Just like your gut, your skin can benefit from the right balance of bacteria. Marketing for soaps and hand sanitizers typically uses scorched-earth language, stuff like “Kills 99.99% of germs!” The idea being: Destroy all bacteria. But that might actually be bad for you—the way antibiotics disturb your body’s chemical makeup. Like your stomach, your skin has a delicate balance of bacteria called a “microbiome.”
“Our bodies are a symbiotic organism that rely heavily on their relationship with bacteria, inside and out,” says Julie E. Russak, MD, founder of Russak Dermatology Clinic. “We have more bacteria on our skin than we do in our body.”
Russak says that the skin microbiome protects us from invasive virus-causing pathogens and maintains the pH function of the skin. (That is, it prevents skin from getting too dry or too oily.) So how can we thwart the bad bacteria without offing the good stuff?
Apparently certain brands are rolling out “biome-friendly” products that specifically work to fortify the skin’s microbiome—like Mother Dirt, TULA, and even Clinique. They don’t necessarily contain live bacteria (though some do); instead, most contain “pre-biotics,” which stimulate the good stuff. Russak names lactic acid as one example: “It helps against acne and decreases inflammation in sensitive skin, thus restoring the barrier function of the skin, which helps with sensitive skin and eczema,” she says.
Here’s another way to look at it: Instead of an antibacterial approach (“Kill everything!”), these brands buttress the good stuff so that it’s strong enough to fend off the bad stuff on its own. (“Organize and resist!”) Another way to support your skin’s microbiome is to eliminate ingredients that kill the good microbes in the skin—these are typically the ingredients that preserve a product and thus give it a longer shelf life. So while you might sacrifice longevity on that cleanser, you make up for it by not sacrificing the healthy ecology that has effectively sustained humans for, I dunno, hundreds of thousands of years.
Your scalp and hair can benefit from a probiotic approach, too. A microbiome-friendly shampoo helps balance the oil production up top, meaning your hair gets less greasy…meaning you don’t have to shampoo as often. (This is a good thing, since shampoo strips your hair and scalp of its natural, healthy oils that keep them strong.) So, yeah, it’s a shampoo you buy so that you ultimately use shampoo less. Weird, I know, but it’s the same theory as a probiotic approach: Don’t kill the good with the bad! Preserve the good oils and increase your dependence on them, instead of stoking your repulsion to oil as a whole. You’ll have more good hair days because of it.
You can further benefit your skin and body’s microbiomes by maintain a pro-probiotic diet. “Include a wide variety of fresh, whole foods that will activate, replenish, and nourish your body,” says Russak. “And as long as you avoid common irritants such as processed foods, sugar, gluten, and dairy, your skin will thank you.” She also suggests eating foods like fermented organic veggies and fruits, as well as fermented yogurts (with live or active cultures) in moderation, though goat’s milk yogurt, coconut yogurt, and almond yogurt are good alternatives. And here’s one curveball: Russak “prescribes” sauerkraut as a source of many healthy live cultures, in addition to microbiome-friendly vitamins A, B, C, and K.
Bottom line: “A strong, balanced microbiome is essential for a glowing, healthy complexion,” Russak says.
Even if it means rubbing bacteria on your skin.
(Reposted from a Skincare GQ.com article – August 2017 – by Adam Hurley)