Everything You Need To Know About Your Skin Microbiome
Most of us know that our gut has microbiomes, but have you heard about your skin microbiome? We caught up with Tim Mak, a biotech consultant at Trilliome and Global Alliance Manager in Redbiotec, to find out about our skin’s microbiome and why it pays to keep it healthy.
What is your skin’s microbiome?
The latest research tells us that our skin microbiome is home to “abundant and diverse” collections of bacteria, fungi, viruses and microorganisms. Scientific studies show us that the link between these microbes and us, as hosts, impacts our physical wellbeing.
As Tim explains, “the microbiome is the collection of genetic information of these microorganisms. They are invisible to our naked eye where millions of them are currently residing on our skin.”
The status of the skin microbiome determines the health and even disease of the skin. Although many of us invest time in our skincare to protect and nourish, it’s enlightening to find out just how the skin works from a scientific perspective. A healthy skin microbiome is the key.
Skin and gut microbiome, what’s the difference?
You’ve probably heard about the advantages of probiotics for your gut. They are products that are packed full of live bacteria. Now we know that the skin microbiome also has communities of bacteria on it, you can start to see the link when we talk about probiotic skincare. But more on that in a moment.
Professor Carsten Flohr, who is credited by the British Association of Dermatologists as an expert in eczema, tells us why the bacteria element of our skin microbiome is of particular interest. “Your skin bacteria and skin immune system talk to each other, and they talk to the bacteria in your gut. Just like with your gut, having a diverse balance is the key to a happy microbiome.”
Tim elaborates further. “A healthy skin microbiome has a higher diversity of the microbiome, including different species and types. The microbiome in both skin and gut is associated with health and multiple diseases.”
He goes on to add that there are crucial differences between the two though. We have a higher amount and diversity of microorganisms in our gut than our skin. Also, we have different types and species of microorganisms depending on the sites and organs.
Why is it important to balance your skin microbiome?
If you imagine your skin as an ecosystem, or as Tim puts it, “a mini jungle,” you can picture how living things interact with their environment.
Dr Richard Gallo, an expert in the subject who leads a research lab at UC San Diego, gives us an idea of the scale of this crowded, microscopic environment. “There are about a hundred species of bacteria, but thousands more strains of them.”
Back to Tim’s analogy, if our skin microbiome is like living things in a jungle, a well-balanced “symbiosis interaction” between them and our skin organ is crucial. Tim says, “the microbiome is there to educate our immune system and to protect the skin from infection of pathogens.” That means doing things like producing antibiotics.
If the balance of this interaction between microbiome and skin is disturbed, it can cause a variety of skin conditions like acne or psoriasis. External factors like exposure to UV or consumption of antibiotics can all trigger an imbalance.
Is there such a thing as skin microbiome skincare?
Across the world, start-ups have been focussing on skincare cosmetics using probiotics. The market for skin microbiome products is predicted to reach a whopping USD 37.8 million by 2025.
According to Tim, most of these start-ups have been focussing on skincare using probiotic strains, or live bacteria, for topical use. As he explains, this work similar to way probiotic yoghurts in our gut, giving us extra support and supplementation for an enhanced, healthy skin microbiome.
Some brands include Motherdirt and S-Biomedic, Galinee, and Esse Skincare who are developing products that promote biodiversity on your skin’s microbiome. Mother Dirt prides itself on being a biome friendly brand, as all of its products are infused with form of probiotic. The AO+ mist is its hero product and is quite literally alive. Along with these kinds of probiotic skincare products, some claim to have prebiotics, which are compounds that promote the health of beneficial microorganisms.
Esse seeds the skin with probiotics and feeds the skin with prebiotic nutrients to ensure an intervention in microbes that balances the ecology on the skin.
How to improve our skin microbiome
The inevitable question is how can we improve our skin microbiome? We know it’s important, but do we need to change our lifestyle or skincare routine to maintain a healthy skin microbiome?
Tim advises, “avoid pollution, eat well and take regular exercise are commonly advised for a healthy lifestyle. Moderate usage of skincare products in combination with healthy eating and regular exercise is the best way to ensure healthy skin and body.”
He goes on to say that the adage, “you are what you eat,” is the best advice when it comes to keeping a healthy skin and gut microbiome.
What about the skin microbiome, eczema and other skin conditions?
If we refer back to the insights from Dr Gallo, we hear that he’s discovered, “that some of the bacteria that live on the skin help prevent dermatitis, and that people with eczema are missing these good bacteria. Having now made a cream with the good bacteria, we’ve shown it can help people with eczema.”
As for other skin conditions, Tim adds that research has shown us that acne, “is a multifactorial disease where skin microbiota plays an important role in causing and treating it.” Similarly, other skin conditions like rosacea and progressive macular hypomelanosis have also been linked with certain bacteria in the skin microbiome.
Tim concludes, “with the scientific knowledge, we can then implement targeted approach to eliminate certain microorganisms and revive healthy skin microbiome from these diseases.”
What’s the future of skin microbiome skincare and research?
It’s little surprise that a sector of the skincare market with such exponential growth is under the spotlight. We asked Tim what the future held for both scientific research into the field, and skin microbiome products.
“The current skin microbiome research landscape has revealed several associations to skin indications such as acne and dandruff. Future research will look for functional prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics to promote skin health.” He adds, “personalised skincare regime is the current trend in the beauty industry. Soon, personalised skincare regime version 2.0 will include information of own skin microbiome to determine and recommend skin treatments or skincare routines.”
As consumers, what should you look out for though? Tim sums up, “many skincare brands in the market are making bold claims that their products are beneficial to the skin microbiome without substantial scientific evidence. We will need a better branding and marketing regulation in the beauty industry to avoid misuse of claims revolving around the microbiome. We should strive for transparency and ethical consumerism in the skincare industry.”
Tim Mak, PhD (firstname.lastname@example.org)