5 Signs Your Skin’s Microbiome Needs Help
Sometimes, we look in the mirror and know exactly what’s the matter with our skin. Things like dry, flaky patches in winter or acne breakouts during times of stress are easy to spot and often just as easy to treat.
But when it comes to our skin’s microbiome – the ecosystem of bacteria and other microbes that live on your skin – things can get a little more complicated. Since this diverse system of microorganisms works (or struggles) at the microscopic level, it’s pretty tough to see them in the mirror and check out what’s going on.
Luckily, there are a few noticeable ways to tell if your skin’s microbiome needs a helping hand.
Today, we’ll take a look at some of those warning signs.
But first, what exactly is the skin microbiome?
We’ve written at length about this elsewhere, but in short, your skin is home to thousands of microbes like bacteria and fungi that – when everything’s working correctly – live in harmony with the rest of your body.
The skin microbiome is part of the reason why your skin is such an effective barrier between the outside world and the rest of you: an array of good bacteria fight off harmful invaders that can cause infection and other illnesses. When things are out of whack, this protective barrier is weakened and seemingly strange things can happen with your skin.
The good news is, if you take care of your skin’s microbiome, you’re going to see the results in your complexion and feel them everywhere else. And when you’re microbiome isn’t quite right, you might see clear signs if you know what to look for.
Warning Signs That Your Skin Microbiome Might Be Out of Balance
When the amount of harmful or “bad” bacteria on your skin begin to outweigh the good, your skin’s microbiome falls out of balance. Scientists call this process “dysbiosis,” and when it occurs, you start to see problems in the skin.
Here are some of the most common signs that your skin’s microbiome needs attention:
Breakouts can happen for a whole host of reasons. You could be eating too many high-glycemic foods, or your hormones could be out of whack. Or maybe, the wrong kind of bacteria have begun to accumulate on our skin, strains like C. acnes, Staphylococcus aureus and group A β-hemolytic streptococci.
When too many of these guys show up, they can cause inflammation and infection and clog up the skin’s pores, which then swell up into pimples and blackheads—a classic sign that something is amiss in your skin’s microbiome.
Wounds That Won’t Heal
Like we said earlier, a healthy microbiome helps your skin act as a barrier between your body and the outside world. Its link to the immune system is very strong.
For example, some of the bacteria that live on your skin actually help skin cells regenerate and heal wounds. If you notice that you’ve got a cut or a scrape that’s lingering longer than usual, it could be a sign that your skin’s microbiome is out of balance.
The same is true for some recurring skin infections, like fungal overgrowth causing redness or itchiness. If it happens once, you might just need new workout clothes, but if it keeps coming back, it’s worth asking if your good bacteria aren’t getting enough support.
Rosacea is a very common condition that causes skin to appear red, inflamed, and dotted with small bumps. There are many factors that lead to rosacea, but there is an increasing body of work that links flare-ups to the skin’s microbiome.
In 2020, scientists conducted a lengthy review of the existing research on rosacea and found that imbalances in skin microbes such as Cutibacterium acnes, Staphylococcus epidermidis, Bacillus oleronius, and Demodex folliculorum are likely triggers of flare-ups. Caring for your skin’s microbiome can help get these bacteria back under control.
Also known as atopic dermatitis, eczema is an itchy group of skin rashes that can look red, brown, purple, or ash gray. It often affects the “bending” areas of the body, like knees and elbows, but can appear anywhere.
Eczema can be triggered by external irritants like harsh chemicals or wool (if you’re allergic) or by an overgrowth of bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus. Boosting your skin’s microbiome can give the good bacteria a hand in fighting these off.
Psoriasis is a skin disorder that causes skin cells to multiply faster than normal. The dead skill cells remain on the epidermis and build up into red patches with white scales.
Scientists have begun to establish a link between psoriasis and the microbiome. A 2020 study found that oral probiotics and prebiotics helped treat skin inflammation from psoriasis, though research into their effectiveness to treat the root cause is still ongoing.
Now you know the signs, but how do you help your skin microbiome if it’s unbalanced?
In short, your skin’s microbiome is in balance when there are more so-called good bacteria than bad. When the scales tip in the other direction, you’ll often notice the difference on your skin.
Luckily, there are plenty of ways you can assist those good bacteria and protect your microbiome, things like changing your diet, exercising, spending time in nature, and introducing probiotic products like moisturizers or oral supplements into your skincare routine.
These simple tips can go a long way toward helping those good bacteria keep the bad guys at bay. However, everybody’s skin microbiome is different, and all the conditions listed above have a range of contributing factors.
If you experience any of them, it’s a good idea to check in with your dermatologist. The two of you can come up with a plan that’s right for you.