Think of your microbiome as your skin’s very own invisible guardian angel
Skin and its microbiome are the perfect example of a mutually beneficial or “symbiotic” relationship. The skin provides its resident bacteria, fungi and archaea – the sum total of its microbiome – with everything they need to survive: warmth, moisture, sources of carbon and nitrogen, minerals and trace elements. And in exchange, the microbiome constantly interacts with the skin to help maintain its optimal health.
What does my skin’s microbiome do for me?
- It contributes to your skin’s defensive or barrier function— the layer of lipids and of course bacteria that prevent allergens and irritants from penetrating the skin and causing inflammatory reactions.
- By outcompeting harmful organisms (pathogens), your microbiome helps prevent infections such as thrush caused by the fungus Candida or impetigo caused by the bacterium S. Aureus.
- Your microbiome regulates your skin’s immune system to control inflammation and prevent excessive reactions, making it a key player in managing sensitive, reactive or allergic skin.
A balanced microbiome: Nature’s own anti-inflammatory
Like the gut, skin has its very own ecosystem of commensal or friendly bacteria. Every day, these bacteria are revealing new and beneficial functions: one of the most interesting areas of research is the “cross-talk” between skin microbes and the immune system.
Immune cells are able to differentiate between friendly resident bacteria and those with the potential to cause disease, thanks to handy sensors called Toll-like receptors. When exposed to helpful bacteria, they send out “peace signals” in the form of anti-inflammatory messenger molecules such as interleukin 10, which like to keep everything chilled, calm and happy within the skin – and that means no more pulling, itching, stinging, burning!
Your microbiome: A fragile ecosystem often stripped by modern living
Mounting evidence suggests that many skin complaints – even severe inflammatory disorders like eczema and psoriasis – can be linked to an imbalance in the delicate ecosystem at your skin’s surface. The reason why? Our microbiome is highly vulnerable. The populations of microbes living at skin’s surface are assailed by all kinds of stresses in modern life – UV, pollution, stress, antiseptic washes... Result: the diversity of skin’s bacterial species begins to dwindle, and skin suffers the consequences:
- Immune deregulation
- A defective physical defense barrier
- Increased pathogenic species
How can I care for my microbiome?
The idea of supplementing your gut flora with live yoghurts and other pre- and probiotic agents is now widely accepted. Today, skincare is moving in the same direction. Modern approaches to skincare are all about caring for the microscopic companions at the core of your skin’s health.
1. Schommer NN, Gallo RL. Structure and function of the human skin microbiome. Trends Microbiol. 2013;21(12):660-8.
2. Grice EA, Segre JA. The human microbiome: our second genome. Annu Rev Genomics Hum Genet. 2012;13:151-70.