You might have heard the word microbiome before, and - just a guess - you've probably thought the microbiome exists in the gut, and the gut only.
There are around 100 trillion bacteria in the human body. 1 trillion of these exist in the skin. The skin is the body's largest organ, and its colonised by a diverse array of microorganisms - most harmless, or even beneficial, to the skin's health. Obviously, the skin plays a huge role as protective barrier for our bods and what's inside them. But it's also our interface with the outer world - and, hence, is home to microorganisms including bacteria, fungi and viruses.
From the moment we enter the world, our skin is colonised. And, from there, the 'colony' on our skin - our skin's microbiome - is shaped by our lives. For instance, our age, where we live, the hormones we produce, our occupations, the clothes we wear, the products we use on the skin, the ultraviolet light we're exposed to, and the antibiotics we use all shape our skin's microbiome and the variety of microorganisms that make it up.
Not only does our skin protect our bodies by supplying an outer layer to the insides: our skin also plays a role in our immunity. The skin's immune response is vital in wound and infection healing, but it also helps to modulate its microbiome: despite constantly being exposed to so many microorganisms, the skin can distinguish between what's harmless and what's harmful, and deal with it accordingly.
But if it can't deal with it properly? If the harmful outweighs the good? Several skin disorders, including eczema, acne and psoriasis, are partly a result of skin immune dysregulation - we know this because, clinically, many skin conditions improve with antimicrobial treatment.
So, how can we look after our skin's microbiome? Here are my top tips:
1. P R O B I O T I C S
Just like probiotics work for our insides, so too can they work wonders for our skin. Probiotics are basically supplemental beneficial bacteria, and, when applied to the skin, work to treat skin conditions and restore balance to the microbiome. Try a DIY probiotic mask: mix the contents of your probiotic (which you're of course taking anyway!) capsules or sachet with some coconut oil.
2. G U T G O O D N E S S
Heard of the gut-brain connection? The gut's connected to just about everything in that bod of yours: including your skin. Fill your gut with health: plenty of prebiotics (think fibre-full onion, garlic, leek, asparagus, artichoke, nuts + seeds), probiotics (a supplement and/or some kefir/kombucha/sauerkraut), and organic whole foods. Happy gut = happy life (skin included).
3. L O S E T H E C L E A N O B S E S S I O N
That addiction to 'clean' of yours - the hand sanitiser overuse, the harsh cleaning products, and the full-strength antibacterial hand washes? Yeah, chances are they're probably not doing much good for your skin's microbiome. Opt for natural, non-toxic instead. And don't stress about getting a little dirt on those hands in the garden from time to time!
4. W O R K U P A S W E A T
If there's some healthiness going on inside, there's a good chance it'll come through (like, literally. Through your pores in the form of sweat!). Healthy sweat will act as a bit of a prebiotic skin treatment. And - this goes without saying, but - working up a sweat with some regular exercise is wonderful for your physical and mental health in sooooo many ways generally.
5. D E - S T R E S S
Just like with our internal health, stress can negatively impact our skin's health. Even at the microbiome level. Take time regularly to work on managing your stress levels: whether it be a yoga or meditation class, practising mindfulness, journalling, a dip in the ocean, some exercise, or speaking to a psychologist or counsellor (something I personally believe anyone and everyone could benefit from). Goodbye, stress breakouts. Hello, healthy skin microbiome!
Are you caring for your inner + outer microbiomes?
E Grice, J Segre, 2013 'The Skin Microbiome'
E Grice, 2015 'The Skin Microbiome'
Mind Body Green