Our skin’s microbiome
… and it’s not our fault. It’s the narrative we’re being fed by the beauty industry and the constant launch of new products aimed at doing for our skin what it already should be able to do naturally.
Skin barrier structure and function is essential to human health. If ever asked my number one skincare advice, it is: less is more and nature has the cure. Just like our gut, other parts of our bodies have microbiomes that need to be treated correctly in order to thrive. Our skin has a microbiome, one that is sadly being destroyed for most people, due to many factors. A diet that does not include enough good quality fruits and vegetables, and is depleted of essential nutrients is one. Exposure to environmental pollutants is another, which sadly we have limited control over if living in a big city. Toronto friends, we are smoking 2-3 packs of cigarettes a day just by breathing the city’s air (this is just another reason to live in a way that’s eco-conscious!) Using the wrong skincare products, or in many cases, way too many is a third.
What is the skin’s microbiome? “Our microbiome is the natural collection of microorganisms that live symbiotically with our bodies. The skin microbiome alone is home to an estimated one trillion (!!) microorganisms, made up of thousands of strains of bacteria, fungi, mites, yeasts, viruses, and protozoa. Science is just starting to understand everything the skin microbiome does, but for starters: It’s an essential part of the body’s immune system. It’s intrinsically connected to the gut and the brain. It’s responsible for the functioning of the skin barrier. It keeps you moisturized, exfoliated, protected, and pH-balanced. A thriving microbiome is known to prevent “eczema, rosacea, acne, and even premature aging,” It is, in short, the single most important element of skin health” (Defino, Your Skin’s Microbiome Wants To Be Left Alone—Thanks)
Despite all the research and evidence supporting the importance of the skin’s microbiome, there is this popular belief that the stratum corneum – the outer layer of skin - is merely a collection of “dead” cells. The truth is, this “layer” is highly biologically active and very important not only to skin health, but to overall health, throughout the life course. Disruptions of this barrier is a well-known cause of many skin issues, like acne, rosacea, dermatitis, to name a few.
What to avoid:
Make sure you are avoiding skincare with preservatives (as well as toxic additives and fillers and an excessive amount of ingredients). This means a lot of the conventional beauty products that sit on shelves for years. Why is this problematic? The goal of preservatives is to stop bacterial growth. This is not beneficial to the skin, as we do require many different strains of bacteria in order for our skin to thrive. The truth is, if the product you’re using contains water, it also contains preservatives. I definitely think that you can achieve beautiful skin without these types of products. Mixing your own face mask is the best way to go, for this exact reason. You can create it fresh since you should only really be masking once every week or every other week.
Harsh physical or chemical exfoliators. Your skin does a good job at regenerating, so I don’t use products that are extremely exfoliating. I’ll use our Moon Dust mask once every few weeks, as it contains papaya and pineapple enzymes, as well as rice bran, which is gently exfoliating. I certainly would not use this every week and I only leave it on for 5-10 minutes.
Avoid at all costs antibiotics to heal acne. Look at what’s triggering your acne. When I experienced acne in my early twenties, a dermatologist tried telling me that it had nothing to do with what I was eating and wanted to prescribe me antibiotics. It 100% had to do with my diet and my lifestyle. Using certain products or treatments might be a quick fix but it won’t heal what’s triggering the acne and will only cause long term damage to your skin’s (and gut’s if we’re ingesting antibiotics) microbiome.
My current skincare routine:
Oil Cleanser - Sarisha Beauty (launching soon) I use this AM and PM, by massaging the oil into my skin and gently rubbing it off with a warm hemp/cotton facial towel.
Gentle Cleanser to follow oil cleansing in the PM if wearing some natural, clean makeup (Currently using Nourishing Jelly Cleanser by Detox Mode) This is another reason I avoid makeup unless it has incredibly natural and clean ingredients.
Green Goddess Glow Oil - Sarisha Beauty
This oil is truly amazing. Only 10 ingredients, that are potent and high in antioxidants, vitamins and nutrients. I do not think that we need all these serums and moisturizers. Find a good quality facial oil that can replace both. The fewer products in your routine the better.
SPF- only during the very warm months, when I’m spending a lot of time outdoors. I will post another blog on this topic later. But in short, black and brown skin: we need our Vitamin D and it is much more difficult for us to get enough compared to those with lighter skin. Most of us are deficient, so it is especially important to find a good quality supplement and do expose your skin to the sun for at least 30 mins to an hour a day without SPF. Our skin does a beautiful job of protecting us.
Green Superfood Clay Mask or Moon Dust Exfoliating Mask (alternate every other week) + mix with good quality honey, maple syrup or even a good coconut yogurt for the added prebiotics, vitamins and minerals. I think if you go and treat yourself to a facial once or twice a year, that's okay! I haven’t gotten a facial in years but I think it can be a nice treat on occasion. However, if you’re constantly getting treatments done, please go to a holistic facialist who’s using natural ingredients and gentle ingredients and who is focusing more on facial massage and lymphatic drainage, rather than exfoliation and peels.
Probiotic skincare: be wary of these claims. For the most part, probiotics in skincare is dead. Ask the brand how they are preserving these bacterias in their skincare. Another option is to use prebiotic-rich foods when mixing your masks or alone as treatments. This could be raw honey, or even coconut yogurt, as I mentioned earlier. You could even try adding a bit of your probiotic pill into your mask treatment (another reason to mix your own always!).
Protect your skin’s microbiome
Your skin does a good job at regenerating on it’s own
You do not need that 10 step skincare routine (it’s actually harmful)
Use gentle skincare, free of preservatives
Choose clean, natural, non-toxic makeup if wearing any
Do not over-exfoliate
Eat a diet rich in vitamins, minerals and focus on your lifestyle for healthy skin (spend time outdoors, eat good food, drink less alcohol, move your body!)
I want to add that I’ve fallen into the trap of this narrative for many years and I am currently healing my skin using these methods. One should not feel guilty after reading this but EMPOWERED to make these changes.
I recently listened to Clean: The New Science of Skin Care by James Hamblin on Audible. This is a great resource to read or listen to, in order to gain a deeper understanding of our skin health.
The skin microbiome: impact of modern environments on skin ecology, barrier integrity, and systemic immune programming
Another great read is the article: Your Skin’s Microbiome Wants To Be Left Alone—Thanks by Jessica Defino
Showering Too Much May Be Wrecking our Skin Microbiome by Dan Buettner
Author: Jacqueline Johal