Odds are you’ve heard or read about the broad term “microbiome” that has gotten the attention of many researchers, health practitioners, and scientists. Most often, the term “microbiome” is used to reference maintaining a healthy gut. More specifically, the microbiome is all the bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and all of their genetic material that colonize not only in your gut, but also on the surface of your skin.
Your skin houses a whole host of beneficial microbial activity that acts as your immune system’s first line of defense against the environment. For this reason, the question on many dermatologists’ minds is: How do we create the best environment and version of your skin’s microbiome?
Research on the Skin’s Microbiome
Similar to the research on improving the internal microbiome, research is being done into the potential methods of improving the microbiome that lives on the surface of the skin. The presence of these living organisms suggests that they naturally fight off, or at least overcrowd, potential contaminants and create a barrier against environmental skin irritants. It may seem like the microbiome is very resilient, but it can still be washed away, damaged, and temporarily altered.
Although there is no proof that you can alter the microbiome, there has been a lot of success with other biologics, which is an encouraging statistic for those creating more individually geared products. Concern that using products on the skin might affect the microbiome has fueled a new wave of cosmetic engineering. This living layer of organisms can be physically disturbed with cleansers and abrasives, and with preservatives that keep cleansers and lotions from souring.
The Microbiome and Skin Care Products
You may see products listed as “microbiome friendly,” which is proven by taking a swab of the skin before and after application to prove that the organisms that were present before are still present after treatment. Product designers that take the microbiome into account are focusing on three things that could potentially make a difference in the quality of your skin’s microbiome: prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics.
- Prebiotics – These are things that bacteria eat, like sugars. You might have noticed an uptick in sugar scrubs and serums on the market. Adding more nourishment to products is intended to encourage yeast and bacterial growth on the skin.
- Probiotics – Foods that are rich in probiotics, such as yogurt, have large numbers of live bacteria present. It’s been suggested that adding live bacteria, or probiotics, to skin products could encourage beneficial bacterial growth.
- Postbiotics – When an item contains postbiotics, that means it has byproducts of the microbiome within it. One popular postbiotic is lactic acid, which is often an ingredient in skincare products to adjust the pH level of the skin. Lactic acid treatment is also frequently used in skin peels because it is extremely gentle, and beneficial to even the most sensitive skin.
Choosing the Right Skin Care Treatment
The potential for medical breakthroughs and what they could mean for beauty is exciting, but there has not been enough research conducted on the microbiome to warrant too much excitement. Be wary of treatments that promise permanent alteration or improvement to the microbiome, especially if that person is not a licensed doctor or dermatologist.
“The skincare industry thrives on newness and claims,” concludes Dr. Zoe Diana Draelos. After some time, and especially if you go off a treatment, your body’s unique immune system will self-regulate, and return your microbiome to its baseline. On the other hand, a better understanding of each person’s baseline microbiome could help personalize skin treatment recommendations.
The best thing you can do is consult with a doctor before trying any new treatments. The skin treatment specialists and board-certified dermatologist at our Mt. Vernon clinic provide expert care, personalized guidance, and knowledge of today’s latest developments in medical and cosmetic dermatology care. Get suggestions for improving your skin quality. Contact Us to schedule an appointment.