Like the gut, the skin has its own unique ecosystem consisting of millions of bacteria, fungi, and viruses, which make up the skin microbiome. We have long known about the health benefits of maintaining balance in the gut microbiome but when it comes to skin care, bacteria have generally been perceived as something we need to remove.
This narrative is beginning to change in scientific circles. Today, the skin microbiome is increasingly thought to be the key to enhancing the skin’s appearance – addressing the causes of skin conditions rather than just the symptoms.
Here at Derma Aesthetics, we couldn’t agree more!
To understand why the skin’s microbiome is so important, we first need to have an understanding of the ecosystem in which these bacteria reside. This ecosystem corresponds to the health and wellbeing of every single bacteria living on your skin!
What is the skins first line of defence in the ecosystem?
Allow us to introduce you to your acid mantle: the skin’s first line of physical defence…
The acid mantle is a complex fluid, entirely formed by substances excreted from your sudiferous and sebaceous glands, epidermal lipids and the Natural Moisturising Factor (NMF). In other words, it is a product of your skin’s own metabolism and is the first line of defence against pathogenic microorganisms and toxins from the outside environment.
The acid mantle residing on the surface of your stratum corneum (outer most layer of skin), is not only responsible for destroying pathogenic microorganisms and toxic substances, but due to its lipid composition naturally slows down the evaporation of water from the epidermis, and by slowing down trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL), will maintain and support enzyme activity for balanced hydration and tissue homeostasis.
This is vitally important for the overall barrier function of the skin and of course, the health of the microbiome!
The acid mantle as the name implies is acidic and for good reason as it maintains a physiological pH of around 5.5 to prevent non-resident bacteria from developing. It also inhibits commensal bacteria from becoming pathogenic (more on this in just a moment). The film acts as an antiseptic, which means that it works on preventing the growth of bacteria, which cannot survive in an acidic environment, as well as preventing toxic matter and other foreign substances from being absorbed into the skin.
So, how does the microbiome fit in?
Now that we have a sound understanding of the ecosystem in which the microbiome reside, let us know take a look at the microbiome…
The microbiome refers to a collection of commensal, parasitic and mutualistic microorganisms that reside on and within the acid mantle. These microorganisms are also found within the intricate appendages of the epidermis and dermis such as the pilosebaceous unit (hair follicle structure) and the sebaceous/sudoriferous glands (oil and sweat glands). Together, these microorganisms strengthen and educate the immune system by enhancing innate and adaptive immunity, in order to defend us against pathogens, infections, viruses, and other forms of environmental pollutions.
Let’s take a closer look at the different strains of bacterial species, and how they provide defence for us on a daily basis…
Like brother and sister, these microbes are forced to live together in an ecosystem where they are required to get along. Commensal bacteria share a common ground, and work together in order to maintain protection and defence for the health and wellbeing of the individual.
These microbes destroy opportunistic and toxic microorganisms in order to maintain balance and harmony to prevent disease and infection.
This is the interaction of two species for the benefit of both, as they work together exclusively to maintain balance.
Our skin’s microbiome is invaluable to the health and wellbeing of our skin, and in truth, we cannot think of one without the other.
The spectrum of microorganisms changes with growth and development of the individual. For instance, the womb provides a sterile environment for the developing foetus. Upon birth, the newborn is colonised with numerous different bacteria, mites, virus and fungi. During growth and maturation, different microorganisms predominate at various sites on the body.
These microbes are beneficial to the skin as they help to maintain the low pH of the acid mantle around 5.5, which inhibits the growth of more harmful bacteria. They also consume the limited amount of nutrients available on skin that makes it hard for pathogenic bacteria to establish themselves. However, they can become opportunistic and toxic when the delicate ecosystem of the skin becomes compromised.
When the acid mantle becomes alkaline (above a pH of 7), these microbes can be killed off and/or encouraged to over proliferate causing a microbial imbalance and enabling opportunistic and pathogenic bacteria to thrive as seen in individuals presenting with with chronic wounds, acne and atopic dermatitis just to name a few. In Europe, studies show microbiologists are culturing strains from healthy skin and diseased skin to draw comparisons in bacterial differences. Then, they replace the bacterial strains that diseased skin is lacking for long-term treatment study. Needless to say, the big trend around skin microbiome is quite an intelligent one!
Removal of the acid mantle on a daily basis through harsh alkaline washes and toners, over-exfoliation, lathering soaps with antibacterial properties, as well as the use of topical antibiotics and long-term use of steroids, will all lead to an imbalance of the microbiome. As has been mentioned, the skin has its own ecology, with an abundance of microorganisms living on the surface and within various appendages. Typically these microbes are harmless provided the skin is unbroken, and the acid mantle remains intact at ALL times.
So, how can we topically maintain our skin microbiome? By using dermaviduals, of course!
Here are five products to support the repair of the acid mantle, and to encourage a healthy, functioning microbiome:
1. Oleogel Plus
Oleogel Plus contains a delightful complex of mimosa and sunflower wax and jojoba oil. Further ingredients include avocado oil containing vitamin A, D & E, as well as phosphatidylcholine to provide the building-blocks for membrane repair. Oleogel Plus is high in triglycerides, which are naturally occurring lipids found within the skin, particularly within the acid mantle. They are also used as emollients to provide moisturisation and barrier protection to the skin.
Oleogel Plus is perfect for restoring a compromised skin barrier defence as it mimics the protective acid mantle that resides on the surface of the skin.
2. EGCG Liposomes
EGCG Liposomes supports the development of numerous structural proteins found internal to skin, and in doing so, improves the appearance of the epidermis and stratum corneum. By improving these defence systems, the acid mantle will begin to restore and the ecology of the microbiome will begin to rebalance.
EGCG Liposomes is inundated with potent antioxidants offering cellular protection from free radicals and is vital for every skin and its condition.
3. Laminaria Digitata
Laminaria digitata, a brown seaweed extract, is rich in polysaccharides. These sugar molecules are sources of organic carbon, the most important constituent of bacteria, as they represent a source of energy for the skin’s microbiome. Laminaria Digitata contains abundant vitamins, minerals, and trace elements such as the B complex vitamins, vitamin C, calcium, potassium, and many others; making it excellent for skin barrier defence.
Seaweed is a great source of prebiotic fiber. It can increase the population of friendly bacteria, block the growth of harmful bacteria, and enhance immune function.
4. Complexion Skin Care Liposomes Plus
High in Niacinamide B3, Complexion Skin Care Liposomes Plus is a water-soluble vitamin that demonstrates a stabilising effect on epidermal barrier function and a reduction in TEWL. As a by-product of increasing cell energy and assisting DNA repair, there is an increase in protein synthesis and a stimulating effect on ceramide synthesis (important oil molecules for a stabilised skin barrier defence).
This leads to enhanced epidermal cell turnover and healthier appearing skin as the acid mantle and microbiome is replenished and maintained.
5. Algae Mask
The Alga Mask is one of our most popular professional in-clinic facial mask that is designed to rebalance the skin and its microbiome. The Alga Mask contains spirulina, which is high in amino acids and essential fatty acids, including the much needed Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. Spirulina also contains 14 minerals, over 2000 active enzymes, ßeta-carotene, B12, B1, B5 and B6, which are essential vitamins for the repair of the skin barrier defence systems.
There are specifically 9 amino acids found in algae, which is also a source of proteins, vitamins and antioxidants which are all vitally beneficial for the skin’s microbiome!