never learned about in school.
It seems crazy that a part of the body we see and interact with every day has even more to discover. How is this possible?
The skin's flora
Recent breakthroughs in genetic testing have given scientists the ability to amplify and distinguish between the diverse flora on the skin. This new insight has advanced research of the skin microbiota, confirmed an outer biome exists and proven it is home to millions of microorganisms.
This collection of flora support your skin’s ability to serve as a barrier between your body and the outside world. With the study of this ecosystem, it is becoming increasingly clear that similar to the gut microbiome, balancing the skin microbiome can be the key to clear skin and optimum overall health.
Your skin microbiome is under attack
Personifying our skin microbiome as a microscopic protective army, with millions of warriors, is shockingly close to the truth. The skin is under constant assault from environmental agents, harsh cleansers and soaps, deodorants, chemical-laden products, and medications.
The skin microbiome is our first line of defense to keep us healthy and in balance. With new awareness that this fight is happening, we can now be conscious to make ensure our actions are supporting its ability to protect us.
Top 5 ways to support the skin microbiome for healthy balanced skin
Now that science has insight into this amazing ecosystem, how to support it is becoming clearer.
1. Green your products > non-toxic or bust
We must stop adding chemicals and toxic ingredients onto our skin! This might seem like an obvious one to you since most readers here are well informed about the effects of toxic ingredients in skin care. However, this is not limited to skin care.
Making sure we aren’t using harmful ingredients, which our skin is not equipped to fight, is an integral part of supporting the skin microbiome, as well as the overall health of the body.
What does ‘greening your products' include?
Greening your products includes all products your skin is in contact with. This list includes skin care, body care, hair care, oral hygiene, cleaning products, sanitation solutions, and laundry detergents among others.
Going completely non-toxic can seem like an overwhelming feat but I promise if you take one product or one category at a time and find pure alternatives as you go, you will decrease your exposure with each product you replace and eventually you will replace them all.
As an amazing byproduct, committing to truly non-toxic simplifies my shopping experience and vetting new products is now a breeze.
2. Avoid over cleansing + exfoliating
Our obsession with cleanliness and exfoliation is doing more harm than good for microbiota balance on the skin. If we are constantly sanitizing our hands, cleansing our skin more than twice a day and/or exfoliating every day we are removing good bacteria and microorganisms, resulting in an out of balance ecosystem.
When our skin is out of balance we are more susceptible to infection, irritation and other undesirable skin conditions can show up.
Keep your skin's protective barrier in tact
I still cringe when I think back to the skin care marketing years ago that encouraged the public to desire “squeaky clean” skin after cleansing. Your cleansing method should never strip the skins natural protective barrier so much that it leaves you with a tight, dry (squeaky clean) surface. I also feel the current trend to exfoliate the skin every day falls into this category.
Your ultimate goal should be hydrated, balanced skin. Scientifically we know that over-cleansing or over-exfoliating will affect your skin’s acid mantle and make it difficult for your skin to hold onto water moisture.
Be kind to your microbiome
We now know this also throws your skin microbiome out of balance and the possible negative consequences for this are exponentially worse for your overall health and wellbeing.
With this in mind, be kind to your microbiome. Use a pH balanced cleanser and exfoliate as a treatment for the skin, not a daily regimen.
3. Consider your skin contact items
Consider what your skin comes into contact with beyond products. An example is your cosmetic brushes. Yes, you now have another reason, besides the concern of acne, to cleanse your brushes!
These harbor microorganisms and each time you use them the levels grow. Do yourself a favor and get into a habit of washing your brushes. Your skin microbiome thanks you.
How about your clothes?
‘Green your products' already covered the detergent you use. Beyond that, you should consider the fabric you wear regularly. Interestingly, researchers have investigated microbial growth in synthetic vs. natural clothing.
They have found that synthetic materials harbor bacteria that are not native to or are out of balance with the human skin ecosystem, while the microbial communities found in natural fibers mirror the skin microbial communities.
In addition, synthetic clothes bind and collect bacteria at increasing levels compared to natural fibers. [Study: It is known that polyester and acrylic fibers bind Gram negative and Gram-positive organisms at ratios exceeding 80%, whereas cotton fibers bind these organisms at ratios less than 10% (6). Synthetic textiles have been shown to collect more bacterial mass than cellulose-based textiles (7).]
Yikes! This is one I have yet to commit to 100%. Any fabric with stretch contains synthetic components so this one is hard. Awareness is key though. I do the best I can with this one for now and keep my eyes out for natural fiber alternatives as they are released.
4. Get a little dirty
The idea that you should “air out” your home holds true here. Making sure that your indoor environment isn’t a petri dish of microorganisms that build and circulate is important.
For others, the fear of germs, bacteria and other microorganisms motivate them to create a very sterile environment. This is actually not a healthy alternative. Your body is a host to these microorganisms (hello gut and skin microbiomes). So, the idea you should sterilize everything would, theoretically, include your microbiomes.
We now know the importance of these organisms and it should be our job to keep them in a healthy balance. Studies show that households that use chlorine-based sanitizers and cleaners have kids with higher incidence rates of viral infections, allergies, asthma, and other immune dysfunction.
Bring the outside inside!
The more you can develop a healthy microbial environment in your home, the better it is for all the inhabitants of the home. One of the ways of doing that is with a dog. Studies have shown that kids in households with dogs have lower incidence rates of allergies because dogs bring in bacteria from the environment and inoculate your house with these good bacteria.
In addition to airing out your home, getting outside into nature, interacting with the earth physically by playing in the sand at the beach, going barefoot in backyard dirt or getting your hands in soil as you tend a garden all have been shown to boost our skin microbiome and help keep it in balance.
5. Build your microbiome
Internal probiotics and prebiotics, in the form of supplements or food, work to balance the skin’s ecosystem as well as the gut microbiome so you get double the benefit for your efforts.
In addition to the numerous sources of probiotics in food, consider a skincare regimen that includes probiotic ingredients to promote a healthy skin microbiome.
Probiotic skin care
The research is still coming in showcasing the results associated with skin care products that house probiotics. Some question if it is possible to have an effective stabilized probiotic in a skin care formula that can live in your cabinet.
Others show clear proof of the positive effects these formulations have on the skin. I recommend looking at the other ingredients in the product. If the other ingredients will boost your skin health then the product is a winning formulation even if the probiotic itself remains certain.
Ingredients to watch for
Note that there are diverse options formulated in skincare with varying effects. Lactobacillus Ferment Lysate is said to balance skin pH and strengthen the skins moisture barrier.
Lactococcus Ferment Lysate is said to strengthen your skin's natural defenses against free radicals. Filiformis is a postbiotic that is said to help balance your skin's microflora and improve hydration.
Taking charge of our skin health
I am excited by the continued advances in science that bring about new discoveries like the skin microbiome. With each new insight, we gain greater tools to take care of our health.
With these tools we can counterbalance the environmental and urban life agents that are so at odds with our body’s ecosystem. With increased education and awareness, I truly believe we can live healthier, longer, more energized lives. Cheers to that!
Skin Microbiota and Your Health
Skin Microbiome: Have You Heard of It?
The Skin Microbiome: Our Body’s First Line of Defense
The Skin Microbiome
The human skin microbiome
Papers: The Human Skin Microbiome
The 5 Layers of Your Skin
The Layers of Your Skin
Diversity Of Culturable Bacteria On Natural Vs Artifical Fabrics
Why Probiotic Skin Care Is Worth The Hype, According To Experts
THE TRUTH ABOUT PROBIOTICS: GET TO KNOW YOUR GUT (WITH AN EXPERT!)
Recently nominated for an Aestheticians' Choice Award by Dermascope magazine, with features on multi-media outlets of Channel 5 News, Daily Candy and Bella Sugar, Bokhara Lashi is humbled by the recognition and inspired to continue her mission to cultivate wellness, organic beauty and healthy habits…
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