Skin Microbiome & Barrier Function Are Vital For Overall Health

In the age of COVID-19, we’d be remiss not to mention your hands, those precious delicate things. Hands are your frontline defence: For starters, they interact with the most, meaning they have the most potential to pick up pathogens. (Because of your hands’ unique role, research shows they even have a very unique micro-niche flora.) They are also the part of the bodies where your microbiome is most under attack. 

Before we dive in, we must note: You need to wash your hands and use hand sanitizer right now. These habits keep us safe from COVID-19 and are not up for debate. However, you must also place just as much of a priority to rebalance and replenish your skin barrier and microbiome after the fact. 

“Hand sanitizers that are effective at preventing the transmission of COVID-19 are, by definition, biome-unfriendly. To kill the virus we are all trying to protect ourselves from, they must contain alcohols, which are incredibly effective germ killers, meaning they can kill many disease-causing bacteria and viruses within seconds,” says Bowe. “The problem is these types of alcohols do major damage to the natural lipids and fatty acids on the surface of your skin, so they damage your skin barrier.” And when you’re out and about, they may be your only option—so your best bet is finding a sanitizer buffered with soothing and hydrating actives, like aloe vera or glycerin, or using one that is the minimum CDC alcohol requirement to prohibit drying out.

“We know that the microbiome is proven to be critically important for our health, and using products that can disrupt the microbiome is concerning. At this point, we do not know the long-term ramifications or how significant the impact might be of this behavior,” says Barr. 

And while hand washing is decidedly better for your skin, it can be incredibly drying and damaging for your skin if you’re not careful. “Ideal hand soaps are made without harsh sulfates like sodium lauryl sulfate that can damage the skin barrier. I also love seeing hand soaps that are enriched with soothing, hydrating ingredients like milk, aloe, honey, and oatmeal,” says Bowe. “Also, any ingredients that restore the barrier and help bring the pH back to the normal range (slightly acidic) are imperative. Our skin has an invisible layer called the acid mantle, and we need to respect the pH of our skin to keep it healthy.”

So while you should be diligent about hand washing, do be just as mindful about repair with hand creams. “It’s essential to moisturize as often as possible to restore those lipids and encourage the regrowth of healthy bacteria,” says Bowe. “I carry a hand moisturizer with me at all times and apply it within moments of washing or sanitizing my hands throughout the day. If you wait too long, you miss that narrow window of opportunity to really trap and seal those nourishing ingredients in the skin before all the water evaporates off the surface, further compromising your skin.”

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