The skin microbiome is the collection of trillions of microbes that live on our bodies, constantly changing due to the environment, performing specific functions particular to the area of the body, and regulating our skin. And the skin microbiome is not a monolithic thing: The skin microbiome changes depending on the “eco-niche,” or location; the critters vary depending on the amount of light and whether the area is moist, dry, hairy, or oily. And the microbiome differs with age and gender.
And while impressive new research has started coming out the past several years, we are really only beginning to scratch the surface of what we know about it. “We typically think of skin only as it relates to beauty—but it’s essential to our overall health, too,” writes physician Kara Fitzgerald, N.D. “After all, it’s the largest organ in the body and the major interface between us and pretty much everything outside of us. Our skin is also home to a vast array of microbes, and research has just begun to piece together the important role they play in our health and more exciting research is on the horizon.”
In the meantime, here’s what we do know: When healthy, your microbiome communicates with our internal immune system, it acts as a barrier and can help crowd out pathogens and environmental aggressors, and it eases inflammation. That’s a lot of roles.
We also know, or at least are coming to understand, that many of our common skin care and hygiene practices are not helping it. Often topical products—like soaps, treatments, or ill-formulated creams—can dramatically alter the biome, resulting in weakened skin barrier function, inflammation, and a laundry list of other issues.
Here’s what you can do: Avoid harsh sulfates and surfactants that strip the skin and alter your pH, use high quality natural emollients to help nourish good bacteria and microbes, and use biome-supporting skin care products that contain pre-, pro-, and postbiotics to help encourage a healthy environment.