The microbiome is the collection of the microorganisms living on and in your body. These microorganisms are actually essential for your skin health and their diversity is key. To ward off harmful microorganisms, your skin maintains a harsh climate; it’s dry, acidic, and lacks nutrients.
Good microorganisms need to be resourceful and adaptable if they want to earn a spot on your skin. They make use of sweat, sebum (oily secretions from your skin), and other bits in the skin’s structure to survive.
Crucial to your immune function
All these microorganisms living on our skin are in constant conversation with the skin’s tissues to keep a healthy balance. Cells in your skin perform background checks on microorganisms around them to identify bad ones. The cells work with good microorganisms to kill off any dangerous creatures.
This means that microorganisms like bacteria are always protecting you from outside threats.
They fight pathogens, fungus, and parasites which may cause diseases or infections. We can also thank them for combating inflammation and helping our skin repair itself.
Is there good and bad bacteria?
It’s hard to label a microorganism as completely beneficial or harmful. Studies have identified high populations of bacteria like S. epidermis and P. granulosum living on individuals with healthy skin. At the same time, the overgrowth of a single type of bacteria, even if it’s considered “good,” can lead to skin diseases.
More than anything, your skin craves balance and a diversity of microorganisms.
The microbiome is under attack
Throughout the past few decades, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in skin diseases and allergies:1- More than a tenth of the US population suffers from eczema.
2- Acne in adults is also increasing, affecting up to 15% of women.
3- More than half of the US population has sensitive skin.
Environmental factors are becoming a huge threat to our skin’s health, whether it’s the sun’s radiation, urban pollution, or compounds in our environment. Urbanization and less contact with nature also prevents our bodies from being exposed to a diversity of microorganisms. All of these outside factors can influence the microbiome, causing inflammation and skin conditions.
Even the products we apply to our skin can silently destroy the balance of our skin’s microbiome!
We’ve been taught to fear bacteria, generously applying chemicals and antibiotics to our skin. Ingredients like preservatives and essential oils can be found in most soaps, cosmetics, and other hygiene products. By definition, many of these ingredients are antibacterial so they could affect your skin microorganisms and can alter your skin’s balance. But what if we want to protect this precious environment instead?
Keeping it balanced
Knowing how crucial the microbiome is to your skin’s look, feel, and function, why not work with it?
This means avoiding excessive preservatives, fragrances, essential oils, soaps and opting for products meant to keep it healthy and balanced.
A revolution of skincare respectful of the microbiome is underway; let’s welcome products that actually recognize the diversity of our skin’s microorganisms. Time’s up for ingredients that indiscriminately wipe out bacteria whether your skin needs it or not.
What if instead of suppressing the natural life in your skin, products could protect them? This is what ELSI is fighting for.
by Mariana Giraldo, Mechanical Engineering student .
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S.L Prescott et al., 2017
The skin microbiome: impact of modern environments on skin ecology, barrier integrity, and systemic immune programming
A.L. Byrd et al., 2018
The human skin microbiome
B. Dréno et al., 2016
Microbiome in healthy skin, update for dermatologists
B. Dréno et al., 2017
Skin microbiome and acne vulgaris: Staphylococcus, a new actor in acne
M. Grönroos et al., 2018
Short‐term direct contact with soil and plant materials leads to an immediate increase in diversity of skin microbiota
American Academy of Dermatology
Skin conditions by the numbers
M.S. Reisch, 2017
Cosmetics: The next microbiome frontier