Your skin’s microbiome could be the secret to youthful, luminous skin. We find out what you need to know from the skin experts.
Long gone are the days of simply slapping on an ‘anti-ageing’ moisturiser and hoping for the best. Thanks to the recent wellness boom, there has been more focus than ever on the fact that overall wellness and skin health go hand-in-hand. Rewind five years and it was all too common to invest in a skincare routine because it was marketed to a certain age group. Today, however, skincare is less about your age and more about your skin type, lifestyle and individual needs and concerns.
“As more people understand that healthy skin is a reflection of one’s overall wellness, we will continue to see wellness and topical skincare products intertwine,” says Katy Bacon, education manager for Murad Australasia Pacific. “Countless studies have demonstrated that the lifestyle choices we make have a significant influence on the length and the quality of our lives, and how we look.” As the beauty and wellness worlds collide, we’ve started to see everything from superfood-powered skincare to yoga facials make their way into our beauty regimens. The jury might be out on whether serums packed with kale and chia seeds will help you achieve your healthy skincare goals, but there is one particular area of interest from the health and wellbeing world that has scientists, dermatologists and skincare experts excited.
THE QUEST TO UNDERSTAND THE SKIN’S MICROBIOME
Chances are you’ve sipped kombucha or added sauerkraut to your salad to feed your gut microbiome (a microbiome being a community of microorganisms including bacteria) for better gut health. Now skin experts believe we might be able to apply the same thinking to skin health. “Over the past few years, microbiome science has been developing massively, thanks to the fact it’s getting cheaper and easier to look at the bacteria and its DNA,” says French pharmacist and founder of Gallineé skincare, Marie Drago.
She believes the microbiome is the most exciting field in health at the moment. “There is proof the microbiome is linked to the wave of ‘modern diseases’ including obesity, depression, autism, allergies, and inflammatory diseases in general,” she explains. “Every day, new scientific studies are published reaching and informing the general public on the importance of the microbiome – which I think is amazing.”
Drago was so taken by the growing body of research, she put her expertise to good use to develop her skincare line, Gallineé. “I have a personal history of autoimmune diseases that got me very interested in the microbiome and how supporting your bacteria can really help,” she says. “In addition, I am also a pharmacist with 15 years’ experience in the beauty industry, so one day it just clicked – I should really develop a range that would support the skin’s microbiome.” Rather than seeing the skin as “leather that needs to be oiled”, Drago says her philosophy views the skin as a living, breathing ecosystem that we need to support and help to thrive.
Just as our gut is home to trillions of microorganisms, our skin has its very own microbiome that works around the clock to keep our skin health in check. The bacteria might be invisible to the naked eye, but our skin microbiome’s ecosystem is so complex that Bacon says for every one skin cell, we have a whopping 100 microbes in and on our bodies. “[This includes] bacteria, fungi and viruses – most of which are harmless and are very beneficial,” she adds. There has been much research into the importance of our gut microbiome – but many dermatologists and scientists are now arguing that our skin microbiome is just as important to our health.
BE KIND TO YOUR SKIN’S MICROBIOME
Scientists believe there are around 1,000 different species of bacteria that call our skin home. But don’t rush off to cleanse your face to get rid of those teeny-tiny organisms – many of them are crucial to your skin’s overall health. “Your skin’s microbiome is its first layer of protection,” explains Drago. A good way to think about it, she says, is that everything that touches your skin, touches the bacteria first – which means it can control everything from how well your skincare routine is absorbed to that unwanted acne breakout. But that’s not all it does. “First, it protects the skin and helps create the acid mantle,” says Drago.
“Then it also talks with your immune system to teach it not to overreact and inflame, but also to recognise bad bacteria and fight them.” Cleansing – if you’re doing it too often or using products that are harsh on the skin – can, in fact, be detrimental to your skin’s good bacteria. “Over-cleansing can indeed be a problem,” says Drago. “It strips the skin of its protective layer and impacts the skin’s microbiome and it can cause the skin to become sensitive and even prone to eczema.” To avoid cleansing problems, Drago recommends choosing a cleanser that is pH5. She also suggests you avoid using soap, unless you are washing your hands. Soap tends to have a pH of 10, which happens to be the pH level that bad bacteria seem to thrive in.
Drago says that your skin’s microbiome will also benefit from steering clear of any ingredients that are damaging for the skin and its bacteria, such as sodium lauryl sulfate, alcohol and fragrance. However, cleansing is only one of a host of things that have a huge impact on your skin’s microbiome. Before we are even born, various factors begin to influence the health of our microbiome. Studies have revealed that our maternal microbiota, delivery method and early bathing routines can all have a big impact on our microbiome – and therefore our skin health. According to a 2017 study in the World Allergy Organization Journal, as we go through life, everything that we touch, bathe in, breathe, eat and drink is reflected in our microbial ecosystems, including our skin.
THE SIGNS OF AN UNBALANCED MICROBIOME
Just as changes to our diet can throw our gut microbiome out of kilter, subtle changes to our skin’s ecosystem can result in an unbalanced microbiome, which can cause a wide range of issues. “A depleted microbiome can lead to sensitive skin, as the protection is no longer there,” says Drago. “If a microbiome is unbalanced, it can leave room for other bacteria to grow.” Drago says the two main signs of an unbalanced skin microbiome are acne – which can be attributed to an overgrowth of inflammatory acne bacteria – and eczema, which she says is linked to the overgrowth of a bacterium called Staphylococcus aureus.
However, you don’t have to be suffering from eczema or acne for your skin’s microbiome to be unbalanced, says Bacon. “A microbiome imbalance can result in various visible skin issues including dryness and dehydration, as well as other issues such as sallowness, deeper fine lines and premature ageing,” she explains. This is where the right skincare, infused with probiotics and prebiotics – fuel for our skin’s good bacteria – can help restore balance to our microbiome and improve the overall health of our skin.
“A growing number of studies confirm the benefits of our skin bacteria and show that a healthy microbiome helps regulate and manage skin conditions like acne, rosacea and eczema,” says Bacon. “These so-called ‘good bugs’ have taken centre stage in the beauty world as of late. “Although research on the skin’s microbiome is still fairly new, there is an explosion of probiotic-fuelled skin and supplement care in the market.”
Prebiotics and probiotics are two words that tend to get thrown around together often. However, they are two very different things. “‘Probiotics’ is just another name for the good bacteria,” says Drago. “Prebiotics are the nutrients for them.” So if your skincare contains probiotics, it contains good bacteria – on the other hand, if your skincare contains prebiotics, it contains the nourishment the good bacteria consume to survive and proliferate. Additionally, the latest buzzword in the skincare vernacular is ‘postbiotics’. Postbiotics are the by-products of probiotics – the good bacteria – and research has shown that these enzymes, acids and peptides could offer great antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits for gut health.
Given the research currently being invested in the skin’s microbiome, it may only be a matter of time until scientists unlock the potential postbiotics hold for skin health. As to whether you should be investing in skincare packed with pre-, pro- or postbiotics, dermatologist and founder of Murad skincare, Howard Murad, says prebiotics are like a universal support system for our skin’s microbiome. “They allow for a more universal approach to skincare than live bacteria or a probiotic,” he says. “Prebiotics work by acting as food for the bacteria living our skin – they’re like a peacemaker, bringing balance to the skin’s microbiome.” Recently, Murad has released two innovations in the prebiotic skincare space: a Prebiotic 4-in-1 MultiCleanser and a Prebiotic 3-in-1 MultiMist.
“The vision behind these products came from our obsession with anti-bacterial products and harsh cleansers which destroy our bad bacteria – but also strip away good bacteria, too,” says Bacon. “When combined with continued allergen and toxin assaults, essential bacteria are thrown out of whack and we see common skin issues occur. “Prebiotic 4-in-1 MultiCleanser and Prebiotic 3-in-1 MultiMist work to nourish skin with prebiotics to rebalance the skin’s microbiome – which is the collection of bacteria living on the skin. This keeps skin well-hydrated, balanced and healthier-looking overall.” If you’re on the quest for optimal skin health, Drago also favours prebiotics over probiotics in her skincare. “We love prebiotics and have a lot of them in our formulas,” she says. “Adding probiotics to the skin is nice, but putting your own bacteria to work is even better.”
Want to add some skin microbiome-friendly beauty to your routine? Click here to discover our favourite pre- and probiotics skincare must-haves that will benefit your skin’s microbiome.