Your Skin's Microbiome

Your skin acts like a bouncer for your body, keeping out viruses and other organisms that can make you sick. Experts used to think the skin cells were that first line of defense, but we now know it begins with the skin’s microbiome. Yep, you've heard all about the probiotics that feed your gut. But the newest probiotics are aimed at bettering your skin—and the trillions of microbes that live there.

You can't see all of the 1,000 species of bacteria and fungi that live on the upper layer of your skin, but they likely impact what your skin looks and feels like day-to-day. "We already know that a single centimeter of skin can contain bacteria, fungus, mites, and viruses," says Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, M.D., a New York-based dermatologist and clinical instructor at New York University. "Most of the microorganisms haven't been researched yet, but we know that diversity [of that microbiome] keeps skin healthy."

Take Note of Certain Skin Conditions

New research shows that keeping these microorganisms in balance may help to protect skin from certain conditions. For example, acne, eczema, and rosacea are now attributed to a lack of diversity in the skin microbiome, Dr. Levin explains. Eczema patients, for instance, were found to have a microbiome that's different from the microbiomes of those who do not suffer from the telltale inflammation and skin rashes.

And here's some good news: If you're taking an oral probiotic that targets the gut microbiome, you might see an improvement in a condition like acne because of the connection between the gut and the skin.

Stop Using Harsh Soaps

“Dermatologists have started advising against overcleaning,” says Anne Chapas, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City. Washing your skin too often (skip those trendy triple cleanse routines)or using harsh soaps strips away good bacteria, she says. Clean only when you really need to—before bed to remove makeup, after a workout or an especially sweaty day—and avoid antibacterial soaps.

Preserving these colonies of organisms also means focusing on eliminating fragrances and other powerful synthetic materials, says Dr. Levin. Retinoid or topical antibiotics also disturb the fragile balance of skin organisms. "There's a strong push not to give so many antibiotics or retinoids," says Dr. Levin. "You don't want to significantly change the diversity of your skin."

Hydrate—Inside and Out

Regularly underhydrating can negatively affect your skin’s microbiome, Richman says. Drink at least 64 ounces of water a day, says Melissa K. Levin, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City and a clinical instructor at NYU Langone Health.

Go Natural

Whenever possible, wear clothing made from natural fibers such as cotton and bamboo, especially if the fabric will be close to your skin for a long time, like underwear. Synthetic fibers can irritate the skin barrier, changing the ratio of good to bad bacteria, says Dr. Levin. Man-made fibers, like polyester, also provide a more welcoming environment for odor-causing bacteria than cotton, the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology reports. 

Supplement Your Skin

The probiotics you take for your gut may boost the skin’s microbiome too. “Some data shows they can decrease inflammation that occurs with conditions like acne and rosacea,” says Dr. Levin. The probiotic strains with proven skin benefits include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, both of which are found in Elxr Co's Probiotics.

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