The term microbiome is often associated with our gut health and gut flora but did you know that your skin also has its own microbiome? This wonderful ecosystem that lives on our skin is unique to each person and is highly adaptable. It is affected by internal and external factors and has a direct relationship with your immune system. Hugely diverse and variable, your microbiome is mostly made up of microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses and fungi. Each of these plays a part in protecting you by;
· Fighting Infection – by keeping your skin acidic, harmful bacteria cannot thrive.
· Supporting your immune system by alerting T cells to harmful bacteria.
· Healing wounds and controlling inflammation – Again signalling the immune system to be activated or deactivated.
The types of microorganisms you will find is dependent on where on the body you are looking. Each region has its one dependant strains. For example, in the groin, toe webs and armpits you are likely to find strains of S. Aureus and gram-negative bacilli, whereas on the face, back and chest you can find predominantly Propionibacterium spp and Malassezia spp.
Harming the natural balance
So we’ve gathered that the microbiome is important and unique to you but we know its variable and can be influenced, sometimes not for the better. Disruption of the microorganisms living on your skin or to your immune system can results in skin disorders and infections. Aside from factors such as age, sex, living location, sebum levels during puberty and hormones which effect the microenvironment and are largely out of our control, there are other controllable factors which can be harmful to our skins ecosystem.
· Lifestyle choices such as smoking
· Air pollution
· Environmental factors
· Exposure to UV light
· How you were born e.g. vaginally or via C-section – This is to do with the mothers bacteria coating the skin within the vaginal canal...or not if you were a C-section baby like me and born into a sterile environment!
When these factors cause our skin to go into an imbalance (dysbiosis), certain health conditions can occur;
· Eczema (atopic dermatitis) – Over colonisation of S. Aureus (See my previous blog post on this)
· Seborrheic dermatitis – A fungal skin disorder affecting the scalp caused by over colonisation of Malassezia.
· Acne – Common through puberty due to the over-production of sebum.
· Wounds that won’t heal – This happens when the skins pathogens break through the skins barrier and become pathogenic causing prolonged inflammation.
Unfortunately, it cannot be said that these conditions are solely caused by skin microbiome dysbiosis as there are so many other contributing factors…isn’t this always the way! If you do suspect that your condition may be due to an microbiome dysbiosis, I’ll explain below some things that may help you achieve equilibrium.
What we can do to maintain the balance
It can be hard to change the specific make up of our skin microbiome when we’re older but there are ways to support it and help to regain and maintain balance.
· If you are suffering from a skin condition you suspect is due to a dysbiosis, try a topical anti-microbial. When I was suffering from Topical steroid withdrawal, I used an anti-microbial skin wash for a while that helped to alleviate some of the smell my skin was emitting. Just be conscious to use a gentle product that won’t sting your skin and make sure its an anti-microbial/ anti-fungal and not an anti-bacterial as this can further dry out and damage skin. The one I used contained natural ingredients such as tea-tree oil.
· Use microbiome friendly skin care products. Many skin care products will strip your skin of its natural balance of microorganisms so it may be beneficial to use a brand that are consciously supporting your ecosystem like Gallinee. This French skincare brand is owned by Dr Marie Drago who suffered from an autoimmune inflammatory skin disease which she managed to heal using a prebiotic and probiotic diet. However she has been left with sensitive Atopic skin and has now founded a skin care brand which focuses on restoring the skins natural microbiome using pre and probiotics. I am fortunate enough to be an ambassador for this brand and by using the code IMOGEN15, you can treat yourself to 15% off!
· Do not over wash your skin, let your skin have a chance to restore its natural balance itself.
· EAT MORE FIBRE – This is something we all need to be doing and could easily be a blog post all in itself. There is lots of exciting research emerging concerning the gut-skin axis and just how much the microbiome in your gut affects that of your skin (as well as so many other things). By eating more fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, nuts and seeds you will be providing your gut bacteria with the food it needs in order to support your overall wellbeing.
· Get into Nature – Exposing ourselves to dirt and fresh air is another easy, accessible way to promote your health and the health of your microbiome. I’m planning to do a blog post in the future on the benefits of dirt so get yourself outside!
· Quit smoking … need I say any more on this.
· Identify your triggers! I’ll say this one until I’m blue in the face. If you have an inflammatory skin condition, you must take a pro-active approach in identifying your own personal triggers. Your skin is showing you that something is wrong on a deeper level. These could be environmental triggers such as dust or pet dander, they could be dietary such as lactose, cows milk protein allergy, wheat ect or it could be psychological such as stress and anxiety. These are so personal to you and could even change from one day to the next so be aware, keep a symptoms tracker/ diary and if you’re really struggling, work with a professional such as a Dietitian.
So there we are, a little scratch on the surface about our skin microbiome. There really is an incredible amount of information out there and I had trouble stopping myself from writing an essay here! IF you do have any questions please get in contact with me either through the contact form or DM me on Instagram!
Happy Tuesday Everyone x
Grice EA, Segre JA. The skin microbiome. Nat Rev Microbiol. 2011 Apr;9(4):244-53. doi: 10.1038/nrmicro2537. Erratum in: Nat Rev Microbiol. 2011 Aug;9(8):626. PMID: 21407241; PMCID: PMC3535073
Pathak, N. (2021, April 04). What Is the Skin Microbiome? Retrieved from Web.MD: https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/skin-microbiome