By Carla Oates
We frequently speak about the importance of fostering a robust and diverse gut microbiome in order to maintain immunity, boost brain health, improve our skin and enjoy overall wellness and vitality. And the scientific research to support these claims is also mounting which continues to excite and delight!
But for optimal health, beauty and wellbeing, there is also another microbiome that we must consider and nurture: our skin microbiome. Just like our gut, our skin is home to a complex ecosystem consisting of trillions of bacteria, fungi and viruses that impact how it looks, feels and functions. And similarly, keeping it in balance is of the utmost importance as this biodynamic and ever-evolving barrier is essentially our first line of defence against both inflammation and infection from pathogens.
As our largest organ, we know how our skin can give us a true insight into the state of our internal health—but the signs and symptoms we see in the mirror, can also be an indication of something amiss within our skin microbiome. Read on to discover why our skin flora is so important for glowing skin—as well as the factors that can impact and impede its function…
The Role Of The Skin Microbiome
Put simply, our skin microbiome acts as a protective barrier—and it’s main function is to act as a sort of go-between from our body to our external environment. As such, when it is functioning optimally and well-balanced—with a healthy ratio of good bacteria and bad bacteria—our skin will reward us with a well-hydrated, deeply moisturised, firm, smooth and even complexion. On the flipside, when our skin’s microbiome is out of balance and we experience ‘dysbiosis’, it can manifest in a number of ways and lead to symptoms as diverse as dryness, breakouts, acne, eczema, rosacea and psoriasis. An imbalance of microbes may also contribute to visible signs of ageing such as loss of firmness and elasticity, reduced hydration, dullness, uneven skin tone and fine lines or wrinkles.
It’s also important to note that our skin microbiome does not act in isolation and just like the gut-brain axis—where our gut and brain communicate with one another via the vagus nerve—our gut and skin also converse via the gut-skin axis. This pathway is bidirectional and as we know, our gut microbiome plays a key role in regulating and modulating our immune system, so any alteration or impact on our immune response can promote inflammation and the development of skin issues.
Factors That Impact Our Skin Microbiome
In the same way our gut microbiome can be influenced and impacted by both internal and external factors—so too can our skin’s microbiome. Our busy modern lifestyles are much to blame for imbalances in our skin including the foods we eat, our over-sanitised and hyper-hygienic state of being (especially since the recent pandemic), our reduced exposure to fresh air and time spent in nature with soil-based microorganisms as well as the topical products that can strip and disrupt our delicate ecosystem.
How To Support A Healthy Skin Microbiome
The good news is that to support and foster healthy, glowing skin we can nurture and nourish our skin microbiome in a number of ways. Here are some simple do’s and dont’s…
DO maintain a healthy skin barrier
The best way to do this is to ensure your skin is well-hydrated and properly moisturised. This is especially important if you experience skin dryness or inflammatory skin issues like eczema, rosacea or psoriasis where the skin barrier has been compromised. A nourishing facial oil rich in antioxidants like vitamins A, C and E can help to maintain moisture, while prebiotic, probiotic and postbiotic formulas can also help to fortify and feed the beneficial bacteria on your skin whilst simultaneously suppressing the proliferation of pathogenic varieties. ‘Biotic’ skincare also helps to reduce inflammation—helping to ameliorate inflammatory skin issues. Our bestselling Probiotic Skin Refiner is a good example of a toner that gently exfoliates, hydrates and strengthens the skin’s protective barrier.
While practising good hygiene is, of course, important—you need to also ensure that you’re not removing all the bacteria (both good and bad) from your skin. When cleansing, opt for gentle formulas that don’t strip your skin of its sebum and natural oils —as these lipids help to moisturise and maintain your skin’s natural barrier function—and avoid harsh sanitizers, antimicrobial and antibacterial cleansers, soaps and products packed with preservatives that strip the skin. Likewise, harsh chemical exfoliants that remove dead skin cells and all skin bacteria from the skin’s surface can contribute to increased irritation and sensitive skin. A good rule of thumb is, if your skin feels squeaky clean, it’s probably not the right skincare product for you.
DO consider your diet
Given the close relationship between our gut and skin, it’s essential to also focus on eating a nutrient-dense, wholefoods-based diet that’s low-HI (human intervention). Variety is also the spice of life when it comes to our nutritional needs—and helps to foster microbial diversity which is arguably one of the most important factors in developing a healthy, thriving gut microbiome. As such, eat a range of foods including fibre-rich plant foods which contain prebiotic fibre to feed our beneficial bacteria such as onions, garlic, leeks, bananas and leafy greens. These foods also act as an intestinal broom which sweeps through our digestive tract and the anti-inflammatory by-products they produce when they ferment in the large intestine are known as short-chain fatty acids—which studies show not only strengthen our intestinal barrier, but support immune, metabolic and skin health. Other foods to consume regularly include gut-healing foods like bone broth, healthy fats like omega-3 essential fatty acids which help to keep our skin moisturised from the inside out—as well as antioxidant-rich plants which contains a wealth of vitamins and minerals to combat free radical damage and protect the skin from further assault. The more colourful the better, too, so think beetroot, blueberries, red cabbage, papayas, sweet potatoes and cruciferous varieties.
DON’T overexpose your skin to external aggressors
And finally, while it’s certainly impossible to completely avoid the assault from the external stressors we face daily—minimising your exposure to UV rays, pollution, excess chemicals and toxins, cigarette smoke as well as reducing stress and getting enough sleep can certainly help to minimise the damage. Essentially these external factors produce free radicals which contribute to oxidative stress—a process which damages cells and your DNA—and is connected to accelerated ageing of the skin and body. While free radicals are also naturally produced due to normal metabolic processes, external aggressors can certainly ramp up their production! Likewise, topical skincare products that contain synthetic ingredients, chemicals and toxins can also disrupt the balance of your skin’s microbiome so it’s essential to opt for Certified Organic and 100% natural formulas that nourish and protect your skin, rather than stripping and disrupting its natural barrier system.