The Skin’s Microbiome

Understanding and protecting our largest organ


The skin’s microbiome is a carefully balanced ecosystem of bacteria, viruses, pH levels, and other symbiotic microorganisms. This helps keep the body protected, educated, and youthful. The microbiome of the skin is something that was normally left to the scientist to discuss and postulate about. However, now with more advanced technology and DNA information we are able to learn more about the 1.8 million delicate ecosystems that exist on a single human body.

The idea that we have millions upon millions of bacteria, viruses, fungi and yes even mites is enough to make anyone want to vigorously wash their face and place it under a blue, bacteria killing light. But we need all those miniscule creepy crawlies to stay in good health. In utero the skin is sterile, and it is not until birth that we are exposed to bacteria and fully develop our microbiome. Once this version of our microbiome is established it only begins to flourish and change throughout our lives as it serves within the barrier function.

Microbiome research is only going to continue to grow as it is recognized as a big part of health and disease diagnosis.

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The skin is our first line of defense from any invading pathogens. Just as well the microbiota of the skin will be influenced by many things such as DNA, sex, environment, diet, bodily location and product usage.  In shorthand, if your skin’s microbiome is weakened most likely so is the barrier function and therefore open for mitochondria invasion.

The first layer of the microbiome resides on top of the “brick and mortar” stratum corneum. Here is where it begins to teach young T-cells what immunity should look like as well as fight off anything that is not part of that regional ecosystem. The most common bacterium on the body is staphylococcus and corynebacterium. This is on account that sweat glands cover the entire body and create the moist environment these pathogens thrive in. Even though the skin is typically cool and acidic, the distinct habitats are created by skin folds, thickness, and the density of hair follicle, sweat and sebum glands.  So how does one protect the delicate flora and fauna of our body’s first line of defense?

Protecting the Skin’s Microbiome

Being mindful of the cleansers is this first step in keeping the skin healthy. Staying away from cleansers that use harsh surfactants to strip away not only dirt but protective oils as well. These ingredients are typically alcohols, sulfates, and fragrances. These can disrupt the barrier function and weaken it by causing dryness and inflammation. Cream cleansers are much gentler on the skin and can help keep the moisture balance intact. Calming moisturizers, antioxidants, and sunscreen are also important in protecting the skin’s barrier function. Disruption of the microbiome is typically the first indication of dermatologic difficulties causing inflammation, aging, acne, eczema, and seborrheic dermatitis. Studies are showing that “feeding” the skin prebiotics are useful in cultivating the useful microbiota: the idea that the skin microbiome can be fed and maintained like microbiomes found elsewhere such as the stomach and intestines.

Microbiome research is only going to continue to grow as it is recognized as a big part of health and disease diagnosis. Being able to manipulate the skin’s microbiome as well as understand what impacts it will provide us with many more products and methods to treat skin problems!