I don’t know when exactly the word ‘microbiome’ came onto my radar, I’m pretty sure it was only a few months ago, but I do know that it’s become ubiquitous on my social media feed, hailed as the ‘next big thing in beauty & skincare’.
“Hack your skin’s microbiome for better skin for issues like acne, eczema, and even body odor”
But wait, was this just another beauty bandwagon? Seems not.
Much like biohacking in general, this biological, and knowledge-driven approach to skincare is fast becoming more of a movement than a fad, and that movement’s going mainstream.
It takes a lot more than a big marketing campaign with (insert random celebrity) and a suitably high price tag, to convince us that a beauty product is worth buying nowadays.We want knowledge, we want control, and we want results from the things we put in/on our bodies. We’re pretty demanding.
Most of the big companies are stepping up as well as the smaller conscious and ethical beauty brands, and I for one, am excited to see how I can hack my skin. I’ve been lucky enough not to have too many problems with acne, but psoriasis, dry skin, keratosis pillars (tiny bumps that make your skin look rough) those, those I know about.
So lets break it down a little.
What is this microbiome?
“The skin microbiome is the billions of bacteria, fungi, and viruses that comprise the skin microbiota,” says New York dermatologist Dr. Marnie Nussbaum, who recently attended Paris’ Microbiome Summit for doctors and microbiologists.
“The human skin has 1 billion microbes (bacteria) per square centimeter and that natural bacteria maintains the skin’s immunity and prevents pathogenic growths like atopic dermatitis (eczema) and psoriasis.”
Ok it sounds a bit ick, but don't freak out, as Dr Richard Gallo, who runs a skin microbiome lab at UC San Diego, told British Vogue, this bacteria is good. But it can be easily interfered with by lifestyle choices and environment, which is bad.
When the healthy microorganisms and bacteria on your skin is disturbed, the skin becomes vulnerable to an overgrowth in pathogenic (disease-causing)bacteria, increased inflammation, and an altered skin pH. Hello bad skin day!
So what causes the skin to be disturbed?
Dr. Nussbaum explains that doctors and scientists most often attribute microbiome imbalance to harsh hygiene (like over-exfoliation and washing your face with soaps containing antibacterial properties) and the use of topical antibiotics.
And the result of your skins microbiome being disrupted?
Bacterial and fungal skin rashes like eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis, dandruff and acne – to name just a few.
Adding bacteria to our skin and using gentle products to help maintain its balance seems essential to good skin health. Hence the arrival of micriobiome skincare. These micriobiome-friendly products are more gentle and sensitive, and won’t disrupt the microflora.
I for one, really like this approach. It makes sense to me as someone who suffers from skin problems without having found any product that fully clears it up. I’ve never considered my skin as an organ, as millions of bacteria, as something that needs that kind of ‘bacterial balance’.
It also makes me think about the sheer amount of skincare products on my vanity that are quite likely, unnecessary. They might even be doing more harm than good, you know those exfoliators that feels soo good at the time, or the masks that tingle (sting!) like crazy but make you think they must be doing something amazing, right? Are they just stripping away all the natural goodness and bacteria?
According to Dr Whittney Bowe, author of “The Beauty of Dirty Skin: The Surprising Science of Looking and Feeling Radiant from the Inside Out”, there are a number of ways we can start caring for our skin’s microbiome.
1. Pay Attention to Your Diet: As part of caring for your skin from the inside out and the outside in, you’ll want to consume the right foods. “You want to cut out things that have refined carbs and lots of sugars in them,” Dr. Bowe says. “Processed, packaged foods are usually not very skin friendly.” According to Dr. Bowe, replacing foods like white bagels, pasta, chips, and pretzels for foods like steel cut oatmeal, quinoa, and fresh fruits and vegetables is encouraged. She also recommends yogurt that contains live, active cultures and probiotics.
2. Don’t Over-Cleanse Your Skin: Dr. Bowe admits that the number one skin care mistake she sees amongst her patients is that they are over-cleansing their skin. “They’re scrubbing and rubbing away their good bugs and they’re using really harsh products,” she says. “Any time that your skin feels really tight and dry and squeaky clean after cleansing, it probably means that you’re killing off some of your good bugs.”
3. Use the Right Skin Care Products: Dr. Bowe likes to recommend La Roche-Posay products, a brand that has spent years researching the microbiome and its powerful impact on skin. “La Roche-Posay has this special water called Thermal Spring Water, and it has high concentrations of prebiotics in it,” Dr. Bowe says. “Those prebiotics actually feed your bacteria on your skin so they create a healthy and diverse microbiome on the skin. If you have dry skin, I love to recommend the La Roche-Posay Lipikar Baume AP+. It’s a great product and it thinks about the microbiome in a very sophisticated way.”
It seems like the microbiome skincare movement is only just starting and our prediction is a whole lot of microbiome-focused products in 2020 and beyond. Brands like Mother Dirt, Kinship, Galinée have been hailed as the ones to watch and are just some of the brands I’ll be personally testing to ‘biohack my beauty routine’ - stay tuned!