The microbiome has been generating a lot of buzz lately, and for good reason. Recent studies have shown that there's a connection between the microbes in your digestive tract and everything from your mental health to irritable bowel syndrome. Lately, we've started seeing more evidence that increasing the number of "good bacteria" in your gut is a solid way to improve your overall health and well-being.
Gut health is a new frontier in medicine, and probiotics are proving to be useful as treatment for many modern-day maladies. Feeding the good bugs in your gut is a huge step toward improving your overall health—but it turns out that there's a microbiome on your skin as well.
What exactly is a skin microbiome, and why should we care?
"The skin biome is the ecosystem of microorganisms that live on the skin," says Jasmina Aganovic, president of biome-focused product line Mother Dirt. "Research is showing that they potentially play a crucial role in how our skin looks, feels, and acts." Your skin is colonized by millions and millions of bacteria, viruses, and fungi, and just like the microbes in your gut have a larger impact on overall health, microbes on your skin, which is your largest organ, impact the way it looks and feels—and its ability to serve as a barrier between your body and the outside world.
Chicago-based dermatologist Toral Patel, M.D., explains how vital the skin microbiome is, not only for skin health but overall health as well. "A healthy microbiome can protect against skin infection by preventing the overgrowth of pathogenic organisms," Patel says. And it turns out that the skin microbiome can also fight against external and environmental factors, as well. "It can also help keep inflammation in check, promote wound healing, and act as a barrier to some allergens and environmental toxins."
Unfortunately, most modern hygiene practices absolutely wreck our skin microbiome. Antibacterial soaps, preservatives in topical products, and pretty much every other harsh chemical we apply to our skin can annihilate the "good" bacteria in addition to the "bad." Basically, being such a germ-phobic culture is actually making us sicker.
Holistic beauty nutritionist Paula Simpson explains, "Clinical research has shown that blemish-prone skin has a less-diverse skin microbiome, over-populated with pathogens and damaging stressors—compared to those with healthy skin."
According to a recent study, skin conditions like rosacea, acne, and psoriasis can either be caused or exacerbated by a microbe imbalance. There is even evidence that a balanced skin microbiome can be effective in the fight against some skin cancers. Other studies point to a correlation between skin microbiome health and overall immune function.
So what can we do to protect our skin microbiome?
Simpson offers the following tips to keep your skin microbiome healthy and flourishing:
1. Eat clean, high-fiber foods—they're full of prebiotics.
Prebiotics contain fibrous carbohydrates that nourish the good bacteria to help it to grow—examples include asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, oats, and soybeans. If you eat a diet rich in prebiotics, you'll encourage microbial diversity and promote the growth of healthy bacteria.
2. Consume probiotic-rich foods every day.
Although there is no recommended daily amount of probiotics, health experts recommend consuming approximately 1 billion to 10 billion live bacteria cultures (measured in colony forming units, or CFUs) per day. Get at least one serving of a prebiotic and probiotic-rich food every day.
3. Start with rebalancing microbiome from within.
You can also complement eating probiotic-rich foods with supplements, which can encourage and maintain a healthy community of gut and skin microflora.
To help your skin microbiome be the best it can be, skip using antibacterial soap on your face (or anywhere else on your skin, for that matter); eat nourishing, prebiotic-packed foods; and try putting good bacteria on your face (and in your belly).
Kristi Pahr is a freelance writer and mother who spends most of her time caring for people other than herself. She is frequently exhausted and compensates with an intense caffeine addiction. See what she's up to on Twitter.