There’s all this talk about the skin microbiome on social media and beyond, but are you confident you’d be able to get the definition right on a pop quiz? We talked to a few dermatologists to get a deeper understanding of what it is, the role it plays and ways we can support it.
What is the skin microbiome?
“The skin microbiome refers to the organisms that reside on our skin. Just like our gut, our skin is home to millions of organisms, including bacteria, fungi and viruses,” says Fort Lauderdale, FL dermatologist Dr. Matthew Elias. “There is a careful balance between a stable amount that contributes to our immunity and protects our skin vs. an imbalance that can lead to infections and skin diseases.”
What is the importance of the skin microbiome?
Miami dermatologist Dr. Deborah Longwill explains that the skin microbiome “plays a vital role in preserving the health and equilibrium of our skin. It serves as a protective shield, defending the skin against invading pathogens.” Dr. Longwill says the diverse community of microorganisms form an intricate ecosystem that contributes to its overall well-being.
The skin microbiome has always been important. Why is it trending now?
Dr. Elias says the current conversation around the skin microbiome is likely fueled by social media. “With the popularity of social channels like TikTok, more and more dermatologists are able to get education to broad audiences rapidly, contributing to trending interest from mainstream consumers,” he explains.
Furthermore, Dr. Longwill credits the skin-gut connection for shedding light on the skin microbiome. It’s “trending due to the recent importance of maintaining a healthy gut and clear skin. I have seen an influx of research and influencers promoting how to maintain a healthy lifestyle and keeping one’s microbiome in check,” says Dr. Longwill. “Simultaneously, the awareness surrounding probiotics, which play a key role in microbiome health, has been on the rise as well.”
Additionally, with clean skin-care trending, Dr. Longwill says being conscious of the skin microbiome has become more common. “I always advise my patients to opt for clean products that prioritize their skin health and won’t disrupt their microbiome with no harmful chemicals,” says Dr. Longwill.
New York dermatologist Jennifer Segal, MD suggests that it may also be top of mind as we come out of COVID. “The microbiome and its alterations have recently received much attention, particularly in the alterations during the pandemic that are associated with necessary behavioral precautions such as cleansing and wearing masks,” says Dr. Segal.
Can we enhance and support our skin microbiome?
Dr. Elias says it’s too early in our knowledge of the skin microbiome to know exactly how to support and enhance it, but experts have some suggestions that may help. “Good skin care like gentle cleansers and moisturizers are likely the best current way to support the skin microbiome,” says Dr. Elias. Dr. Segal agrees, recommending “maintenance and nourishment of the skin barrier without over cleansing or stripping the skin.”
Dr. Longwill says we can take steps beyond our skin care to help enhance our microbiome, like improving our immune system and reducing inflammation. She encourages “a well-rounded and nourishing diet. Diet is very important to reducing inflammation and maintaining a healthy microbiome.” When it comes to skin care, Dr. Longwill recommends avoiding harsh soaps and chemicals that can strip away natural oils and disturb the microbiome.