The human body hosts from 2 – 6 pounds of bacteria, meaning bacteria makes up about 1-3% of our body mass! This rich world of living microorganisms we carry is called our microbiome.
While it may seem unsettling, this living network of bacteria is quite helpful – in fact, we couldn’t live without it. Bacteria help us digest our food and assist our immune system in keeping us healthy. “Good” bacteria can keep our hormones in balance, improve our mood, regulate our weight, and keep our health strong. Good bacteria also help guard against harmful bacteria, viruses, and parasites.
The Skin’s Microbiome – A Key to Skin Health
While much of the bacteria in our body live in our gut, it’s important to know that our skin also is home to colonies of bacteria and microorganisms, The skin has its own unique microbiome that helps it stay in balance. There are about 1,000 different species of skin microbiota discovered so far – some very helpful to maintaining skin health.
Good bacteria on our skin form part of an important protective barrier. A healthy skin microbiome can help heal wounds, conveys important messages to the immune system, and defends the skin against infection and inflammation.
Skin Conditions and the Microbiome
The types of bacteria on your skin can play a role in chronic skin conditions. For example, certain strains of bacteria love sebum and skin oils, and can contribute to acne.
Also, different types of bacteria can live in different places on your skin – some like it moist, so they proliferate under your arms, near your groin, or between the toes on your feet. Bacterial waste and by-products tare at the root of increased odor in these areas. If you have flare-ups or rashes in these areas, it may be partly due to a bacterial imbalance.
Scientists now think that the microbiomes of those with chronic skin conditions may be different than those with healthy skin. Tracking and measuring these differences may hold answers on how to treat serious skin disease.
For example, patients with flare-ups of psoriasis were shown to have alterations in their skin microbiome, and data showed that the composition and function of the skin’s microbiome is different between those with psoriasis and a healthy control group.
Research shows that the skin microbiome of those with eczema is also significantly different from that of individuals with healthy skin. In fact, a species of bacteria from healthy skin, called roseomonus mucosa, is currently in clinical trials as a potential topical treatment for eczema.
Dr. Ian Myles, a researcher in the Epithelial Therapeutics Unit of the National Institutes of Health, spoke at the 2022 National Eczema Association’s “Eczema Expo 2022.” One of his major areas of research is trying to find out more about how working with the microbiome can help reduce symptoms of eczema.
Skin Products Can Affect the Microbiome
While not yet writing a research paper on his work, Dr. Myles shared at Expo 2022 how he had tested popular skin products in Petri dishes cultured with typical skin microorganisms, noting their effects. Some products killed the beneficial microorganisms in the dish while others had no effect.
Here is a list from a slide he shared in his presentation at Expo 2022 listing his preliminary results:
|Microbiome “friendly” topicals||Microbiome “unfriendly” topicals|
|Cetaphil (all tested)|
CeraVe healing ointment
Aveeno colloidal oatmeal
RareGlo Skin & Hair Butter
Kiyamel Eczema Relief
Simple Sugars Body Oil
Atopalm MLE Cream
Tea Therapy Lemon Myrtle Lotion
Baby Bum lotion
Coppertone sport spray
Sun Bum spray or lotion
|Eucerin eczema relief|
Eucerin original healing
Aveeno eczema therapy
Aquaphor healing ointment
Lanolin containing products
Paraben containing products
Banana boat sport spray
Neutrogena beach defense
How to Protect Your Skin’s Microbiome
Since a healthy skin microbiome may be protective against skin disease and flare-ups, it makes sense to protect our skin environment so that beneficial bacteria can live and flourish.
It’s no accident that the keys to protecting your skin’s healthy microbiota are the same keys for general good health and skin maintenance:
- Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables
- Stay hydrated
- Protect your skin from harsh chemicals and household products
- Cleanse your skin with gentle products regularly, but don’t overdo it
- Take care of your gut health by reducing processed foods and eating healthy probiotic foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, kombucha, naturally cured sauerkraut and pickles
We are excited about new discoveries on how our skin microbiome may hold the secret to new treatments to help resolve serious skin conditions like eczema, TSW, psoriasis and acne. It’s further evidence on how nature – even bacteria, when in balance – supports our health in so many ways.
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About the Author
Olivia Hsu Friedman, LAc, Dipl.OM, DACM, Cert. TCMDerm, is the owner of Amethyst Holistic Skin Solutions and treats Acne, Eczema, Psoriasis, and TSW. Olivia treats patients via video conferencing using only herbal medicine. Olivia is Chair of the Board of Directors of the American Society of Acupuncturists, serves on the Advisory Board of LearnSkin, and is a faculty member of the Chicago Integrative Eczema Group sponsored by the National Eczema Association.