The Low-Down on Our Skin Microbiota
I know that biology class was ages ago for most of us. But our skin microbiota is actually an interesting and mind blowing concept that can be really beneficial to understand. It’s not the most popular or the most talked about topic in the skincare industry, so this will be the 411 on everything you need to know about the skin microbiota.
- The skin microbiota is essentially a population of thousands of microscopic bacteria that live on and within the surface of the skin, feeding off of your body’s natural oil production and dead skin cells.
- These organisms are completely normal and harmless. Usually, if you haven’t noticed any sudden changes, your skin’s microbiome is just fine.
- Maintaining a solid skincare routine and a balanced diet is the best way to ensure that your microbiota has no disruptions, but always talk with your doctor and stay up to date on lab work and screenings to catch any abnormalities early on.
What is skin microbiota?
Let’s begin by breaking down what exactly it is we’re talking about. The skin microbiota, also known as skin flora, refers to the microorganisms that live on the skin. While these microorganisms are not exclusive to human skin, they mainly exist on humans rather than on other organisms. These microbiotas essentially feed off of your skin’s natural oils such as sebum and sweat and even dead skin cells.
Microorganism sounds like a terrifying term, but all it really means is bacteria. In fact, these bacteria actually benefit the skin. Because they reside and thrive on the skin’s surface, just like any bacteria, they are receptive to any sort of foreign substances that they encounter. So when other microbes land on the skin, they have the ability to outcompete and kill off the potential pathogenic infection. And the thing about bacteria is that there are too many types to name.
According to data and researchers, there are over 1,000 different species of bacteria from nineteen phyla living on the surface of all of our skin right this second. The majority of these microbiotas live on our skin’s surface layer which is known as the epidermis, and they often live within hair follicles and pores.
What does a healthy skin microbiota look like?
The good news is, while learning about the skin microbiota may freak you out, if you’ve never known about it or been talked to about it by a doctor, you’re probably in great shape and have a healthy biome. But for those like me, who are obsessed with making sure their skin is healthy in all aspects, even the one regarding microscopic organisms that live on my face, you more than likely want to know what signs to look for to make sure that your microbiota is in great shape.
There isn’t necessarily one thing that determines if your skin microbiota is in good condition, but there are some warning signs that you can look for:
- Local rash
- Inflammation of hair follicles
- Smooth spots of discoloration
- Small raised bumps
- Swollen or inflamed skin that itches or burns
How do imbalances appear?
As mentioned previously, if you’ve never known or noticed your skin microbiota, and you’ve never had a skin issue or concern that you couldn’t quite seem to put your finger on, chances are your natural microbiome is doing just fine on its own and there’s no need to worry.
Sometimes outside factors can affect your skin microbiota. Certain things such as introducing new foods or ingredients into your diet, antibiotics, exercise, and hygiene routine can trigger a disruption in the microbiome.
As with anything in health, sometimes your body has responses to things that seem out of nowhere. Your skin microbiota is no different. Genetics can play a huge role in any sudden changes to the surface of the skin, and disturbances to the microbiota have been linked to other diseases such as Alzheimer’s, various cancers, and autoimmune diseases.
Making sure that you see your doctor regularly can save you from stress and discomfort in the future. By staying up to date on any medical tests or treatments, it is much more likely that the medical staff can pick up on any abnormalities or sudden changes and provide a treatment plan quickly.
How do I maintain and care for my skin microbiota?
Again, many health issues stem from a variety of reasons, several of them being genetic or uncontrollable. Caring for your skin microbiota is nothing new. Doctors and experts recommend lifestyle changes and consistency in your daily routine. The human body doesn’t like change, just like it doesn’t like foreign objects. The more consistent you are in developing a routine, the better your overall health will respond, including the skin biome.
Researchers and scientists obviously recommend eating a healthy, balanced, and well-rounded diet. While this is nothing we haven’t heard from doctors before, the relationship between your diet and your skin is rooted in your gut.
You may have seen a trend of gut health focus going around on social media recently. In the past year, many people have taken their experiences and self-proclaimed expertise to the internet to share their personal gut health journeys and transformations. The improvements appear in several aspects of life and your body, but one unexpected benefit is healthier skin. Healing your gut through a more balanced and unprocessed diet can do wonders for your skin. It is said to cure acne (even hormonal breakouts), help dark spots and sun damage, and give you a glow from within.
Although many researchers state that genetic factors play a larger role in the health of the skin microbiota, maintaining a solid skincare routine that works for you is always important. Avoid using any ingredients that are too harsh or cause irritation, keep an eye out for your moisture barrier, and, as always, never forget to apply sunscreen!
As promised, this unfamiliar and potentially unsettling topic is not as bad as it seems. You are an organism yourself, and you are made up of millions of other organisms, some just happen to live within the pores on your face. But there’s nothing to fear. These microscopic bacteria are supposed to be there, so do not try to get rid of them by using non-researched products and methods. Stick to a healthy skincare routine and make that doctor's appointment you’ve been putting off. Your microbiota will thank you!
Written by Jordan Hammaren