If we told you that your skin is covered in a layer of bacteria, we’d forgive you for feeling a little grossed out. Well, it’s true, we’re all living with our very own personal population of skin-dwelling microbes and caring for them has never been more important or more trendy. With brands starting to dedicate more research into this previously ignored part of your complexion, here’s what you need to know about your skin’s microbiome and how to keep it balanced.
OK, what is your microbiome?
In the simplest of terms, your skin is covered in what is best described as a bacterial eco-system. Billions of tiny microorganisms live on the surface of the skin together to create what is known as a microbiome. We have five different microbiomes living in different areas of the body, with the gut microbiome being the most famous. Every human being’s microbiome is unique, but the same principles apply: a balanced microbiome is a healthy microbiome, which means a mix of both good and bad bacteria is key.
Why is it important?
On the skin, your microbiome has a number of jobs, but its main role is that of defence. By covering the surface with beneficial bacteria, it supports the epidermal barrier and prevents bad bacteria and toxins from penetrating the surface and causing your body harm. When your skin’s microbiome becomes unbalanced or depleted, it can make the skin barrier weak and easier to overwhelm, which can lead to issues such as inflammation, dryness, sensitivity, eczema and acne developing.
What causes the microbiome to become unbalanced?
There are a number of things that can cause the scales to tip in favour of bad bacteria. Lifestyle choices, such as poor diet and stress, exposure to high levels of pollution, illness, over cleansing the skin and using products that aren’t pH balanced can all cause the levels of good bacteria to drop, leaving the skin barrier open to invasion. Using too many anti-bacterial products such as soaps and strong acne treatments can also cause problems, as these make the skin uninhabitable for all bacteria, not just the bad stuff.
Which products should I use to maintain my skin’s microbiome?
Just like doctors recommend taking pro- and prebiotics to maintain good gut health, using products formulated with these ingredients topically can go a long way to improving your complexion. Probiotics are strains of good bacteria that encourage the production of more good bacteria on the surface, making the skin a more harmonious environment to live in, while prebiotics are the nutrients that these good bacteria feed on. You should also use gentle cleansers and barrier-respecting formulas to prevent washing away your skin’s entire bacterial eco-system. Look for products that are also pH balanced. The skin functions best with a slightly acidic pH; something around 4.5-5.5 is best, so avoid skin care that is too alkaline, especially if you have blemish-prone skin.
Try the Exuviance Probiotic Lysate Anti-Pollution Essence, which easily fits into any existing routine and uses a bacteria found in yoghurt to balance the skin and support the epidermal barrier. Another good addition to your routine is the new Medik8 Balance Moisturiser, which combines a high-performance blend of prebiotics and probiotics to rebalance the microbiome and keep breakouts at bay.
Image from iStockphoto