By Raphael Kellman, M.D., Kellman Center for Functional and Integrative Medicine
The first thing we see in the morning when looking in the mirror is skin. We all tend to notice it’s condition, if it’s dry, looks rested or has blemishes. What goes unseen are the millions of bacteria, fungi and viruses also inhabiting the surface of the entire body. The skin microbiome is comprised of millions of bacteria and immune cells, all working together to maintain the protective borders. This is a critical job as skin is in constant contact with the outside world and the first line of defense against foreign invaders and toxins.
Why are bacteria so important to our skin and overall health?
I often write about the many benefits of the gut microbiome. It’s a foundational aspect to good health starting from the inside out. Skin microbes are less studied yet fascinating in the ways they protect and contribute to local skin health and the well being of the whole body. The skin microbiome confers immunity in several ways.
Starves out invaders through competition for nutrients.
Blankets the skin surface crowding out pathogens attempting to adhere.
Alters and educates immune cells, influencing the development of T cells and antigen-presenting cells.
Secretes antimicrobial substances that fight and destroy invaders.
Changes the local environment having a protective effect
Secretes lipoteichoic acid (LTA) preventing skin inflammation
The gut/skin connection.
Intestine bacterial imbalances frequently trigger skin conditions. Leaky gut, GI disorders, SIBO and dysbiosis are often present in many of the patients I see suffering from ailments like acne, eczema, rosacea, rashes and hives. In many cases, working on the underlying problems and restoring gut health, can help restore the skin as well. At the same time, skin disorders and breaches in the microbial defense systems can lead to pathogenic infections affecting various organs, systems and overall health. Maintaining both the skin and intestinal microbiome will ensure overall immunity is supported.
Supporting the skin Microbiome.
Your skin microbial communities are alive and need care to thrive. Oral probiotics in conjunction with prebiotics for skin care can be a powerful therapeutic agent when dealing with skin disorders. Topical probiotic products are relatively new but, there are currently some on the market to encourage the growth of healthful skin organisms. Yogurt masks can be useful to replenish positive bacteria to the skin as well. Antimicrobial soaps and cleansers may seem like a good idea but they can actually wipe out bacterial populations including the helpful ones we want to nurture. Switch to natural compounds that gently cleanse and moisturize the skin rather than chemical varieties. And don’t forget, proper diet and lifestyle choices will benefit you and the sum total of your microbiome.