Trillions – that’s how many teeny tiny bugs are living on your skin right now. More specifically, trillions of bacteria, fungi and viruses that have made your face their home as part of your skin’s microbiome. The twist? Research shows they’re the latest secret to your healthiest, most glowing skin yet.
Unsurprisingly, skincare sleuths on the hunt for the perfect complexion are into it. In fact, searches for ‘microbiome’ have sky rocketed in 2020 with almost 10,000 enquiring minds Googling it each month.
But what is your microbiome exactly? And how can it help us get our glow on?
Less gross than it sounds, your microbiome is made up of the millions of microorganisms that live on the surface of your skin and essentially dictates whether you’ve got things like acne, early signs of ageing or eczema. ‘The microbiome keeps the bacteria of the skin in equilibrium,’ explains founder of SKNDOCTOR, Dr Ewoma Ukeleghe. ‘When this becomes unbalanced, or if it gets colonised by bad bacteria, that’s when skin issues (such as acne and impetigo) can arise.’
As with most skin issues, it’s not one size fits all as no one person has the same microbiome as someone else. Such fun. The key to maintaining it and, in turn, making it work harder for your face? Microbiome balancing skincare that’s bespoke for your skin.
‘The human body acts as a host for trillions of bacteria, which in most cases work synergistically with our own body to enhance our health,’ explains Dr Sophie Shotter. ‘The make up of the microbiome will vary between areas of the body (your gut has a different microbiome compared with your skin) and will vary between individuals.’
We’ve all heard of those yogurts filled with ‘good bacteria’ but fear not, smothering your face with Activia isn’t the solution to keeping your skin’s microbiome in good nick. ‘The types of bacteria living on the skin and in the gut are fundamentally different,’ says Dr Shotter. ‘The bacteria on the skin are what we call aerobic – they need oxygen to survive. The bacteria in the gut are predominantly anaerobic, meaning they can survive without oxygen. The skin’s microbiome is largely dependent on the environment, whereas the gut microbiome depends on the location within the gut and on extrinsic factors like diet.’
For once, this isn’t about eating your way to a better complexion (although your gut and your skin are linked). In this case, the culprits negatively affecting your microbiome are your stressful morning commute, complete with high levels of pollution and a hardcore face wash that’s stripping your skin of its microscopic friends. ‘Our modern lifestyle can be quite impacting on our microbiome,’ advises Dr Marie Drago, founder of Gallinée. ‘Harsh surfactants, pollution or disinfectants can directly damage your first layer of defence: the good bacteria that live on your skin. Stress, antibiotics and a bad diet can also affect the gut microbiome, and raise the inflammation on your skin.’
Just like the rest of your body, your skin is balancing a delicate biological environment, one that our skincare routines and lifestyle seem determined to mess with. ‘We put a lot of things on our skin every day, products with a lot of ingredients inside, and any single one of these ingredients can impact your skin bacteria,’ says Dr Drago. ‘That’s why microbiome skincare is a very minimalist version of beauty: only use what you need, and let your bacteria do the rest!’
Your microbiome (say microbiome more) is even responsible for stopping the clock when it comes to your complexion. ‘As we age, the numbers of “good” bacteria in our skin’s microbiome naturally dwindle,’ says Dr Shotter. ‘In fact scientists can predict your age to within a few years based on your microbiome.’ Turns out the trillions of bacteria on our skin isn’t just chilling out on our cheeks, it’s busy producing short chain fatty acids that reduce inflammation and, rather dramatically, protect our skin’s DNA. Not to mention, preserving our skin’s ability to heal and regenerate aka the secret to a plumper, younger looking complexion.
In short, healthy microbiome, healthy skin.
Which is where microbiome-protecting probiotic skincare comes in. Formulated to give your skin’s microbiome a comforting cuddle, rather than smashing it to pieces with aggressive chemicals, probiotic skincare actively improves the level of good bacteria living on your skin. It might sound like double cleansing’s ultimate nightmare, but, when it comes to avoiding inflammation, breakouts and dryness, ‘dirty’ skin is in.
But how do we know what our microbiome needs if it’s different to literally everyone else’s in the world? Not to be dramatic… Maintaining your microbiome when it’s been depleted by environmental aggressors is one thing. But, overdo it on one type of bacteria and that skin-protecting microbiome can start doing more damage than good. When it comes to your microbiome it’s about balancing, rather than boosting.
‘In most people with “normal” skin the proportion of bacteria on your skin are fairly balanced,’ explains consultant dermatologist Dr Ophelia Veraitch. ‘But for people with some skin conditions i.e. eczema and acne, there is a tendency to have a higher proportion of certain types of bacteria.’
The culprit behind eczema? High levels of a bacteria called staphylococcus aureus. Dr Veraitch advises treating this with ‘a targeted anti-staphylococcal approach incorporated into the more standard eczema treatments.’ If in doubt, always go to your doctor and ask for skin swab to confirm that this bacteria is behind your eczema flares.
In other cases, a different bacteria imbalance could lead to acne. In this case, Dr Veraitch recommends’ antibacterial washes or antibiotic gels or creams. Using blue/ red light to treat acne can also be helpful, as these kinds of light have antibacterial properties.’
So, if your microbiome is chugging along nicely, it’s all about a friendly dose of probiotic skincare to keep it in check. If acne and eczema are present, go for a more targeted treatment plan to get those bacteria levels back in balance.
'We just launched a supplement designed for sensitive skin, and using the science of the gut-skin axis: how your gut microbiome can help reduce inflammation of the skin,' says Dr Marie Drago, founder of Gallinée.
Formulated to boost your skin's natural repair process, this potent serum works to minimise pigmentation, hormonal breakouts, dullness and fine lines.
'The thermal water contained in this product has a pH and selenium content that is ideal to support healthy strains of bacteria to help combat staphylococcal aureus colonisation which can drive eczema flares,' says consultant dermatologist Dr Ophelia Veraitch.
'This face vinegar is suitable for both sensitive and oily skin. It’s an alcohol-free cleanser that will both reduce redness and purify the skin,' advises Dr Marie Drago.
'Live bacteria once lived on our skin but was wiped out by the harsh chemicals and preservatives found in modern hygiene products,' says Mother Dirt. 'This exodus caused skin issues like acne and eczema to skyrocket over the past century. We're now reversing that narrative by introducing good bacteria to our skin.'
This milky cleanser helps to balance your skin's pH level without stripping away any essential oils or moisture.
This daily moisturiser combines probiotic good bacteria, the prebiotic nutrients it provides and the postbiotic by-products in one pH balancing, pollution protecting formula.