Your skin has some pretty unique properties. It renews itself every 28 days (although the time between cellular regeneration gets longer as you age), and It helps control body temperature through sweat. It produces vitamin D, essential for immune, skin, and bodily health, at up to 10,000 IU in just 20 minutes. This also contains about 1,000 species of bacteria, amounting to trillions of microorganisms on your skin.
Before you panic, not all of these bacteria are bad. Most of them help support your skin barrier and even play a role in immunity. Your skin’s bacteria is generally referred to as its microbiome.
You’ve likely heard of your skin microbiome, but what exactly is it, how do you keep it healthy, and what causes it to get out of whack? Welcome to the ultimate guide to your skin’s microbiome.
What Constitutes the Skin Microbiome?
The skin microbiome is the term used to refer to your skin’s unique mix of bacteria, fungi, and viruses, most of which are bacteria. Although the word “bacteria” has gotten a bad reputation, the microbiome is anything but bad. It actually helps protect the skin and plays a crucial role in skin barrier health, immunity, and aging.
Let’s break down each of these functions a little.
Skin Barrier Health
The microbiome helps keep the skin balanced by secreting enzymes, which allows it to renew itself every month or so through cellular turnover. The microbiome also helps regulate oil production and skin pH, which support a healthy skin barrier and reduce yeast on the skin, too much of which can be problematic.
Your skin is essentially a barrier of protection. The skin microbiome protects against harmful bacteria with its own bacteria (who said you couldn’t fight fire with fire?) and contains immune cells that prevent infection. When your skin barrier is breached, your microbiome plays a role in initiating an immune response.
By helping to maintain a healthy skin barrier, the skin microbiome can help reduce the effects of aging. Healthy sebum production, skin cell renewal, and immunity can all play a role in healthy skin aging and reduced damage such as scarring, hyperpigmentation, and wrinkles.
Your skin really couldn’t do without its microbiome—it plays a significant role in skin homeostasis by working closely with the skin barrier and your immune system, allowing your skin to have a healthy balance and glow.
How Your Skin’s Microbiome Can Get Out of Whack
You start developing your skin microbiome at birth, getting bacteria from your mom as you are born. The microbiome continues to grow throughout childhood and the teenage years but becomes relatively stable in adulthood. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t be damaged.
The microbiome can become damaged by getting out of balance. And this doesn’t just mean the harmful bacteria outnumber the good—it can mean there are too many good bacteria and not enough “bad” to balance it out.
What are some ways your skin’s bacteria can become imbalanced?
- Antibiotic use
Even if you’re not applying antibiotics topically but taking them orally, they can alter your skin microbiome and even have long-lasting effects.
- Living in an urban environment
Unfortunately, living in an urban environment vs. a rural one exposes the skin to more toxins, which can damage the skin barrier. Combined with reduced time in nature, urban living can decrease the bacteria diversity on the skin and, ultimately, the health of the microbiome.
- Using skincare products with preservatives
Sometimes preservatives in a product are unavoidable, but generally, the more natural you can go with your skincare, the more likely your products will support your microbiome rather than damage it.
- Harsh cleansers
Using harsh skincare cleansers can disrupt your skin barrier, which can then disturb the environment of your skin microbiome, potentially causing skin disorders and altering the skin’s immune response.
How does an imbalanced microbiome affect the skin? It can result in skin inflammation, irritation, and even skin disorders such as acne and dermatitis. Not to mention accelerated aging and less protection against pathogens—all things no one wants for their skin.
Can You Restore Your Skin Microbiome?
The good news is that even if your microbiome has become disrupted, you can still get it back on track. So how can you restore your skin microbiome to reduce irritation, slow down aging and get that healthy glow back?
1. First, Swap Your Harsh Cleanser for a Gentle One
Knowing your skin type and avoiding cleansers with surfactants such as sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) can help protect the skin and prevent more damage to your skin barrier and microbiome.
2. Second, relax
Research shows that chronic psychological stress can directly impact the skin microbiome by causing an imbalance in skin bacteria. It can also affect skin pH and bacteria diversity, resulting in a less healthy biome. So if you’re overdue for a vaca or just have been putting off asking for support, now’s the time.
3. Third, Invest in Products That Help Restore Your Skin Barrier
These include gentle cleansers as well as protective emollients and oils for your skin type. By protecting and nourishing your skin barrier, you can help reestablish your skin microbiome and prevent damage to your skin.
And finally, remember that your gut microbiome plays a role in your skin health too, so it always pays to eat healthily, drink plenty of water, get some probiotics in your diet and focus on anti-inflammatory foods and beverages to keep your skin looking its best.
Take Our Free Skin Quiz
Do you know YOUR skin type or the products that would best benefit your skin? Take our free skin quiz if it’s time to reevaluate your skin type. It’s quick and easy. It will help you find products that can support your skin barrier and microbiome instead of damaging it. So, you can have healthy, glowing skin all year long.