When it comes to the nature of our skin, how often are we asked about our skin type? As a result, we automatically draw upon the common types such as sensitive, normal, combination, oily, or blemish-prone. It isn’t to say that this terminology is incorrect, but we no longer can draw such simple conclusions about our skin.
As a complex organism, our skin isn’t as rigid or immobile as one would think. Our skin reacts to the environment and understanding this influences how we look after our skin.
With the guidance of leading dermatologists and skincare experts, we explore their advice for caring for our skin, how the microbiome plays a huge role, and the resources needed to do so.
How often do we get asked what our skin type is when it comes to our skin? So, we automatically use the most common skin types, like sensitive, normal, combination, oily, or prone to breakouts. This doesn’t mean that the language is wrong, but we can no longer make such simple assumptions about our skin.
As a complex living organism, our skin isn’t as stiff or fixed as one might think. The way we take care of our skin depends on how well we understand how our skin reacts to the environment. With the help of top dermatologists and skin care experts, we look at what they say we should do to take care of our skin, how the microbiome plays a big role, and what we need to do it. Read their advice first.
What is the skin microbiome and why is it important?
The microbiome is defined as a collection of microorganisms that live in a particular place. Although each person is unique, the average person has more bacterial cells than human cells. And depending on the skin’s texture, thickness and humidity, different microbes can inhabit different regions of your skin. In fact, the face, chest and back, being the oiliest parts of our bodies, will often house higher amounts of bacteria, making them more prone to acne.
As Dr. Whitney Bowe, a board-certified dermatologist in New York and author of The Beauty of Dirty Skin explains, “Our skin’s microbiome is a rainforest of diverse organisms which live in and on your skin’s various layers, from the deep-down fat cushion all the way up to your epidermal cells up high. In fact, there are more than one trillion bacteria in the skin, originating from approximately one thousand different species.’’
Though the word bacteria is usually associated with illness, not all bacteria are bad. In fact, our bodies work in tandem with bacteria from the inside out. These tiny helpers work to keep the bad stuff away, while happily going along, minding their business (sort of like the perfect roommate that you never see). Thanks to modern research, we now know that the microbiome directly influences skin, specifically in the formation of inflammation and acne. And since our skin is a living, breathing organ—not to mention our largest one—we should think of it as a fertile soil: it needs the proper care and maintenance, along with the right pH to stay healthy and thriving. In short, healthy skin is about creating a healthy environment for these microorganisms.
Good vs. bad bacteria
“We all have good and bad bacteria residing on our skin,’’ explains Dr. Roshini Raj, gastroenterologist and internist and founder of probiotics skin care brand TULA. She adds, “When the balance shifts towards the bad bacteria, skin irritation or blemishes can develop.’’ Inflammation can arise as the result of an imbalance, which can manifest as acne, eczema and psoriasis.
As Dr. Bowe explains, “The most studied families of oral probiotics (the good bacteria) are lactobacillus (from lactic acid) and bifidobacterium. Several strains of lactobacillus have anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce the risk of skin disorders from the inside out. They have also been shown to improve the strength of our skin barrier, keeping our skin nourished and hydrated.”
On the flip side, bad bacteria, such as staph and certain E. coli strains, may naturally grow out of control and cause us harm or contribute to unhealthy skin by invading tissues and damaging them, eventually leading to myriad skin diseases.
What about bacteria in our gut?
Gut microbiome helps break down food, absorb nutrients and eliminate unwanted toxins. When there is an unhealthy gut microbiome, it can cause gastrointestinal issues, which could also lead to dull skin and acne. Research shows that acne-prone and rosacea skin types have seen improvement with continued probiotic usage, which balances the gut. While there’s still much more to uncover about this vast inner community, here are a few key facts to greater understand the gut microbiome:
- Our digestive tract is home to nearly 99% of our entire microbiome.
- We have a personalized set of bacteria that we acquire during birth and it grows in size over the years to protect us and keep us strong.
- Our microbiome changes throughout the course of our lives due to varying factors such as age, gender, diet, pregnancy and genetics influencing it.
- The “gut-brain-skin-axis’’ theory suggests that stress from a bad diet may contribute to leaky gut, which causes toxins to be released into the bloodstream, thus triggering inflammation.
Finding the balance with probiotics
Needless to say, the more good bacteria in our bodies, the less chance of bad bacteria taking over and causing us harm, such as inflammation. But according to experts, it’s more about having a healthy balance and diversity of good and bad bacteria, versus eliminating all the bad and replacing it with the good.
These days, attaining a healthy balance is easier than ever thanks to the wealth of probiotic supplements available or eating more probiotic-rich foods, such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, miso and kombucha. “I know firsthand from my GI practice that the environment in which these species of bacteria live needs to be in balance. If you have a healthy balance of probiotics, your overall health improves,’’ says Dr. Raj.
When taking supplements, be sure the bacteria are live and look for CFUs (colony forming units) in the billions, since anything less isn’t as potent. Specifically, adding in lactobacillus acidophilus cultures may reduce systemic inflammation, oxidative stress and glycemic control, all contributing factors in acne development. You’ll also want to eat fresh, whole foods and fewer sugars, greasy and processed foods.
Keeping skin bacteria happy
Taking care of ourselves via a healthy diet and lifestyle is just one facet of achieving our best skin. A healthy skin microbiome not only protects us from pathogens, damage and dryness, it can also lead to more radiant and healthy skin. Two of the best steps we can take in our daily routines is limiting the amount of anti-bacterial skin care products (which can also destroy good bacteria along with the bad) and not over-cleansing our skin. Instead, reach for a gentle, pH-balanced cleanser and wash your face no more than twice a day to help maintain the skin’s natural oils and microbial balance.
Additionally, using prebiotic- and probiotic-rich products can have a beneficial effect on our skin by keeping it moisturized and delaying signs of aging. According to Dr. Raj, “Topical probiotics actually help strengthen the skin’s natural ability to defend itself by forming a type of ‘protective shield’ on the skin’s surface. This makes the skin more resistant to damage from environmental stressors, helps maintain moisture and even helps fight off UV damage.’’
Prebiotics are another vital ingredient that are starting to make waves in the skin care industry. “Prebiotic—which refers to the food the good bugs like to eat—are like the nourishing food that naturally allows healthy, good bacteria to thrive on your skin. Some prebiotics encourage specific healthy strains of bacteria to grow and others increase the diversity of the bacteria on your skin, which is also very important,’’ explains Dr. Bowe.
Skin Type vs Skin Condition.
We may understand that our skin falls within a “type”—normal, combination, dry, oily, or sensitive. Still, according to experts, this only covers half of our skin’s story. “We are moving away from skin types and talking more about skin imbalances that come from a better understanding of the skin’s ecosystem and how your microbiome plays a role in regulating it,” Dr. Marie Drago, founder of Gallinée, explains.
Focusing on our skin’s conditions, versus boxing it into a type, encourages optimal results. These conditions present themselves as acne, dehydration, scarring, pigmentation, rosacea, eczema, or broken capillaries. Therefore, tailoring our skincare regimens around improving or balancing our conditions will help to improve our skin’s health. Erika Fogeiro, the founder of Combeau, explains that many factors play a role in the overall health of our skin. “Our skin moves through different states of dependencies that include our hormonal cycle, stress levels, sun exposure, or sleep levels,” she says. “The skincare market is often focused solely on skin types that can be harmful, as many of us have more than one concern. You may have acne but may also be dehydrated.”
Therefore, we need to look further than just topical treatments and center around an internal approach to re-balance our skin. “With the understanding of our skin microbiome, we also understand that skin health is also strongly linked to the health of our gut microbiome.” Dr. Jess Braid, Co-Founder of Adio Health, tells us.
Fogeiro has further researched how fundamental understanding our gut truly is. According to Fogeiro, not only is it the blueprint for producing and regulating essential hormones and neurotransmitters like cortisol, but the gut also has a significant impact on inflammation. Without acknowledging our gut microbiome, we may fail to acknowledge our skin’s microbiome. “If there is dysfunction in your gut’s microbiome, it will impact your skin’s microbiome,” she says. “In taking care of your body holistically and your gut health through nutricosmetics, you’re taking care of your skin’s balance.”
So, what does tending to our gut microbiome look like? It proportionately considers the health and composition of our lifestyle patterns and nutrition. “Nutricosmetics refers to a category of supplements that aim to address the health of our skin, hair, and nails. They could include things such as antioxidants, collagen, anti-inflammatories, and even supplements that target blood sugar support and the microbiome directly,” Rhian Stephenson, founder of Artah, explains.
Nutritional supplements can support and enhance the essential mechanism that optimally helps the body and skin function. Increasing your collagen levels helps to improve moisture levels and elasticity. Coenzyme Q10 has proven to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines, and supplementing Zinc helps to support the critical maintenance of the skin.Shifting from the traditional approach to our skin, we should adapt our approach to see our skin in its full complexity. “We shouldn’t see our skin or body like a machine with parts anymore, but like a living and breathing ecosystem where all parts are interconnected,” Dr. Drago says. “It means that sometimes your skin concerns come from external elements and can be helped with a topical approach, but also that problems can come from stress, gut problems or anything else internal, and that is where supplements can help.”
What Should You Not Take?
The supplement industry is hard to figure out because it has a lot of benefits but also a lot of gray areas. Many claims about supplements aren’t backed up by science or testing, so it’s important to talk to your doctor before taking any new ones. Henrietta Norton, BSc Dip NT, co-founder of Wild Nutrition, says to watch out for supplements with fillers and artificial ingredients. She says, “They are both useless and hard for your body to deal with.” “Also, it’s important to check out what’s behind the claims. There are a lot of claims on the market, so you should ask the company to back up what they say.”
We have to find out more about how transparent the brand is. Do they say where the ingredients come from? Where do the pills come from? How many of each are there? And finally, because there isn’t much government oversight of the industry, check to see if clinical studies and scientific research back up the ingredients.
How to Read the Label
The label tells you everything you need to know about a supplement’s strength. But how do we read it? Experts say that the ingredients on a label are always listed in order of most to least amount. Of course, you should talk to your doctor or a medical expert before taking any supplements.
- HeliBeuty Tips
- If a (synthetic or natural) is the most important ingredient, the rest of the supplement is mostly fillers instead of the active ingredients.
- What are the supplement’s active ingredients? You can look up the recommended dosages in PubMed, which is a medical journal, and see if the percentage of the active ingredient matches the amount that is suggested. If you don’t, it’s likely that the active won’t work as well.
- Think about whether the supplement is made with patented ingredients. This means that scientists and experts have put a lot of time and money into researching and developing it.
The Inside Out Approach
This doesn’t mean that supplements are the only way to keep our skin healthy and fed. A 360-degree approach that includes a healthy diet, lifestyle, and skin care routine will help your skin look better from the inside out. The modern way to define your skin’s journey as a whole is to stop putting it into five “types” and instead use more holistic practices that take into account all of the things that affect it.
How do you change the microbiome of your skin?
Here's how to restore your skin for a healthy microbiome: Avoid Harsh Cleansers – Generic and even name-brand cleansers use surfactants that remove the key defensive components of your protective skin barrier. ... Eat a Healthy Diet – While the gut and skin microbiome are different in nature, they are still interconnected.
What does the skin microbiome do?
The skin microbiome contributes to the barrier function of the skin and ensures skin homeostasis. The secretion of protease enzymes by skin microbes is involved in the desquamation process and stratum corneum renewal. Sebum and free fatty acid production are involved in pH regulation