The importance of cultivating a healthy gut microbiome for immunity, skin health, brain health and longevity is an established fact with studies repeatedly showing that the good bugs in our gut may deliver many health benefits.
While research is ongoing, there is also growing evidence to suggest that your other microbiome – that is, the ecosystem on the surface of your skin – also plays an important role in your inner and outer health. Thinking about it might make you squirm, but it’s estimated that every square centimetre of your skin is home to at least a million bacteria along with an array of fungi, viruses and even mites. (Yes, mites!)
Along with your gut microbes, your skin bacteria affects your immunity and skin health, with your skin essentially acting as your body’s first line of defence against environmental pathogens. Your skin is also your largest organ, and the microbes on the surface of your skin are in constant communication with your gut, as well as your immune system.
Interestingly, your skin’s microbiome is about five times larger than researchers initially thought. It actually extends deep beneath the dermis to the subcutaneous fat beneath the surface of your skin, including the subcutaneous follicular surfaces of the hair follicles and sweat ducts beneath the visible surface of your skin. This diverse ecosystem helps you to ward off infections and environmental pathogens, boosts your immunity, supports wound healing and helps to keep your skin hydrated.
In a 2014 study titled, "Bacteria on the skin: Our invisible companions influence how quickly wounds heal," it was suggested that the presence of certain bacteria on the surface of an individual’s skin could influence how quickly wounds heal. The researchers concluded that while much of the current research on chronic wounds focuses on improving antibiotic dressings to prevent infection, a better understanding of skin bacteria could lead to new treatments that protect against harmful bacteria, without also eliminating the bacterial communities that may play a beneficial role.
Research has found that when the skin’s barrier is broken, increased exposure to certain toxin-producing bacteria can cause problems such as inflammation and infection. It makes sense then that your skin’s delicate microbiome can be damaged or disrupted by overzealous exfoliation, topical steroids, antibacterial soaps, sanitisers and cleansers. And the consequences of upsetting your outer ecosystem can include breakouts, eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, dandruff, dehydrated skin and heightened sensitivity.
The good news is, your skin’s unique microbial community is surprisingly stable and there are a few things you can do to protect your skin’s hard-working microbiome…(Yes, mites!
Working up a sweat a few times a week is not only good for our physical health, but one study suggests that the ammonia-eating bacteria (that are a major component of sweat) may also improve skin health .
GET YOUR HANDS DIRTY
Swedish research found that children of families who washed their dishes by hand instead of using a dishwasher, suffered fewer allergies – suggesting that exposing skin to the microbes on dirty plates had beneficial effects. Avoiding the overuse of harsh soaps, cleansers and exfoliants that can strip beneficial microbes from the surface of your skin will also help protect your outer microbiome.
CULTIVATE GOOD GUT HEALTH
Gut imbalances have been linked to skin inflammation and other skin manifestations which is why nourishing our inner microbiome is so important for our outer microbiome as well. Eating a diet rich in lacto-fermented probiotic foods (such as yoghurt, kefir, kombucha and sauerkraut) as well as prebiotic foods (fibre-rich veg), colourful fruits and vegetables and healthy fats is a great way to support your gut health – as well as your skin health.
How do you support your skin’s microbiome?