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Your Skin, The Ecosystem

by Mary Beth Janssen

Image Credit: Dean Drobot / shutterstock.com

Healthy skin and the microbiome.

Our skin is its own ecosystem, home to diverse microorganisms, most of which are harmless or even beneficial to a healthy host. A single square centimeter of skin hosts approximately 1 billion microbes.

The skin microbiome has become the subject of increasing research, with scientists concluding that skin disorders including dermatitis, acne, rosacea, psoriasis, eczema and more may be exacerbated by an imbalance in the microbiome. Could it be due, in part, to the connection to our immune system?

According to Dr. Richard Gallo, chief of the dermatology division at the University of California, San Diego, “Good bacteria are educating your own skin cells to make your own antibiotics, and they produce their own antibiotics that kill off bad bacteria.”

But modern life’s “hygienic” living--sanitizers, preservatives in our skin care and food, chemical exposure, antibiotics/pharmaceutical drug exposure and overuse--can drastically throw our microbiomes out of whack. Just like our gastrointestinal tract, our skin microbiome deserves and requires our daily care and support. Consider the following guidelines for protecting your skin flora.

*Shore up overall health in every way possible.

Every facet of our mindbody health is interconnected. Much that appears on and through the skin can be systemic.

Supporting skin ecology only by external means is short-sighted, especially considering the influence of overall immune function on skin. Get a handle on stress. Optimize your nutritional uptake. Ensure that your digestive system and gastrointestinal function is in prime working condition. The same goes for your major detoxification pathways--breathing from lungs, urination from kidneys, bowel movements from colon, skin excreting toxins through pores, sweat and oil glands, and liver function.

*Strive for a natural, organic skin care regimen.

Our skin is naturally acidic with a pH of 4 to 5.5, creating comfort for beneficial bacteria, but it is an uncomfortable environment for the inhospitable or harmful ones. Alkaline, toxic chemicals and products that remove 99.9 percent of germs disrupt the natural acid pH balance of the skin, and disrupt the skin microbiome.

Dr. Joseph Mercola gave me the low-down on maintaining a healthy skin microbiome:

*Use tepid water.

Too-frequent showering, especially in hot water, not only removes lipids and oils that keep your skin from drying out, but also removes good bacteria. *Consider a shower filter to remove chlorine, heavy metals, and other contaminants.

*Look at the cleansers, shampoos, fragrances and other personal care (and household cleaning) products you use.

Many beauty and personal care products contain harsh, synthetic chemicals that may disrupt your skin’s natural acid mantle, thus your natural ecosystem, particularly if you have a compromised immune system.

*Consider everything that touches your skin

Cosmetics alter the microbial composition of our skin in a profound way. With time, makeup can become rife with harmful bacteria. So commit to only the purest certified organic or natural products. Purchase in small amounts, throw old makeup away and consider reducing the amount of makeup that you use.

*Think about your clothing and how you care for it.

Look for natural fibers like organic cotton, hemp, linen, silk, wool, cashmere, etc. The bacteria found in these natural fibers mirrors the skin microbiome. Bacteria found in synthetic materials can disrupt the skin microbiome. A number of essential oils have antimicrobial properties (tea tree, rosemary, cedarwood, eucalyptus, etc.). These can be used in the laundry detergent dispenser as well as on a cloth placed in the dryer.

*Brands for restoring your skin microbiome.

Consider adding pre- and probiotic-rich personal care products to your regimen to restore and maintain your beneficial bacteria. Some progressive brands include Bioesse (bioesseprobiotics.com) and Mother Dirt (motherdirt.com). Their skin microbiome-friendly products (soaps, shampoos, sprays) contain Ammonia Oxidizing Bacteria (AOB) which are found in human sweat.

Maintaining or restoring beneficial bacteria is the answer to healthy skin and can give a powerful boost to our overall health and well-being. To learn more, take a look at these excellent resources: skinmicrobiome.net and microbiomeinstitute.org

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