Why Some Bacteria is Actually Good For Your Skin

Microbiome beauty, one of skincare’s buzziest keywords as of late, is shedding light on bacteria and how it benefits your skin. You read that right—even though we’ve been taught to schedule routine facials and never go to sleep without a thorough face wash, there are a ton of microorganisms on your skin that shouldn’t be scrubbed away.  

If this sounds like more than you can wrap your head around, you’re not alone. American Salon sat down with Dr. Zach Bush, a multi-disciplinary physician of internal medicine and expert on the microbiome as it relates to human health, to chat about the microbiome’s important role in the beauty sphere. 

What exactly is the microbiome and why is it trending? 

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Under a microscope, the skin looks a lot like a coral reef. There are millions of unique microenvironments in the nooks and crannies created by the constantly changing terrain of sloughing skin cells. Just like a coral reef, thousands of species can coexist, each within its ideal terrain to achieve the beauty and cooperative life that you would expect on the snorkeling expedition. The skin terrain is dominated by many variations of strep and staph species as well as hundreds of other lesser known species. These microbes, each species with their own niche role, provides the frontline defense to your body both on the skin and in the gut. The relationship between a healthy gut and healthy skin is intertwined on many levels, including in the importance of the microbial diversity present in both regions. 

People tend to freak out when they hear the word bacteria. Why is it good for the skin? 

Over the past 10 years, science has started to realize that we’ve made a serious mistake in labeling bacteria as our enemy. As we’ve begun to untangle the amazing role in human biology and the vast scale of the microbiome, it has become clear that we have undermined the human immune system, vascular and neurologic systems as we have amped up the widespread destruction of the bacterial ecosystem. With the loss of bacterial diversity, we lose the integrity of the intestinal barrier, and as our immune system becomes overwhelmed, we become prone to skin conditions like rosacea, eczema, alopecia, vitiligo, acne, psoriasis, atopic dermatitis and beyond. 

How is the microbiome altering the way skincare products are formulated?

The future of skin care is now clear—we have to heal it from within. We can’t reach healthy, vibrant skin by covering it up with chemical-laden makeup or layers of mineral powder. We have to begin at the gut (an anti-inflammatory diet that supports a broad microbiome with a variety of nutrients, fiber and seasonal variation) and then move to the broad support of a healthy skin microbiome. Choosing skin rinses that are soap- and alcohol-free is important.  In our laboratory we are uncovering the capacity of the microbiome to communicate with skin cells to support skin regeneration and repair to avoid sun damage, and the chronic inflammation that leads to wrinkles and loss of elasticity. Maximizing outdoor exposure and activity can have a very important impact on the microbiome diversity on skin. When we isolate ourselves indoors for months at a time, we become prone to infections of the gut, respiratory and skin systems. Organic gardening, hiking, camping and generally exploring the beauty of nature is your path to beautiful skin. 

Can you share your top tips for a healthy microbiome? 

1. Get outside—garden, hike, swim in fresh seawater environments

2. Eat wild-fermented vegetables like kimchi, miso, etc.

3. Let your skin breathe—avoid full makeup on a daily basis

4. Find an organic product line and be alert to the stress your skincare products may be causing

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