If you’ve had your ears pricked on the world of skincare, you may have caught buzzwords like microbiome and probiotic thrown around. As we learn more about our skin’s delicate balance, the science-led movement of microbiome-friendly skincare has been gaining traction. Essentially, it claims that protecting and cultivating the delicate balance of bacteria on the skin’s surface is the key to a healthy skin barrier and glowing skin.
Just like in the gut, there are trillions of microorganisms that live on the surface of the skin. While the balance of “good” and “bad” microflora will always be in flux, generally healthy skin has an abundance of helpful bacteria that act to balance pH, protect from the pathogenic bacteria, and support overall skin function.
And just like in the gut, this balance of good and bad bacteria can be thrown out of whack. There are many ways that the skin’s balance can be disturbed and believe it or not your current skincare routine may be to blame. Harsh cleansers and exfoliants can strip the skin and disrupt the pH levels, and that antibacterial acne gel may also be wiping out colonies of the good stuff on your face. In fact, the antibiotic or antifungal treatments for many skin ailments - eczema, psoriasis, perioral dermatitis, dandruff - may in fact be causing more harm than good to the skin microbiome.
Microbiome-focused skincare aims to restore the balance of the skin’s microflora for longterm, sustainable skin health. You probably know to up the fermented foods or take probiotics if you’ve taken antibiotics, and it’s this same principle that applies to microbiome-friendly and probiotic skincare (yes, there’s a slight difference).
When studying the microbiome of both healthy and diseased skin, there are certain strains of bacteria that have been found to be present on only healthy skin, and thus understood to be crucial parts of a balanced microflora. Probiotic skincare is developed with the understanding that by introducing these specific strains to irritated or unbalanced skin, they will hopefully repopulate and regulate the skin’s microbiome. Microbiome-friendly skincare, however, uses prebiotics (essential molecules such as vitamin E & certain fatty acids) to create a gentle bacteria-friendly environment for a healthy microbiome to thrive.
It may seem simple, but the supportive combination of pre and probiotics has become a skincare phenomenon in recent years. And as the research advances, we aren’t likely to see brands ignoring the skin’s microbiome anytime soon.
As the science develops, more is being learned about which specific probiotics are advantageous to different skin conditions. The ethos behind the skincare movement, however, remains the same: by cultivating a varied and thriving microbiome, healthy skin can be created.
A noteworthy factor that sets this skincare trend apart is the call to simply do less. If harsh exfoliants, stripping cleansers and antimicrobial topicals are causing havoc to the delicate balance of microflora, where do we draw the line? At what point does skincare shift from being beneficial to disruptive? While there is a strong argument that the skin is self-sufficient enough to not require any skincare, this is the balance skincare brands are trying to find.
The wave of probiotic and microbiome-friendly products to flood the beauty market all seem to have sensitivity and balance in mind. Whether you’re hardcore anti-skincare or simply hoping to work with your skin for a change, this trend is a refreshing call to go back to basics. As we transition from over-treated and stripped skin, the support of targeted probiotic and prebiotic products may be just the thing to finally resolve your long-standing skin concerns.
The skin’s microbiome is the foundation of skin health that is finally starting to be researched and taken seriously by the skincare industry. Whether you suffer from skin conditions such as acne or eczema, or simply are looking to go back to basics, understanding the relationship between prebiotics, probiotics, postbiotics and your delicate microflora could be your answer to optimum skin health.