What is it? The community of living microorganisms that protect the skin and keep the skin barrier (i.e. the acid mantle and lipid barrier) functioning optimally. The microbiome is made up primarily of bacteria but can also contain fungi, viruses, and mites which are all imperative to overall skin health. You can't see it with the naked eye but it's very much alive and active. Our skin is the most exposed human organ and has the critical task of constantly fending off external threats. The microbiome serves as your skins first line of defense- if it is compromised so too will its ability to stave off chemical and microbial invaders.
Why is this important? Strip the skin of these (yes, nasty sounding) microorganisms, or alter the delicate balance, and you get the not so lovely breakouts, inflammation, and irritations that we're all presumably trying to avoid. Even psoriasis or eczema flare ups can be triggered if you’re prone. A weakened barrier will also lead water loss (i.e. dry, parched skin) and opens the door for pathogens to invade. If you want that clear, even, glowing complexion you have to work with the microbiome, not against it.
Main culprits for disruption? Vigorous scrubbing during washing or toweling off, washing with water that’s too hot, over exfoliating, waxing, and most commonly, harsh or abrasive ingredients found in most skincare products. Look for these ingredients which are common offenders: soap, sulfates, synthetic fragrance, dyes, chemicals.
What can you do? BE MORE GENTLE! Most of us are guilty of doing too much, too often, and too intensely to our skin. We need to retrain ourselves that the best way to maintain a healthy complexion is to start treating our skin as the delicate organ it is. Exfoliate with gentle acid peels rather than physical scrubs, and try to limit exfoliation to a couple times per week. Find a pH neutral, or slightly acidic cleanser, that supports the acid mantles natural balance at pH 4.5-5.5, and never venture hotter than lukewarm water when washing. Remember gently pat (never rub) the skin dry with a clean towel and, last but certainly not least, always, always, always moisturize.
A healthy microbiome means healthy skin so just know, if you’re not actively protecting it, you’re most likely damaging it.
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