What Is The Skin Microbiome?

Jenna Jolls

What Is The Skin Microbiome?

The skin microbiome is a unique community of different species of bacteria, fungi, and viruses that call your skin home. It's really important for our skin's health. You're probably hearing the word "microbiome" everywhere right now. Your skin microbiome, like your gut, is a beautiful ecosystem of bacteria found on the skin's surface.

Your skin, and the bacteria on it, serves as a physical barrier and your first line of defense from foreign invaders, toxins and harmful substances. A strong, healthy skin microbiome means enough beneficial bacteria to keep pathogens and environmental aggressors at bay. And your skin will show it by appearing healthy and vibrant. So, what is the skin microbiome?

What's the Skin Microbiome?graphic showing the skin microbiome

The skin microbiome can be thought of as an ecosystem - and a pretty complex one, at that. Also known as the skin microbiota, the skin microbiome is essentially the vast collection of all the microbes (or skin flora) which live on or within your skin. We actually have millions of living microorganisms residing on our skin at any time, including bacteria, fungi, arthropods, and more.

Using this definition, the microbiome would include:

  • The microbiota: bacteria, fungi, algae, archaea, and protists
  • Microbial community elements: proteins, peptides, lipids, polysaccharides, and DNA
  • Internal and external structural elements: environmental conditions
  • Microbial metabolites: signaling molecules, toxins, and organic molecules

According to Medline, many factors can affect the skin microbiome, including pH levels, gender, genotype, cosmetic use, temperature, and more.

Why Is The Skin Microbiome Important?

You probably already know that the skin is the largest organ of the human body, so its well-being is essential for both health and disease. The skin microbiome plays a vital role in the human immune system and many immune functions.

Just like the microorganisms in our gut, "skin microorganisms have essential roles in the protection against invading pathogens, the education of our immune system and the breakdown of natural products," according to Nature Reviews Microbiology. "The skin is colonized by beneficial microorganisms and serves as a physical barrier to prevent the invasion of pathogens."

This means that the skin microbiome has a variety of functions when it comes to keeping our body healthy. The skin microbiome doesn't just defend against invading bacterial pathogens but also can help fight off infections, ease inflammation and protect us from outside harm.

For the Skin

Skin is the largest organ in our body and home to about 10 million bacterial cells - that’s close to one million bacteria per square centimeter of skin. Besides our gut, our skin contains the second-highest number and diversity of microorganisms, meaning it’s the second-largest microbiome in our body. 

Our skin is the first line of defense against pathogens, providing both a physical and chemical barrier against invaders. When we achieve the perfect balance between the skin and its microbiome, bacteria in our skin can help boost the skin’s protective functions by:

  • Helping the skin preserve its barrier functions
  • Promoting a healthy immune response
  • Creating an inhospitable environment for harmful bacteria
  • Protecting the skin against UV rays damage
  • Promoting antimicrobial peptides

How To Support Your Skin Microbiome

Since there are many different ways that the skin microbiome can become compromised (like antibiotics, poor diet, or using harsh, traditional skincare products), it's essential to know how to repair the damage that has already been done.

There are many steps that you can take to support your skin microbiome. Dr. Kara Fitzgerald, N.D. says that eating healthy, staying hydrated, and exercising can support microbiome function.

There's also value in choosing the right products for your skin. There is a huge difference between "clean" and "sterile." Our obsession with being as clean as possible has generally resulted in removing all bacteria from our skin, including our skin microbiome's beneficial and necessary ecosystem. "We may actually be damaging our microflora with soap or other alkaline topical products and setting the stage for increased risk for skin issues," says Dr. Fitzgerald.

Given the important role of the skin barrier, it's important to know the right strategies to maintain optimal skin barrier health. Prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics and good-for-skin ingredients like squalane and fatty acids are all great options for supporting skin barrier function.

Simplifying your skin care routine is another great way of maintaining skin barrier health, in addition to avoiding harsh scrubs and brushes or products that contain harmful chemicals and ingredients.

Mother Dirt's Microbiome-Balancing Skincare Products

woman spraying mother dirt ao+ restorative mist

That's where supplementation with topical prebiotic, probiotics and postbiotics (like ours here at Mother Dirt) comes in. Unlike other skincare lines, Mother Dirt's innovative skin, hair and body care line offers a new standard in biotic-infused skincare. We use naturally derived ingredients and a science-first approach to help maintain your microbiome.

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