What is the skin microbiome?
By now, most of us are well aware of the importance of gut health and the gut microbiome. You’ve possibly added kombucha and Greek yoghurt and some daily probiotic supplements into your diet to improve the balance of good bacteria in your gut microbiome.
What you may not know, but which is now getting a lot of attention from scientists and dermatologists – is how the skin microbiome is just as important for our health.
Your body is a living planet and the skin microbiome is the community of tiny inhabitants that live on your skin.
This invisible community of microbes are a diverse bunch - a mix of viruses, bacteria and fungi, viruses and mites – and we have as many as 40 different species per individual.
When your skin microbiome is balanced, with lots of diversity and “good bugs,” you are rewarded with healthy, happy skin.
When the microbiome is out of balance, you will experience something known as “dysbiosis.” This is when certain bacteria – the pathogenic kind - take hold and start causing havoc with your skin. The technical names for some of these bad bugs are Staphylococcus Aureus (linked to psoriasis, eczema, impetigo, athlete’s foot), Staphylococcus epidermidis and Propionibacterium acnes (linked to acne).
The purpose of the skin microbiome is to work with your skin’s immune system to protect the body against infections and injuries.
The microbiome works with the other components of our skin barrier – the acid mantle and lipid barrier – to protect the skin and shield our body’s internal issue from the outside world.
The acid mantle sits below the microbiome, and it provides the right pH (around 5.0) to nurture the right microbes. Then equally, the microbes help balance the acid mantle by contributing fatty acids.
The Skin Immune System & Microbiome
The immune system of the skin is our first line of defence against infection, but one that is complex and intricately controlled. The immune-microbial relationship is crucial here, the keratinized skin cells, immune cells and microbes all integrate to maintain a healthy skin barrier and immune system.
The immune system relies on the microbiome to educate it and to recognise inhabitants as a friend or foe. Think of the microbiome as the sentry in the Meerkat world, keeping an eye out and warning of any predators to keep its community safe.
The skin microbiome influences the skin immune system. They are intrinsically linked. And both play an important role in protecting our skin & skin barrier function.
How we mess with our microbiome
Modern life is at constant battle with our skin’s microbiome.
Hand sanitiser and antibacterial soap have become essential items lately, but they strip all the bacteria, bad and good from our skin. Antibiotics do the same…we’re essentially throwing the baby out with the bath water.
Only the strong species survive, but that doesn’t make for the diverse ecosystem our microbiome needs in order to operate in full symbiosis with our immune system. Our skin barrier becomes weakened and unable to defend the things our healthy one could – resulting in inflammation and skin issues such as acne and eczema.
Much bigger than that, overall microbiome health is also linked to diseases such as obesity, diabetes, anxiety, food allergies, asthma and even some cancers. More research is still to be done in these areas, but it’s an indication of how integral the microbiome is to our whole-body health.