The Secret Life of Skin

secret life of skin

What is the Skin Microbiome?

It’s easy to forget how important our skin is to our health. When we look in the mirror, we don’t typically realize we’re actually looking at our body’s largest organ. Though on the outside of our body, our skin is incredibly important and serves as the first line of defense to protect our insides from the environment around us. It helps retain water, reduce the penetration of chemicals, and even defend against radiation and free radicals

Seems like a lot of pressure for one organ, but fortunately our skin – much like our gut – reaps the benefits of a friendly system of microbes that work in synergy to support and defend us from harmful forces.

Symbiotic Mutualism

Our skin is not short on diversity, much like our gut. Containing trillions of microbes, scientists have found a vast array of both bacteria and fungi species that thrive within the skin microbiome.

Under our nails, around our hair follicles, and inside our sweat glands - our skin microbes have settled just about everywhere. Depending on the pH, temperature, and airflow, different microbes have laid claim to their own individual niche. And their survival benefits us in more than one way.

As they colonize our skin, these microbes receive a place to live and feed. In return, they help reduce the settling of pathogenic bacteria that may disrupt or harm our skin – or even risk invasion into our body. For example, some strains of Staphylococcus epidermidis – one of the most abundant bacteria on the human skin – produce antimicrobial proteins that prevent invasive pathogens like their cousin Staphylococcus aureus from colonizing. This particular pathogen, when proliferative, is often associated with atopic dermatitis and can cause chronic inflammation on the skin (think red, flaking, and itchy splotches).

Keeping a balanced skin microbiome can do wonders for your external protection. But when disrupted – it might actually be saying something more about what is happening inside you as your skin can often reflect changes in your health internally as much as externally.

What Is Your Skin Microbiome Saying?

The complete human microbiome is a dynamic system of microbes that extends from our skin, through our nasal and oral passageways and travels throughout the digestive system. This ‘microbial road’ even expands to various other regions and serves a number of functions to help stabilize and promote cellular function. But rather than think of each area as their own distinct zone, it’s important to realize that they’re all connected. Though the microbes thriving in each region are very different from each other, they have many ways of communicating. We now call this link the Gut-Skin Axis, and researchers are constantly learning how closely related the two systems are.

As we mentioned before, atopic dermatitis – better known as eczema - is a condition that forms when certain populations of Staphylococcus aureus gain footing on the skin. And yet, scientists have found that the development of atopic dermatitis  is closely related to an imbalanced gut microbiome. As we know, a significant portion of our immune system is housed in our gut, and a disbalance in our gut ecosystem can have a profound impact on levels of inflammation. Studies have shown that this disruption can permeate to our skin and change how hospitable our skin is to commensal and pathogenic bacteria.

Chronic inflammation has been shown to correlate with a number of skin conditions, including rosacea and seborrheic dermatitis. As scientists expand on their understanding of the Gut-Skin Axis, new ways to combat these symptoms are showing promise – especially when it comes to the foods you eat.

In these studies,  changes in diet and the use of probiotics have shown to actually help improve symptoms of atopic dermatitis. At Viome, many of our users have told us anecdotally how their precision recommendations have helped clear up their skin. It’s amazing how connected everything can be!

How Can I Promote A Healthy Skin Microbiome?

Your age, environment, gender, and many other factors can contribute to the diversity of microbes on and in your body. Even things we often don’t consider – like the clothes we wear or the products we use (lotion, soaps, etc.) can all impact how balanced or threatened our skin ecosystem may be. 

Step One:

Take a look at the products you use in your home.

Despite what you think about your favorite family detergent, there is a possibility that your skin may be suffering from different cleaning products in your home. Take inventory of which laundry detergents you use, fabric softeners, body soaps, and even shampoos. The ingredients in soap are alkaline in pH which is counter to what your skin prefers (our skin is happy right around 5, which is a relatively acidic environment). So even though your goal is to remove dirt, grime, and some harmful bacteria – you might be scrubbing off the compounds that make the ‘good’ bacteria happy and helping unfortunate microbial foes feel more at home. 

Other compounds in your skincare products or detergents might also be triggering an allergic response. As mentioned, even your clothing choices can impact your skin ecosystem. So when in doubt, consider switching to more natural, hypoallergenic detergents and see how your skin reacts. 

Step Two:

Determine if your external issues stem from internal ones.

Because the skin flora is so closely connected to the gut flora, it’s very possible that your skin is signaling an issue originating in your digestive system. Whether you’re checking in with your gut or tracking the impact of your gut microbiome on the rest of your body – learning about the state of your gut can give you insight into your skin health.

Fighting food sensitivities, cleaning up your diet, or even dialing in certain nutrient gaps can help resolve an imbalance in your gut ecosystem. If inflammation was a source of concern from incorrect dietary choices, having the right precision recommendations can reduce the impact of an overactive immune response on your skin. Precision food and supplement recommendations and changes in your diet may be the key to better skin—and support for your skin microbiome from the inside out.

The information on the Viome website is provided for informational purposes only and with the understanding that Viome is not engaged in rendering medical advice or recommendations. Viome provides this educational information to share the exciting developments being reported in the scientific literature about the human microbiome and your health. Viome products are not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.