The Skin Microbiome—Everything You Need To Know

Posted by Darcee Rabinowitz on

Your skin microbiome: what it is—and why it's important.

The skin microbiome is the community of microorganisms that live on the skin. It’s made up of tiny organisms that share space and resources to thrive. Our skin has the potential to be a diverse habitat for a range of species. Nearly one trillion living microbes can be found per square centimeter of our skin! Most of these microbes are bacteria, with a smattering of fungi thrown in for good measure.

The skin microbiome is a living collection of microbes—such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses— that inhabit the surface of the skin. These microbes can vary widely in composition depending upon their location on the skin and things like genetic makeup, diet, and lifestyle choices. 

Despite these differences, two similarities endure: They tend to thrive in acidic environments—the skin’s optimal pH level is around 5.5—and they collectively number about 1.5 trillion in total. And while the notion of billions of unseen visitors may be unsettling, they’re not just friendly: they’re hardworking, essential elements of skin health.  

The largest population of microorganisms lurks on the palm of your hand and the bottom of your foot. When it comes to other areas, different body parts have their unique microbial populations. For instance, the face harbors different bacteria than your back or buttocks (both NBD). A flourishing colony of microscopic life can also be found within your hair follicles and oil glands.

What does the microbiome do to your skin?

We know the skin microbiome functions in several important ways. It helps maintain the skin’s acidic pH balance, inhibiting the growth of “bad” bacteria. Harmful bacteria thrive in alkaline environments and can cause eczema and acne. The skin microbiome creates a physical barrier against foreign pathogens.

This relationship is more than skin-deep, too: emerging research around the immune system and the skin microbiome reveals that the two systems communicate with each other, engaging in “cross-talk” to inhibit and manage inflammation. The dynamic between microbes and the immune system is still being explored but has tremendous implications for immunity.

Surprising Causes Of An Imbalanced Microbiome in your Skin.

The microbiome plays a vital role in keeping your skin healthy, but it can also become imbalanced if you don’t take good care of it. The most common signs of an imbalanced skin microbiome include redness, bumps, flaky skin, whiteheads, and blackheads.

The human body contains around 100 trillion cells, but only around 1 trillion bacteria and fungi reside on your skin. These numbers vary depending on where you live and how much time you spend indoors versus outdoors. In general, the more time spent outdoors (and away from strong air conditioning or sunlight), the higher concentration of good bacteria in your skin will be — so long as you are eating well overall!

How can you support a healthy Skin and Microbiome?

One of the most dazzling aspects of the skin microbiome is that it is utterly unique to the individual—much like a fingerprint, no two are alike. Yet a common aspect of all healthy skin microbiomes is a flourishing diversity of microbes. We can support—or hinder—the growth of skin-supporting beneficial bacteria through simple, thoughtful decisions. For example, products with synthetic preservatives—meant to ward off “bad” bacteria—can also kill off the good bacteria and fungi that encompass our microbiome, dismantling this living ecosystem in the process. 

The composition of the skin microbiome varies considerably from person to person and shifts over time in response to a wide variety of factors, including age, genetics, gender, ethnicity, diet, medications—even time spent outdoors. Given this complexity, researchers have yet to determine what an ideal is.

Similarly, formulas with harsh detergent soaps can alter the pH level of the skin, thus making it less habitable for friendly flora. One study shows that most conventional soaps have a pH level between 9-10—far above the optimal skin pH balance of 5-5.5. Furthermore, existing healthy bacteria can be supported with products that contain either prebiotics (fertilizer for bacteria) or probiotics (live bacterial elements). As such, seeking out personal care products that preserve the skin microbiome is a simple first line of defense to caring for skin flora.

Microbiome Infection: what it is and how to prevent it — Aureus bacteria and your and the aureus skin colonization. 

 Skin microbiome infection is an increase in the quantity of certain bacteria on the skin. This can be caused by genetics or antibiotics, and it’s often related to acne or eczema. Various treatments are available for skin microbiome infection, but the best treatment is prevention!

Aureus skin colonization is when a person's skin microbiome gets changed by the presence of the bacteria, causing an infection. Antibiotics can control the bacteria, but it can become more complex if not appropriately treated.

​​Aureus is the most common bacteria on the skin, found in approximately 30% of healthy people. It's usually harmless but can cause a rash if it gets under your skin. In rare cases, Aureus can infect your blood and cause serious illness.

Aureus bacteria can be prevented by keeping your hands clean and away from your face. This means:

  • wash your hands regularly, especially after touching surfaces or other people.
  • use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water are unavailable.
  • Avoid touching your face as much as possible (especially if you have a cold) since this is where aureus bacteria tend to end up when they enter the body through the nose or mouth.

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