As the largest organ of the human body, our skin is home to millions of bacteria, fungi and viruses. Known as the skin microbiome, these diverse micro-organisms play essential roles in protecting the skin against diseases.
By Michelle Tan
What is the skin microbiome?
Think of the skin microbiome as a balanced, selfregulating ecosystem that protects what’s good and prevents what’s bad from “attacking” the skin. Kind of like a protective shield from extra-terrestrial beings, if you will. It functions quite similarly to the gut microbiome, where a mixture of different microorganisms work together to keep our digestive system running smoothly.
The skin microbiome stays alive from the salt, water and sebum produced by the skin. In turn, it produces vitamins, hormones and chemicals that affect not only your skin, but also your mood and even your immune system.
“Ok, so the skin microbiome contains bacteria. Isn’t bacteria bad for my skin?”
Not all bacteria is bad – skin flora plays a beneficial role in maintaining the complexion’s appearance and health. Thankfully, the skin’s environment is not conducive for bad bacteria. Its naturally-acidic pH and anti-microbial qualities make it difficult for bad bacteria to thrive on the skin’s surface. Furthermore, the good bacteria that already lives on your skin helps fight off incoming threats.
Ideally, our skin microbiome should stay stable, even through environmental changes, pollution and sun damage. However, over time and due to constant aggressions, the protective barrier (where the microbiome lives) can become compromised and go offbalance.
“’What happens if the skin microbiome is disrupted?”
If you feel a stinging or burning feeling after cleansing or applying skincare, your skin microbiome is calling out for help! As the protective shield weakens, our skin becomes vulnerable to a multitude of skin concerns like sensitivity, dryness, rashes, bumps, and more. If left untreated, this can lead to long-term issues like eczema or acne!
One of the most common causes is due to the use of antibacterial skincare products. Yes, they effectively remove bad bacteria, but also take away the good bacteria! As a result, if the microbiome is left bare, it’s easier for flare-ups to happen. It’s a vicious cycle, really – the more you try to remove bacteria from your skin, the more volatile the protective barrier gets, and the less healthy the skin microbiome becomes.
“What are the benefits of having a healthy skin microbiome?”
When your skin microbiome is balanced, you’ll notice a natural radiance to your complexion. Your skin also becomes less likely to get inflamed, which means you’ll see an improvement in sensitivity and acne too! Over time, when the skin microbiome becomes healthy and stable, you’ll enjoy the benefits of having skin that’s easier to take care of. And when your skin is happy, you’ll definitely look and feel happier.
“How can I take care of my skin microbiome?”
- Overcleanse your skin – harsh cleansing ingredients in skincare products could potentially kill the good bacteria that lives on your skin, or render the healthy environment unsuitable!
- Exfoliate too regularly with harsh scrubs or chemical peels. This creates micro-tears on the skin, which becomes an open invitation for bad bacteria! Instead of rubbing skin dry with a towel (we’ve all been there!), use a gentle, patting motion.
- Skip sunscreen as UV damage can affect the environment that good bacteria prefers. Too much sun exposure can also fast-forward the production of lines and dark spots.
- Stay hydrated by drinking at least 2 litres of water daily. Hate drinking water? Add slices of fruit into a large water bottle instead of a glass, and make a conscious effort to finish it by the end of the day!
- Practice healthy eating habits as what happens in your gut can affect your skin. Consume a diet that is rich in healthy fats, vegetables, protein and fiber to help your gut bacteria, which may in turn help your skin microbiome. Focus on prebiotic-rich foods (oats, onions, leeks, garlic, soy milk, legumes) and probiotic-rich foods (yogurt, kefir).
- Be gentle to your skin. Create a sustainable “safe space” for good bacteria to grow and fight off the bad guys that have invaded your skin’s surface. Whenever possible, choose simple yet nourishing skincare products like the ones from our “natural & naked skin” routine.
Ingredients that can damage the skin microbiome:
Sulfates – Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), commonly used in foaming products like cleansers, shampoo and detergent, is known to irrtate skin if left on for long periods of time. It strips skin of its natural oils and moisture!
Alcohol – If caring for your skin microbiome is your priority, avoid skin-damaging alcohols like denatured, SD, isopropyl or benzyl alcohol. There’s a misconception that acne-prone skin needs to be treated with alcohol, while in truth, alcohol simply deterioriates the protective barrier.
Chemical UV absorbers – While oxybenzone and avobenzone are often used as chemical sunscreen filters, they are banned in certain countries due to the risks of these chemicals absorbing through the skin, causing irritation and hormonal disruption, which can wreak havoc on your skin microbome.
Synthetic fragrances – One single fragrance note is made up of hundreds (if not thousands) of compounds, any of which could trigger a reaction on your skin! If you already have sensitive skin (which denotes a weakened skin microbiome), reactions like redness, itching and dry patches will be more severe.