If you follow any good health blogs you’ve probably read about the importance of gut bacteria, sometimes referred to as the microbiome. It’s probably one of the most important things for optimal health.
Our microbiome is taking a beating thanks to our obsession with flawless skin and we can’t discount the pressure that social media puts on all of us to try to attain skin that does not need a filter.
If you live in the real world, you know it’s almost impossible to live up to that.
We’ve been told for so long that we need to scrub, peel, exfoliate and mask our faces until they burn. But the reality is, it’s doing more harm than good because we are disrupting the skin’s delicate ecosystem.
How your microbiome affects your skin
Magdalena Tomczak is a Holistic skin + Face therapist at Woman Divine Skincare, she says, “Our body, the skin included, is a dynamic, ever-changing organism which constantly interacts with and is affected by the environment, the food we eat, the emotions we experience. Your skin may look perfectly healthy today and may be irritated tomorrow because of all the complex life dynamics it takes part in all the time.”
“Your skin expressing how you’re doing is a natural and necessary occurrence. It’s an essential aspect of our body’s signalling system. If you learn to pay attention to your skin signals and behaviours in a positive manner it can become your best guide to self-care and skincare.
It’s a reflection of your health, both physical and emotional, the expression of your body’s wisdom. Yet, we continuously find new ways to prevent skin from expressing and communicating. Peels, excessive scrubbing, micro-dermabrasion actually hurt our skin. They mess up our skin’s precious microbiome.”
The takeaway here is that we need to let the healthy bacteria that exist on the skin thrive and with 70 percent of Canadian women reporting sensitive skin, there is no better time to start.
Cultured foods as many of you know have unbelievable benefits for the gut, things like Kefir, yogurt, Kombucha, Sauerkraut, Kimchi etc. are fabulous.
Is bacteria in beauty just a fad?
Science is proving there is the truth behind the results.
“There are plenty of these invisible guys roaming around. So I’ll say you better keep in a good relationship with your microbes. The fact is that you are an ecosystem. This ecosystem is made of trillions of organisms (microbes) and includes bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
These microbes live in colonies (communities) inside (eg. Your gut flora or your mouth flora) and on the surface of your body (eg. your skin micro-flora or microbiome). Your ecosystem is unique, complex and ever-changing just like other ecosystems in nature.
The gist of it is that you absolutely need a healthy ecosystem in order to be healthy. Your skin needs a healthy microbiome to be healthy and to look its best. When your microbes are ‘happy’ their communities live harmoniously, in balance and life flourishes.
They also do an amazing job at protecting you from invaders from the outside, other organisms that may cause disease and create havoc in your system or in the health of your skin. Peels, micro-dermabrasion, excessive exfoliation as well as antimicrobial soaps, toxic skin and body care products all disturb your precious skin microbiome and are causing a lot of damage to your skin.
They also strip the natural oil that our skin produces (sebum). Sebum feeds the beneficial bacteria which live on our skin and produce immune-boosting fatty acids.
Stripped skin is in a vulnerable state. Unwelcomed micro-invaders from the outside can now penetrate. The natural order of microbial colonies previously living in harmony has now turned into ‘Gangs of New York’ and everyone is competing for dominance and skin problems arise.
Sebum also softens, lubricates and prevents the skin from premature ageing. Without it, your skin can no longer protect you from trans-epidermal water loss. Dryness, dehydration, more lines, and wrinkles are the consequence. So as you can see, what started as a ‘beauty’ treatment or product, turns out to be very unhealthy, skin-damaging and quite frankly doesn’t add to our beauty at all, ” adds Magdalena.
So skincare that contains a good probiotic can be very beneficial to you. Good quality oils can support the microflora living on your skin.
In her new book Beyond Soap (which I am reading now) Dr. Sandy Skotnicki writes that “On its own, the skin is better equipped to fight wrinkles, stave off ageing and act as armour that protects the body from infection. Every time we slather, spread, hydrate, or soften the skin, we nudge the skin away from its healthiest natural condition.”
The book is very well-written and looks at how we are damaging the microbiome of our skin by applying hundreds of ingredients by way of lotions and potions and make-up. How we strip off our natural oils only to spend a fortune on trying to replace them. And how we’re giving ourselves dermatitis, eczema, rosacea, and acne by irritating our skin from all these ingredients and also by over-washing.
How to get the best from your microbiome
When I spoke with Magdalena, she echoed this, saying, “Did you know that organic, great quality oils when applied topically, feed and support the microflora living on your skin? Yes, they do! The micro-organisms actually use oil as food and then change it into very beneficial fatty acids. Quality oils infused with organic herbs will nourish the skin and give it radiance.
You know how you like that squeaky clean feeling after you wash your face? Well, it’s not good for you. You just disturbed your microbiome and stripped your natural oil barrier. Oil cleansing is so wonderful at removing pollution from our skin and it protects the microbiome.
Facial oils and serums infused with herbs are perfect for daily skincare. These are truly great choices to support your skin function. Skincare products are here to do just that, support your skin function. Not to interfere with or suppress the skin function but to gently support it.”
So it seems pretty obvious to me that many modern beauty products are actually harming our skin and the vicious circle of modern skincare in which we believe we need more products to soothe and heal irritated skin, but in actual fact, we prolong the irritation.
There is no such thing as a miracle cream. Your gut microbiome and skin microbiome are actually in constant communication with each other.
Skotnicki says to choose a gentle pH-balanced cleanser and only use it once a day. She also says that a 10-step regime is not ideal for everyone as layering products can actually lead to more irritation and if you are cleansing then exfoliation you are stripping the skin leading to redness and irritation.
Now we are not saying to never exfoliate again, just make sure to pick products that work with your skin, not against it.
Last year scientists at the University Of California published a report after conducting a study on the skin’s microbiome and came up with an innovative microbial treatment for eczema, a disorder characterized by red, itchy, inflamed skin.
This kind of research is illustrating that scientists are able to identify specific strains of bacteria that are required to balance the skin and help people suffering from extreme skin conditions like eczema.
We know that prebiotics and probiotics are good for us. We also know that you are what you eat, food and stress play a major role in how your skin looks and functions.
The quality of the food matters too.
I love this quote from Magdalena, “Like it or not, there is no magic skincare bullet. We are funny creatures though, always looking for shortcuts. I hope that the use of probiotics in skincare does not become another latest fad that will disappoint those looking for a quick fix.”
I have to agree, clever marketing can lead us away from the true nature of the situation.