When you think about an ecosystem, you might think of nature: trees, animals, soil, sunshine, and rain all working together to form a holistic community. And you’d be right. An ecosystem is a variety of organisms that interact with each other to form a sustainable community.
But did you know that your body is also an ecosystem?
It’s true. Your body’s ecosystem is known as a “microbiome” – it’s kind of a smaller version of an ecosystem. The human microbiome consists of small organisms called “microorganisms” or “microbes”.
In fact, it’s estimated that an astonishing 10 to 100 trillion(!) microbes make their home in the human body.1 That means that — on average — there are ten times more microbial cells than there are human cells in the body.2
These microbes are microscopic forms of life — invisible to the naked eye. And there are a variety of microbes – fungi, mites, protozoa, and bacteria to name a few.3
Now, the word “bacteria” can automatically conjure up unpleasant images of illness and germs. But you probably know by now that a lot of bacteria are healthy.
In fact — there’s a good chance you’ve taken a probiotic at one time or another to encourage the growth of these healthy bacteria. That’s because bacteria is essential for human functioning — it aids digestion, strengthens the immune system, and helps maintain the health of your skin.4,5
The Skin Microbiome
Just like the rest of your body, your skin microbiome is home to a diversity of microbes — including fungi, mites, protozoa and bacteria.6
Bacteria are one of the most common microbes on the skin. On average — there are about one billion healthy skin bacteria living on each square centimeter of skin.7
Stunning, isn’t it? These one billion bacteria play a big role in regulating metabolism and the immune function of your skin.8
So — most microbes exist peacefully on your skin — and many of them actually work in your skin’s favor.9 But — given the proper conditions — these microbes do have the potential to cause problems. These problems can be caused by harmful microbes or they can be caused by the overpopulation of microbes that are usually helpful.
These problems might manifest themselves as redness, irritation, acne, or dry skin, or body odor.10 Variations in skin microbiomes are even associated with the visible signs of aging, like sunspots and wrinkles.11
What are some risk factors that can make your skin vulnerable to overpopulation of harmful microbes?
- Poor hygiene
- A weak immune system
- A compromised skin barrier — in other words, skin that’s damaged or has been treated harshly.12
So, How Do You Protect Your Skin Microbiome?
In order to prevent the development of harmful microbes, it’s essential to keep your skin microbiome in proper balance. You can encourage balance by practicing good hygiene, strengthening your immune system, and exercising gentleness when caring for your skin.
Here are a few tips to get you on the road toward a healthy skin biome.
1. Practice Good Makeup Hygiene
A little foundation, mascara, and lipstick can go a long way in brightening up the face. But it’s worth noting that people who use makeup have a more diverse community of microbes on the face than those who don’t use makeup.13 This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But it is important to ensure that those microbes remain in a healthy balance in order to help prevent skin irritation or infection.
Here are some ways you can make sure you’re practicing…
a. Don’t Share Makeup
You’ve probably been cautioned about this before — and for good reason. Sharing makeup means that the microbes that exist someone else’s skin transfer to your skin. This might not seem like such a big deal, but keep in mind — every person’s skin microbiome is unique.
It’s true, the number and types of microbes that exist in your microbiome will be different from the number and types of microbes that exist in someone else’s microbiome.
And the microbes that exist on someone else’s skin may not interact well with the microbes that exist on your skin. This transfer of microbes from skin-to-skin greatly increases the risk for skin irritation and infection.15
To avoid this, always use your own makeup and avoid sharing.
b. Clean Your Makeup Brushes
Every time a makeup brush makes contact with the skin, it picks up a layer of oil, skin cells, and bacteria. This buildup on the makeup brush turns out to be an ideal environment in which bacteria can over-multiply.
Now think about it — you’re brushing all that overgrowth of bacteria back on your face which, along with the oil, can irritate the skin and may lead to breakouts.16
So how often should you be washing them? At the very least — once a month. But ideally, you should wash foundation brushes every two weeks and eye brushes once a week.
c. Throw Out Old Makeup
Bacteria tend to thrive in the damp environments and many cosmetics provide just that. Gel eyeliners, cream blushes, and foundations can all become breeding grounds for bacteria.17
And even dry powders – because they’re exposed to the air more often – can have a high contamination rate from unwanted bacteria.18
So how long can you hang on to that highlighter before replacing it? According to experts — about 3 to 4 months.19 Using any makeup longer than that puts your skin at risk.
2. Be Gentle With Hand Washing
Harsh hand-washing can irritate the skin and actually disrupt your skin barrier. The skin barrier’s job is to keep out unhealthy pathogens and pollutants — and when it’s disrupted — it can’t do an effective job. This irritated skin environment is more vulnerable to overpopulation of bacteria that can lead to further irritation.20
To prevent hand irritation — avoid abrasive soaps and washing in hot or cold water — all of which can disrupt the skin barrier. Instead, use gentle soaps and lukewarm water.
3. Eat Probiotic-Rich Foods — And Put Them On Your Skin Too
You already know that probiotics can help restore the balance of the gut — improving digestion and helping maintain a healthy immune system.
But probiotics – both in dietary and topical form – have a beneficial effect on the skin. Studies have shown that probiotics help boost skin health – reducing breakouts, redness, and irritation. Not only that, they help counteract damage from UV rays that leads the signs of aging.21
Some probiotic-rich foods to stock up on are yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha.
And if you want a topical application? Try a yogurt mask! Simply blend two tablespoons of organic, plain yogurt with a teaspoon of honey and apply to face. Let your skin soak up all that probiotic goodness for twenty minutes, then rinse off!
A Balanced Skin Ecosystem
Your skin microbiome is home to a dizzying number of diverse microorganisms — many of which benefit your skin’s health. But if this delicate ecosystem becomes unbalanced, skin problems may result.
Remember, to maintain the health of your skin microbiome — practice good hygiene, strengthen your immune system, and treat your skin gently.