Why it is hard to change you skin's microbiome, and what you would have to do to bring about significant change?
Our body's biome is created when we are very young, starting at birth and growing with us. Some data suggests that being born vaginally versus via c-section or having pets when young decreases our risk of having eczema and allergies, possibly because we have a better, more diverse biome. Research shows that the human microbiota consists of the 10-100 trillion symbiotic microbial cells living primarily in the gut and the skin. This is a lot of organisms, yet it is easy to affect negatively. For example, a course of antibiotics can decrease diversity for a year. But to improve and diversify your biome takes time and work. You have to change daily habits, including eating more fruits and vegetables, getting more exercise, decreasing stress levels, and introducing good bacteria into your body via fermented foods and well-formulated probiotics. You have to maintain these new healthy habits to maintain a healthy biome.
What are the bounds of what skincare can do to bring about change in the skin via probiotic, prebiotic, and post-biotic ingredients?
There is growing data suggesting that the topical application of probiotics can help with inflammatory skin disease, including eczema, acne, seborrheic dermatitis, rosacea, and more, by helping maintain a healthy and diverse skin biome. The problem is this is an unregulated area of skin care. There is no continuity in the type of organisms, the concentrations, or the claims being made. Companies can say whatever they want and often do.
What ingredients are most effective for skincare? What ones are not effective?
Over the past decade, we have learned that there is a great deal of communication between bacteria, skin cells, and immune cells. These interactions help reinforce and repair the skin barrier, boost the body's defenses against infection, and control inflammation. But how this all works is still very unclear, and we need a lot more research. Right now, in skin care, ingredients include:
- Prebiotics (food for the organism)
- Probiotics (the actual organisms)
- Postbiotics (the beneficial peptides the organisms make when put through a fermentation process)
The first and the last are much easier to control and study than living organisms in skin care. I use leuconostoc/radish root ferment filtrate in my skin care line as a biodegradable (aka clean) antimicrobial preservative to prevent the unwanted growth of bacteria in the product. This ingredient is well studied, effective and safe, but it is one of the few. For now, there is more research on oral skin probiotics versus topical skin probiotics. My recommendation is don't think of topicals as your primary source of probiotics, more as a bonus if they are included.
Are any of these stories on the microbiome incorrect or overstated?
These look pretty good to me. Whitney Bowe is a friend and knows her stuff when it comes to probiotics and the skin. But, I think it is important to include that too much skin care, no matter its probiotic nature, still irritates the skin, changing the skin's pH and the happy environment our biome lives in. The biome is a delicate balance controlled both by the organisms on our skin and our skin's pH. The pH scale reports something is acidic (0 the most acidic to 7 neutral) or basic (14 the most basic to 7 neutral). Our skin is the healthiest, with the best barrier of natural oils and microorganisms at a pH of around 5.5. This creates a wonderfully protective shield or acid mantle for the skin. The skin biome and its pH are intrinsically tied together. They are both affected–– for better or worse––by what we consume, what we put on our skin, how we treat our skin, and how we feel. Using too many products or washing your face twice a day can raise the pH of your skin. This will change the microenvironment of the skin barrier, making the natural oils work less well and harder for the good microbes to live and help the skin. This leads to the skin shield becoming less protective, increasing the risk of irritation and inflammation.
People often make the mistake that when their skin is irritated, they think it needs more products, but this typically worsens the problem. To stop this cycle, you have to be thoughtful and selective in what you are doing with your skin. Remember, your skin only needs a few well-formulated products to support it. This is why I made Doctor Rogers RESTORE, to support our skin by using the fewest possible hypoallergenic, plant-derived, and thoroughly studied ingredients to achieve outstanding results.
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Meet the author: Board-certified and practicing dermatologist, Dr. Heather D. Rogers, MD, is the founder of Doctor Rogers Skin Care and Modern Dermatology in Seattle, Washington. She studied at Stanford, University of Washington School of Medicine and Columbia University Medical Center. She lectures nationally, is well published, and an active member of the American Academy of Dermatology. Highly respected among the skin care community, Dr. Rogers has been annually named “Top 1% of Most Honored Doctors in the US” by Castle Connolly.