You Should Probably Be Paying Attention To Your Skin's Microbiome

Believe it or not, no matter how many times you shower or wash your hands and face, there will always be mix of bacteria sitting on your skin's surface. But don't panic just yet.

Known as the microbiome, these tiny organisms are actually what help keep your skin healthy and balanced. It's only when they're out of whack that you'll start to notice dryness or flare-ups — then you can panic (just kidding!).

And with the coronavirus pandemic understandably making the vast majority of us hyper-aware of both our personal hygiene and the cleanliness of our homes, you've likely noticed a change in your skin's moisture levels — at least on your hands — at one point or another over the past year and a half. So how do we get our skin back into shape as we continue to emerge from social distancing restrictions?

Ahead, we share everything you need to know about the skin's natural microbiome, how to know if yours is unbalanced, the best ways to take care of your skin, and why it matters so much.

What is the skin’s microbiome?

The microbiome is essentially a community of organisms that live on the skin barrier. It's made up of various forms of bacteria, fungi, mites, and viruses that live in perfect balance to keep your skin healthy.

Why is it so important to keep the skin’s microbiome intact?

Think of it this way: Your skin is your body's first line of defense when it comes to different pathogens entering the body. Heavy use of disinfectant products (or any skincare products that don't agree with your skin's chemistry), that make contact with the epidermis will destroy many of the organisms living on the skin, leaving the microbiome unbalanced. This can lead to skin irritation, micro-abrasions, and skin flare-ups.

"If the skin microbiome is in balance, then your skin can function at optimal levels," Dr. Nathan Brown, virologist and vice president of science and development at Ellis Day Skin Science, shares. "More specifically, the bacteria and fungi in the skin microbiome can use their energy to produce antimicrobial peptides that help maintain skin health by preventing pathogens from growing. These good microbes can also stimulate skin cells to produce antimicrobial peptides that destroy viruses. If the skin microbiome is out of balance, then these good microbes cannot protect us from pathogens very well."

On top of all that, having an unhealthy skin barrier can also make it easier for viruses to enter the body.

"If the skin microbiome is not in balance, then the skin microbiome can include larger numbers of pathogens like staphylococcus aureus, cutibacterium acnes, or pseudomonas, which can reduce our resistance to viral infections," Dr. Brown continues. "Those pathogens hiding in an imbalanced microbiome can also cause secondary infections after a virus causes the first infection, leading to longer recovery or more complications."

So, in conclusion, yikes. 

How do I know if my skin’s microbiome is unbalanced?

Usually, you'll be able to tell.

If you're noticing any dryness, sensitivity, or breakouts on the skin, there's a chance your microbiome is out of whack. "A compromised barrier also leads to a loss in skin hydration and can lead to inflammation," Kate Somerville, founder of the eponymous skincare line, adds.

However, sometimes, it's not so obvious. "Antibiotic-resistant staphylococcus aureus may live on your skin and you wouldn't even know until it infected a wound," says Dr. Brown.

VIDEO: Can COVID-19 Live on Your Beauty Products?

If my microbiome is unbalanced, how can I get my skin back to normal?

Simply put: Create a solid skincare routine that includes ingredients that nourish and strengthen the skin. "Look for barrier rebuilding ingredients like ceramides and calming ingredients like soothing peptides," Somerville says.

The skincare expert created a line specifically for this exact purpose — and it has rave reviews at Sephora. "DeliKate is a collection formulated to bring your skin barrier and skin health back to balance when each product is incorporated into your routine," she shares.

To shop: $38; sephora.com

To shop: $85; sephora.com

To shop: $80; sephora.com

Dr. Brown is a fan of Ellis Day Skin Science's Wild Resilience Active Phage Serum. "It contains a proprietary blend of phages that target only the bad bacteria on your skin, allowing the good bacteria to survive and grow," he explains. "Phages are one of the most sophisticated tools for keeping your skin microbiome balanced, they have the most dramatic effects."

To shop: $85; ellisdayskinscience.com

Aside from building a skincare routine, drinking plenty of water will help keep the skin hydrated and strengthen the barrier. "Hydration is really important because it also keeps the outermost layer of skin from cracking," Dr. Brown shares. "The outer layer of skin, called the stratum corneum, is an impenetrable outer barrier to viruses if it is not cracked."

You should also be viligant about wearing rubber gloves when you're wiping down hard surfaces with disinfectants, and even while doing day-to-day tasks like washing the dishes.

However, if you are noticing persistant skin irritation, your best bet is to set up an appointment with your dermatologist. They will be able to help you diagnose the problem and create a personalized skincare plan tailored to your needs.

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