The microbiome of your skin protects against external influences and controls the absorption of nutrients. Find out here why caring for this skin barrier should become a must in your beauty routine.
"Healthy skin is anything but squeaky clean," says New York dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe on the dirty truth behind a robust skin microbiome. Just like the gut, the skin has its own unique ecosystem of bacteria, fungi, and viruses that affect how it works. Keeping it in balance is critical to a hydrated and glowing complexion. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, where the ultra-hygienic atmosphere makes us think more about how our skin interacts with its surroundings, experts explain what the skin microbiome is and how to properly care for it for happier, healthier skin.
"The microbiome of our skin refers to the trillions of microscopic organisms, mostly bacteria, that live on and in the various layers of our skin," explains Bowe. "A healthy or 'balanced' skin microbiome is like a diverse rainforest - the more tribes that coexist, the healthier the skin." According to Alison Cutlan, a green chemist and co-founder of the sustainable pro-microbiome skincare brand Biophile, the skin's microbiome is created at birth, unique like a fingerprint and in constant communication with its environment and our skin. "Our microbes are responsible for protecting our skin from pathogens, controlling skin immunity, regulating nutrient absorption, and supporting our skin barrier," explains Cutlan. "I like to say that the skin microbiome is something like the control center or the 'life force' of the skin."
Although still in its infancy, skin microbiome research has sparked a whole new understanding of skin biology and shifted the paradigm of how we care for our skin and develop healthier products. "Skincare must work in symbiosis with the skin and its microbiome in order for it to thrive," says Cutlan. "That's a new benchmark."
When it comes to the health of our skin microbiome, it is especially important to focus on the health and diversity of our skin barrier. "It acts as an intelligent, protective shield, the main function of which is to act as the interface between the body and the outside world," explains Bowe. "When it is healthy and functioning optimally, it acts like a biodynamic membrane, constantly making decisions about what is allowed to penetrate the skin and what is blocked. A healthy barrier traps moisture and keeps irritants and potential pathogens out." In other words, a healthy barrier protects against both inflammation and infection.
If, on the other hand, even one strain in our skin microbiome gains the upper hand and begins to displace the others, this leads to "dysbiosis" or an imbalance. Bowe calls this imbalance "leaky skin". When it occurs you start to see problems in the skin. "Leaky skin can manifest itself in different ways, depending on the genetic makeup of the person, such as acne, eczema, rosacea, psoriasis," explains Bowe. "However, it can also show itself to be sensitive skin and even accelerate the aging of the skin, such as loss of elasticity, uneven elasticity, and wrinkling."
It's the way we live today and how it affects our skin microbiome that inspired Cutlan to start a microbiome skincare brand. "Our modern lifestyles, including what we eat, excessive hygiene, the products we use, and our reduced exposure to nature, have decreased our microbial diversity, making us more prone to dysbiosis, which is linked to inflammatory skin conditions such as dryness, overproduction of sebum, breakouts, redness and inflammatory conditions. " Cutlan also notes that research showed that our overall bacterial diversity has decreased dramatically compared to that of our ancestors.
"COVID has of course led to a hyper-hygienic atmosphere," explains Cutlan. She cites the example that by washing hands daily with soap and/or using disinfectants to reduce viral infections, we have also robbed our skin of its natural oils and the healthy bacteria that protect our barrier. "Our skin is not adequately prepared to deal with these harsh treatments, and that created a lot of irritated and sensitive skin problems," she says. Mascne, the irritation, and breakouts caused by wearing face covers is another pandemic phenomenon that has led to new standards of cleanliness. "It has resulted in face masks being washed more frequently and the number of facials that target acne, such as detox facial cleanses, antibacterial and probiotic treatments, skyrocketing," says Cutlan.
The bottom line is that the importance of a healthy and protective microbiome on every part of the body has never been as relevant and important in people's lives as it is today. "From the barrier-supporting and acne-fighting elements of our skin to the immune-boosting power in our intestines, a healthy microbiome is our first defense against pathogens," emphasizes Cutlan.
Do: Go for gentle products with clean, simplified lists of ingredients. "When you pay more attention to your skin's microbiome, you improve the health of your skin at the source," explains Cutlan. "In fact, you may find that some of the skin problems your regimen is trying to address, such as dryness, acne, redness, and wrinkles, are actually caused by your product use." When the skin barrier is compromised, Bowe recommends focusing on nourishing ingredients like aloe, jojoba oil, shea butter, and squalane oil.
Don't: Don't use harsh ingredients (synthetic or natural) or don't over-treat the skin. "When cleaning, avoid harsh surfactants that strip the skin of its natural oils and denature proteins," says Cutlan, pointing out that natural bar soaps are known culprits, as they have a high pH that renders the naturally low pH Interferes with the value of the skin and promotes the growth of pathogenic bacteria. Also, be careful with irritating ingredients (synthetic or natural), such as preservatives, essential oils, and other chemicals, in the products you apply afterward.
Do: Optimize your care. Cutlan's motto is: Less is more. "The 10-step skincare rituals expose our healthy skin to hundreds of chemicals that place severe stress on the skin and the microbiome, creating imbalances, sensitivities, and increased skin problems," she warns. With that in mind, Bowe advises against layering active ingredients that are potentially irritating. "Some of our strongest active skincare ingredients, backed by mountains of evidence of their skin benefits, are known irritants and if used incorrectly, they can weaken the skin barrier," she says, adding that you also get what is known as "recovery nights." "should plan, d. H. Nights when you don't use harsh ingredients and focus only on moisturizing and nourishing ingredients. She also insists on skipping any aggressive physical peeling steps. "Throw away your facial scrubs and electric facial brushes - manual exfoliating tools and products are terrible for sensitive skin," she explains. "They destroy the healthy, sensitive skin barrier."
Don't: Use drying alcohols on your face. "They're often found in tonics, and people with acne or oily skin love the way they degrease the skin, but it comes at a tremendous price," says Bowe. "These drying alcohols damage your microbiome and thus your skin barrier as well." According to Bowe, desiccant alcohols are often listed on labels as SD alcohol, denatured alcohol, ethyl alcohol, or isopropyl alcohol. On the other hand, moisturizing alcohols or fatty alcohols such as cetyl, stearyl, and Cetearyl alcohol are good for the skin. "These alcohols are called emollients, which means they keep the skin hydrated and plump - the opposite of what you might expect when you see the word 'alcohol' on the label," says Bowe.
Do: Incorporate pre- and post-biotics that support a healthy microbiome. "These ingredients can help maintain and rebalance the microbiome so the skin can recover faster from dangerous ingredients," says Cutlan. He recommends using ingredients that are obtained through fermentation, such as B. bacterial lysates and filtrates, which contain rich secondary metabolites that nourish the skin and the microbiome. It's even better to look for a skincare brand that is certified as microbiome-friendly, like Biophile or Dr. Elsa Jungman.