The skin is the body's largest organ, known for protecting the body from external dangers. But what protects the skin from those same dangers? Enter: the microbiome. “The microbiome includes millions of unique microenvironments created by our constantly changing skin cells,” says microbiome expert Zach Bush, M.D. “Many thousands of species can coexist, each within its own terrain to achieve its ideal beauty and life.” These microbes live on and within our bodies—in our nose, mouth, scalp, skin, and most notably, in our digestive systems. “The job of these bacteria is to protect and nourish the tissue or organ they live on by producing different metabolites, or substances to be processed through metabolism, during their lifecycle,” says Maya Ivanjesku, chief scientific officer of LaFlore Live Probiotic Skincare.
We’ve all heard the phrase “you are what you eat,” and we now know that what we put in our body affects not just our health but also our skin. As more and more consumers begin to understand the gut-health connection, the interest in healing the skin from within continues to grow. “The types of bacteria living in the gut vary from those living on and in the skin, but the importance of maintaining the balance of both remains,” explains Brian Goodwin, international educator at Eminence Organic Skin Care. “The microbiome of the skin, compared to the gut, varies in many ways but serves the same function, which is protection. The balance of both the microbiome of the skin and the gut plays a role in the skin’s overall health. An imbalance in gut flora could also play a role in skin disease.”
To boost the skin’s microbiome, many believe that topical pre-, pro-, and postbiotics can be a good way to mitigate the effects of an unbalanced gut. “It is believed that the skin’s microbiome communicates with the gut bacteria through the immune system,” says Alexandra Soveral, holistic health practitioner and cofounder of Soveral. Prebiotics are, in essence, the food that keeps our probiotics— live bacteria and yeasts that grow in the body and are featured in certain skincare products—alive and well. Postbiotics are beneficial chemicals produced by probiotic bacteria that have already fed on prebiotics. When we use skincare products that contain these ingredients, we’re strengthening the skin’s microbiome the same way a balanced gut microbiome would. “Whether clients receive a facial treatment at a spa or if they maintain a daily skincare regimen at home, they should integrate a topical prebiotic, probiotic, and postbiotic component to any treatment,” says Steven Rosenfeld, CEO of Columbia Skincare, a division of The F.C. Sturtevant Company. “It is not sufficient for spa-goers to expect an occasional probiotic treatment alone to make a long-term difference on the health of their skin.”
Encourage clients to boost their own microbiome by offering suggestions like these from Zach Bush, M.D.:
1. Get outside—garden, hike, or swim in fresh seawater environments.
2. Eat wild-fermented vegetables, such as kimchi and miso.
3. Engage in lots of physical touch with other people and animals.
4. Avoid ingredients such as phthalates, parabens, formaldehyde and formaldehyde donors, and resorcinol.
For more on microbiome beauty, check out the January/February issue of American Spa.