While the word ‘microbiome’ may spring to mind thoughts of gut health and the vital balance of good and bad bacteria on our digestion, now the focus is on our skin’s microbiome, prompting a surge in skincare that helps to maintain a healthy skin barrier, one of the less talked about secrets to great skin.
According to trend forecasting company WGSN, searches for ‘microbiome skincare’ have increased by 1,050 percent in the last 12 months worldwide, and it’s not hard to see why. Made up of a collection of trillions of microorganisms living on the skin surface, a somewhat 1,000 species of bacteria and up to 80 species of fungi (to name a few) can work to deliver a host of skincare benefits by maintaining the balance of the epidermal ecosystem, while protecting against inflammation and hypersensitivity disorders like eczema and skin allergies.
Barb Paldus, founder of bioscience led skincare brand Codex – which has just earned a ‘MyMicrobiome’ certification -points out that the skin microbiome, or the skin flora, serves several critical functions. As the first line of defense against environmental pathogens, “beneficial (health promoting) microorganisms secrete bioactive antimicrobial peptides that eliminate pathogens to keep their numbers in check and prevent them from colonising the skin,” meaning the microbiome remains balanced and skin is healthy.
Role of skin flora
By maintaining this wall of defense, a healthy skin flora will protect against environmental damage, by limiting the skin’s exposure to allergens and minimise oxidative damage caused by free radicals, UV rays and pollutants, to ultimately retain moisture and prevent premature aging.
Curucially, Barb highlights the microbiome’s vital role in the proper functioning of our skin barrier to prevent pathogens from penetrating the skin and causing infection. “The role of the microflora is to help strengthen and support the skin’s barrier function by making it more difficult for pathogens to pass through the skin’s outer protective layer.
“This is accomplished when certain beneficial microbes secrete bioactive molecules such as fatty acids and lipids that help to nourish skin cells and fill in the spaces between the cells thereby strengthening the skin’s cellular matrix and enhancing its barrier function. Imagine the skin’s cells being the bricks of the cellular matrix and the bioactive molecules the mortar that hold the bricks in place,” she explains.
Protecting our skin barrier is particularly challenging now given our acute attention to cleanliness amid Covid-19. Our constant use of sanitisers and over cleansing of the skin can work to strip it, leading to a compromised acid mantle and damaged natural lipids and fatty acids in our skin barrier. The result? An open invitation for a host of skin woes.
Protecting the microbiome
Should the physical signs of an imbalanced microbiome arise, first look to replenishing your skin barrier with moisture retaining and fortifying ceramides (waxy lipid molecules). Much can be said for prebiotics and probiotics in skincare too, the former being food for good bacteria and the latter being live bacteria or substrates that support the growth of good bacteria, both essentially support the prevalence of good bacteria in the skin while suppressing the bad.
“Recent studies have shown that the use of certain natural ingredients, including fermentation-based preservatives, not only has less of an impact on microbiome balance, but depending on the type of natural ingredient used can actually reinforce it,” says Barb.
“Natural preservatives in the form of antimicrobial peptides derived from the fermentation of lactic acid have been found to effectively destroy pathogenic bacteria, while at the same time supporting bacteria balance. With their use, the microbiome remains properly balanced leaving the skin healthy and protected against harmful pathogenic bacteria,” she adds.
Having identified that fermented preservatives appear to be superior to their synthetic counterparts when it comes to maintaining a healthy, well functioning skin microbiome, Codex Beauty’s patented PreservX system, which is found in all of its water-based products, feature three fermented ingredients and two organic acids that work to enhance both hydration and skin barrier function by supporting the microbiome.
Three to try
Aurelia Skincare Miracle Cleanser, £42