Supporting your Skin Microbiome
What is the Skin Microbiome?
The skin microbiome, aka the skin flora, refers to the collection of trillions of microorganisms that live on our skin. These microorganisms are comprised of about 1,000 species of bacteria and up to 80 species of fungi. Because many of these same microorganisms also reside in a person’s gut, researchers believe that the gut and skin microbiomes are biologically linked.
The majority of microorganisms residing on the skin are harmless to healthy individuals. Some microorganisms are considered beneficial (health promoting) to skin, while others are pathogenic (infection promoting). Beneficial microorganisms impart health benefits to the skin by, for example, secreting antibacterial peptides that eliminate pathogens present on skin so as to prevent them from colonizing the skin. It should be noted, however, that even beneficial microorganisms can become problematic and cause infection such as when the skin’s physical barrier is damaged by trauma or injury.
What does the Skin Microbiome do?
The skin microbiome serves several critical functions:
Prevents pathogens from colonizing the skin and helps us deal with skin infections. The skin and its microbiome serve as the first line of defense against environmental pathogens. Beneficial microorganisms secrete bioactive antimicrobial peptides that eliminate pathogens, thus keeping their numbers in check and preventing them from colonizing the skin. As long as the pathogens do not outnumber the beneficial microorganisms, the microbiome remains balanced.
Serves a vital role in the proper functioning of our skin barrier to prevent pathogens from penetrating the skin and causing infection. The role of the microflora is to help strengthen and support the skin’s barrier function by making it more difficult for pathogens to pass through the skin’s outer protective layer. This is accomplished when certain beneficial microbes secrete bioactive molecules such as fatty acids and lipids that help to nourish skin cells and fill in the spaces between the cells thereby strengthening the skin’s cellular matrix and enhancing its barrier function. Imagine the skin’s cells being the bricks of the cellular matrix and the bioactive molecules the mortar that hold the bricks in place.
Protects us from environmental damage.
The presence of the microbiome helps to limit skin’s exposure to allergens, minimizes oxidative damage caused by free radicals that have been formed on the skin by UV rays and environmental pollutants (the bacteria take the hit for us), and even aid the skin in retaining its moisture. And lastly, as an added perk, the microbiome also helps to support wound healing (natural anti-bacterial peptides again!) in the event one’s skin suffers a cut, scratch or burn.
Communicates with our immune system.
Researchers have found that the location of the skin’s microbiome is not strictly limited to the surface (dermis) of the skin. Studies have shown that these microorganisms can travel through the dermis all the way to the skin’s subcutaneous fat layer, thereby establishing the existence of the microbiome within this lower layer. While more studies are needed, it is believed that the actual communication between the microbiome and our immune system takes place within this layer. In the event the microbiome is overrun by pathogens, this imbalance causes the beneficial microbes to band together and send messages to the body’s immune system, asking it for assistance. This coordinated effort, on a cellular level, stimulates immune cells located in both the epidermis and dermis to trigger the immune system into action, resulting in the release of pathogen-destroying and wound-healing molecules.
How does frequent sanitization affect the microbiome?
The problem with sanitizers and antimicrobial agents is that they kill all microorganisms they come in contact with including those of the microbiome. Although hand sanitizers are effective at killing, and thus preventing the transmission of, the COVID-19 virus they are, by the same token, very biome-unfriendly. Sanitizers rely on alcohols to kill bacteria and viruses because of their incredible efficiency, typically killing germs within seconds after contact. However, an undesirable side-effect associated with their use is the damage they cause to the natural lipids and fatty acids also present on the surface of the skin which, as was mentioned above, represent the mortar that holds the skin’s cells (bricks) together, thereby damaging the skin barrier. The weakening of the skin barrier, in turn, can lead to the formation of rashes, infections, and other skin problems. Furthermore, the long-term consequences of constant microbiome damage are unknown, as we still don’t understand each species’ specific function in the overall biome ecosystem. More studies need to be done, in order to fully understand the role bacteria play on the skin, as well as the intrinsic and extrinsic factors that impact them.
What can one do to protect and restore the microbiome?
Recent studies have shown that the use of certain natural ingredients, including fermentation-based preservatives, not only has less of an impact on microbiome balance, but depending on the type of natural ingredient used can actually reinforce it. For example, biotech-based natural preservatives in the form of antimicrobial peptides derived from the fermentation of lactic acid (lactobacillus fermentation) have been found to effectively destroy pathogenic bacteria, while at the same time supporting bacteria balance. With their use, the microbiome remains properly balanced leaving the skin healthy and protected against harmful pathogenic bacteria. In short, fermented preservatives appear to be superior to their synthetic counterparts when it comes to maintaining a healthy, well-functioning skin microbiome.
The patented Codex Beauty PreservX system, found in all our water-based products, comprises three fermented ingredients and two organic acids, which together, effectively preserve these formulations. Moreover, not only is PreservX an effective preservative system, but it also enhances both skin hydration and skin barrier function by supporting the microbiome. In fact, it is worth noting that all our products are MyMicrobiome certified. Those concerned with protecting and supporting their skin microbiome should look for this certification on fermented skincare products.
No. 1 | Propanediol
Source: fermented corn
Action: Adjuvant (booster) for other 3 ingredients
Skin Benefits: Moisturizes and softens skin
No. 2 | Lactobacillus Ferment
Source: Fermentation of Lactobacillus bacteria
Action: Broad-spectrum anti-microbial
Skin benefits: Probiotic that supports the skin microbiome
No. 3 | Coconut Oil/Ferment
Action: Antifungal, Antibacterial & Antiviral
Skin Benefits: Moisturizes skin and improves its elasticity
No. 4 | Edible Organic Acid
Source: Potassium Sorbate and/or Sodium Benzoate
Action: Protects from yeast and molds
Skin Benefits: Very mild to minimize irritation
Fermented skincare can be used on most types of healthy skin. If someone has a pre-existing skin condition such as eczema or psoriasis, they should consult their dermatologist first.