Why is everyone in skincare talking about the microbiome? Our questions, answered.

Thanks to our brand partner, Lifespace

We all know how important it is to drink enough water if we want glowing skin. We also know that when we consume a lot of unhealthy food, the evidence usually pops up on our skin, announcing to the world how much we have been skimping on our greens.

So, it's not exactly surprising to be told that there is a relationship between what we consume and how healthy our skin is — all of which has a lot to do with maintaining happy microbiomes.

Wait, micro-what-now?

Hands up if science wasn’t your strong suit in high school? *raises hand*.

The term microbiome has been cropping up in conversations around skincare and if it has you scratching your head, you’re not alone. 

To get to the bottom of the beauty trend that just won't quit, Mamamia spoke to dermatologist Dr Shyamalar Gunatheesan to find out more about microbiome and why it has its place in the world of skincare.

What is microbiome?

"Microbiome is a collection of DNA and RNA — which are both messaging proteins. They consist of all the genetic materials on our skin and in the different parts of our body. Microbiome also includes a collection of bacteria or yeast and viruses," Dr Gunatheesan tells Mamamia

This mix of DNA and RNA plus bacteria, yeast and viruses essentially create micro ecosystems within our body, and like the gut, the skin has its own microbiome.

Bacteria sounds like such a negative thing. Is there a fight between the good and the bad kind? 

Dr Gunatheesan says that the idea of good versus bad bacteria is actually a fairly old school thought. 

However, she suggests that there are a lot of different variables when it comes to a person's balance of bacteria. Things like environmental exposure and general disposition can all impact how much (or how little) bacteria they have. 

But, ultimately, Dr Gunatheesan says there is no 'bad' bacteria. 

"It’s more a balance of different strains of bacteria and when that composition changes, it can sometimes result in an inflammatory response," she explains.

So, when the balance of bacteria gets out of whack, how does it affect our skin?

It's best to think about our immune system as a constant yet regulated relationship between our organs and microbiome. This is what Dr Gunatheesan describes as a sustained symbiosis and homeostasis.

"These bugs that are living on that body part or organ are constantly talking to each other. When that talk goes abhorrent, you get dysbiosis — an imbalance of your body's microflora — and problems can begin to happen.

"In response, our body produces inflammatory markers — we start to think of it as an invading pathogen when it was your friend before. Our body then creates pro-inflammatory cytokines which are chemical messengers that then may give you surface level symptoms such as redness or irritation," she tells Mamamia

Image: Unsplash.


How do our different microbiomes communicate and what is the gut-skin axis?

"Our body is so amazing that we have this neuroendocrine crosstalk and we’ve got the immune signaling, so it’s not that the bacteria talk to each other but they release chemicals messengers that affect our whole body," she says.

The gut-skin axis, in particular, is the direct connection between our gastrointestinal tract and our skin. Chronic skin issues such as acne, or mild eczema or psoriasis can be an indicator of an internal imbalance that needs correcting.

What factors affect the balance of our microbiomes and how can we encourage beneficial bacteria?

It comes as no surprise that the first thing Dr Gunatheesan mentions is our diets.

"Diet is key," she explains.

As an example, she highlights a condition called Hidradenitis suppurativa, which causes boils to grow in your armpits. For people with Hidradenitis suppurativa, having a lot of food that contains high fat content can increase the probability of getting these nodules... all because the bacterial balance in their gut is thrown out of whack.

She also highlights that stress can have an impact on our balance of beneficial bacteria. 

"Adrenaline changes the production and composition of your oil glands and the sebum. It changes the way the bacteria that lives on our skin feeds on the sebum and you get an immune response."

Of course, Dr Gunatheesan also encourages a healthy routine, including sleep and exercise. 

"An adult needs a between 7-8 hours sleep, and with the right kind of exercise, you can positively impact your microbiome while helping to decrease stress."

She also says that skincare plays an important part too. "What you’re using on your face changes the population of bacteria, good or bad. You’ve got to find the right balance for you," she tells Mamamia


But despite all these other factors, "food is the greatest influence because it's so directly absorbed into your gut microbiome. And certain foods get broken down by gut bacteria differently to release fatty acids or triglycerides, then that representation on our immune system gives us a different skin health."

Image: Unsplash.

How do hormones and age affect our gut-skin microbiome?

"Women in particular are subjected to fluxing hormones depending on each stage of our lives such as pregnancy and puberty.

"It’s not just about the bacteria though, our skin and gut also ages — as we grow older, our keratinocytes are not as thick. Aging then changes the symbiosis of the microbiome and us," Dr Gunatheesan says.

So then do we have to constantly alter the food we eat to ensure our microbiomes are well-balanced?

While it sounds like a bit of an unachievable balancing act, Dr Gunatheesan reassures us that a lot of it rests on our own intuition about our bodies. 

"We all have an innate intuition with what is good with our body and we just need to listen to it. We are so busy and so inflamed that everything affects the feedback loop. 

"Experiment with different types of food. Try foods with beneficial bacteria like kimchi or yoghurt, and don't be afraid to change it up and see how it feels."

So, ladies, the word is out: we have to be mindful of what we consume to ensure we have a healthy balance between our microbiomes which in turn we will lead to fewer flare-ups and happy skin.

Sounds easy enough.

If you have any concerns about your skin or are looking for specific health care advice, talk to your health professional. 

Feature Image: Mamamia/Canva. 

We’re Life-Space, Australia’s number one probiotic brand*. It is our passionate belief that the next frontier in wellness will come from looking within and exploring the amazing world of our microbiome. Life-Space creates probiotic formulations; blending, packaging and quality-testing our products in Australia and distributing them around the world. If you have any concerns about your skin or for specific health advice, talk to your health professional.