At the end of a long day, we tend to wash our face to get rid of any dirt and buildup that has accrued throughout the day. The act leaves us feeling fresh and clean. However, what you may not know is that, even after giving your face a nice scrub, there are still thousands of bacteria living on your skin. Sound scary? We promise, it is not as bad as it sounds. Read on for a comprehensive guide to your skin microbiome.
What is your skin microbiome?
“Microbiome” is the scientific name given to these different bacteria that live on your skin. Though terms like “bacteria” and “fungi” have negative connotations, their presence in microbiomes are beneficial to your overall health. Another common term for these microorganisms is “skin flora.” A study conducted by Heidi Kong and Julia Segre, researchers at the National Institute of Health, there are trillions of these “bugs” living on our skin at any given time. They have also identified 1,000 different bacterial species and 80 different fungal species.
There are different “colonies” of microbes on your body, so no two parts will have the same bacteria. A host of internal factors will affect what type of bacteria will grow and where. These factors include body temperature, hair growth, oil production, and skin pH, to name a few. Not only do areas of your body differ in their microbiome makeup, but each person differs as well. Just like no two body parts will be the same, no two people will have the same either.
How does your skin microbiome help you?
Our skin microbiome helps us in a number of ways. A 2013 study found that it actually goes deeper than the surface. It extends into your skin down to the subcutaneous fat layer, which is the lowermost layer of our skin. This allows it to communicate with our immune system and make sure that our bodies regulate themselves properly. It also helps prevent infections. The bacteria in our microbiome stop pathogens–a fancy name for germs–from overcrowding and overgrowing. This is achieved by the skin microbiome regulating your body pH. It prefers an acidic pH and will usually be around 5.0 on the pH scale.
The microbiome can also reduce inflammation. The presence of “good bacteria” can block inflammatory signals from the immune system because it goes so deep into your skin. The skin microbiome and your immune system actually work together by stopping one another from harming your skin. For example, if there is a disturbance in your skin microbiome and it cannot function properly, the immune system can produce “antimicrobial peptides” to do the job for it until the microbiome heals.
Your skin microbiome also plays an essential part in protecting your skin barrier. It helps produce essential skin lipids and nutrients. Lipids are natural fats produced by your skin and play a role in your skin’s natural repair process. They also strengthen your skin’s protective barrier, which is responsible for keeping dirt out and keeping moisture in.
Basically, a healthy microbiome is crucial to not only your skin’s health, but your overall physical health as well.
What causes damage to your skin microbiome?
Harsh external aggressors can negatively affect your skin’s microbiome. Ironically, certain cleansing processes are bad for it. Soaps, for example, are very basic in nature on the pH scale. This disrupts your skin flora since they prefer acidic environments. So while overwashing may make you feel clean, it may be harming your skin. Same with harsh products. Exfoliating too often, especially with harsh exfoliators, strips your skin of essential oils. However, it can also disrupt your microbiome. You are not only getting rid of essential oils, but also these essential bacteria.
When your microbiome is imbalanced, it is known as skin dysbiosis. Skin dysbiosis is a known cause for skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, acne, and accelerated skin aging. As is common with many skin conditions, your microbiome is also affected by exposure to environmental factors like how much time you spend in the sun or the cold.
Your gut health, though not directly part of your skin, also has an effect on your skin flora. This connection is still being researched and is relatively new. What scientists are finding is that what we put into our body is affecting what is outside of our body. Certain microbiota found in your gut can also be found on your skin. This goes along with the notion that your skin microbiome communicates with your immune system. Scientists have taken to calling this connection the “gut-skin axis.”
How do you keep your skin microbiome healthy?
There are a few approaches you can take to keep your microbiome healthy:
- Follow a Proper Diet: Scientists suggest foods that are high in fiber, protein, and healthy fats can have a positive affect on your gut microbiome. This, in turn, allows it to communicate properly with your skin. It is also essential to stay hydrated. It is the oldest skincare trick in the book for a reason.
- Exercise Regularly: Everyone moves at their own pace, so don’t feel the need to start running marathons. Do whatever type of exercise works best for you about 2 to 3 times a week. Sweat produces prebiotics, which “feed” your skin’s microbiome. It is a great way to keep your mind and body in shape while also giving your skin access to some dirt it needs.
- Check Your Ingredients: Whether or not you have sensitive skin, gentle cleansers are your best friend. Choose products like, body wash or hand soap, formulated with mild-surfactants. Some of the most popular mild-surfactants to look out for are sodium laureth sulfate, cocoamidopropyl betaine, sodium cocoyl isethionate, and alkyl sulfosuccinates. Also keep an eye out for products that balance your skin’s pH level.
- Wear Natural Fabrics: Cotton and bamboo are two great examples of natural fabrics to incorporate into your wardrobe. Not only do they feel great on your skin, but they also protect it. Synthetic fibers can be harsh and disrupt microbiota growth. Their rough and coarse feel irritates your skin barrier, especially when worn for a long period of time. While we all love our yoga pants, you should pick a different outfit of choice for running errands unless it is made of natural fabrics.
Your skin microbiome is home to trillions of bacteria. These bacteria and fungi are actually good for your overall health, so it is important that you take care of them. We all love to be clean, but a little dirt can go a long way.
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