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Why your skin microbiome is so important to your health

A woman standing in a field wraps her arms around herself.
Diana Kelley Levey
Diana Kelly Levey January, 03, 2020

Runner, dancer, baker, adopted dog mom, wisecracker (or jokester)

You know how important it is to take care of the skin all over your body, but when's the last time you gave serious consideration to your skin's microbiome? Doesn't sound familiar to you? No worries — not many people have heard the term!

Your skin microbiome (also called skin microbiota) is an ecosystem of bacteria on the skin's surface. It works to guard you against pathogens that could affect your skin and overall health. When your microbiome is balanced, your skin looks and feels healthy. However, it can become unbalanced when there's more harmful bacteria than helpful bacteria, leading to issues like dryness and itching.

Here's everything you need to know to keep your skin's defenses strong.

A balanced microbiome is crucial to your skin health

It's no surprise that when you look good, you feel good. Not only does a healthy skin barrier protect you from foreign invaders, it helps prevent evaporation to keep skin supple and hydrated. When the skin's protective barrier is compromised and the microbiome becomes unbalanced, it can make skin vulnerable to a variety of issues.

Your skin — your body's largest organ — is home to millions of fungi, bacteria and viruses that make up the microbiota. Similar to your gut microbiome, the skin microbiome is in charge of keeping you healthy and safe.

Typically, if you're a healthy adult, your skin microbiome will remain stable over time, even despite environmental fluctuations, pollution, sun damage and minor scrapes. However, it is possible for the barrier to become compromised and lose its natural balance.

Portrait of beautiful woman is cleaning her face while looking in the mirror in the bathroom.Yes, some bacteria is actually good for you!

Although it might seem like using an antibacterial soap to get rid of bacteria on the skin's surface would only be a good thing, these soaps don't differentiate between good and bad bacteria — they simply remove all bacteria! Accordingly, overusing antibacterial soap can actually cause an imbalance in the skin microbiome.

This can make you more susceptible to germs. Banishing good bacteria from your microbiome can play a role in flare-ups of rosacea, atopic dermatitis, psoriasis and acne.

People who suffer from rosacea understand just how harmful a compromised skin barrier can be. Research published in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology shows that an unbalanced microbiome may be linked to intestinal bacterial overgrowth, which causes an inflammatory response that leads to the development of rosacea.

Working your way to a healthy skin microbiome

You've probably already heard a ton about the gut microbiome, but did you know that it influences the skin microbiome? It's true! Eating healthy, fiber-rich foods — ones that build good gut bacteria through fermentation — can boost the skin's ability to fight off bad bacteria and retain moisture.

If you aren't sure that your skin's microbiome is healthy, or if you have some skin issues that you think could be solved with a stronger safeguard against pathogens, consider changing up your diet.

To start, encourage microbial diversity by promoting healthy gut bacteria and eating healthy foods. Focus on foods that contain prebiotics (like oats, onions, leeks, garlic, soy milk and legumes) as well as foods with probiotics (like yogurt or kefir) to stimulate beneficial skin bacteria and address acne. You may also want to consider trying probiotic supplements, as research published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition shows that they may help prevent and treat skin diseases.

You've heard it before but it's worth repeating: Healthy skin starts on the inside! Following a nutritious diet can give your skin the tools and resources it needs to protect your body from harmful pathogens, keeping you healthy and feeling great.

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