The well-known saying "beauty comes from within" is, as we know, an allusion to a person's personality and values. But what if beauty was influenced by other inner factors and at the same time did not only come from within?
As our largest organ, the skin is the boundary and protective barrier between our inner and outer worlds. In this article, we will therefore approach the topic of a healthy skin microbiome from both the inside and the outside and give you 10 tips on how to take the best possible care of your skin microbiome. Before we get started with the dos and don'ts, let's first clarify what a healthy skin microbiome actually is.
We call the skin microbiome all the microorganisms that live in and on our skin and perform essential tasks for our skin health. The skin microbiome is healthy when the microbes live and work harmoniously with each other. If the natural microbial balance gets out of whack, a so-called dysbiosis develops, which is associated with problems such as neurodermatitis, eczema, dandruff or acne. To prevent this, here are 10 tips:
1. What's in it? Pay attention to the ingredients!
Use gentle products that do not harm your skin microbiome. Cleansing the skin does not mean sterilising it. To remove impurities and dirt, you don't need active ingredients that will raze the life on your face to the ground. Therefore, avoid antibacterial ingredients and aggressive components and check the ingredients of the products you are going to use. As a rule of thumb, the fewer ingredients, the better.
Some harmful substances to avoid include sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), phthalates, triclosan, formaldehyde, aluminium salts, surfactants, and emulsifiers. Note that these substances are listed under different names on the packaging.
Need help? We have already tested numerous products for their microbiome-friendliness for you.
2. No hard peelings
Many people use harsh exfoliants for cleansing. However, these damage the skin barrier and make it easier for harmful germs and pollutants to enter. Dry brushes for the body or face are better suited for removing old skin flakes. They gently massage the skin and stimulate blood circulation at the same time. Ideally, you can avoid exfoliating in general, as the dead cells protect the skin and serve as food for the skin microbiome.
Also, when cleansing your skin, be careful not to use hot water, which can melt away the sebum on your skin (= food for the microbes), dry out your skin and further unbalance your microbiome.
3. Sun? YES and NO!
Sunlight is absolutely essential for our health and is an important factor for the production of vitamin D, the regulation of the sleep-wake rhythm, eye health and balanced hormones. However, we should be careful to enjoy the sun at the right time and not "stew" in the midday sun. The sun's UV rays can put excessive stress on our skin and cause it to "burn" or age prematurely. Individual skin type should also be considered when it comes to how long we spend in the sun. [1, 2]
A healthy microbiome can also be a sunscreen. For example, the yeast Malassezia furfur, a member of the skin microbiome, synthesises the UV filter pityriacitrin. [3, 4]
However, excessive sunbathing creates free radicals in the body that can trigger oxidative stress. Besides a healthy approach to the sun, there are other ways to minimise oxidative stress in the body. More about this in the following points.
4. Food for the skin
It is not only the microbes in and on the skin that influence the health of our skin microbiome. The gut microbiome also plays a central role. Therefore, it is important to provide the gut microbes with the nutrients they need to be healthy and perform their tasks optimally.
This means avoiding processed foods such as fast food, industrial sugar and colourings and preservatives. Excessive consumption of animal products can also be detrimental to the microbiome, as they can over-acidify the body, causing inflammatory processes that in turn can lead to skin conditions. [5-7]
The best way to nourish your gut microbiome is with fresh and varied foods. This will give you the vitamins, minerals and trace elements you need for a healthy microbiome. Spices and herbs such as turmeric , clove and basil, as well as essential fats such as omega-3 fatty acids, are also particularly helpful for skin health. These can be found in nuts, flaxseed, coconut oil and virgin olive oil, for example. Always look for the best possible quality and freshness.
5. Pre- and probiotics
Pre- and probiotics can help support the health of the gut microbiome. Probiotics are viable microorganisms that we can take, for example in capsule form, to supply and strengthen our microbiome with certain strains of bacteria. However, there are only a few good preparations available so far.
Prebiotics are dietary fibres that are indigestible for humans, but which nourish our intestinal microbes and thus promote their growth and activity. We find them in chicory, salsify and Jerusalem artichoke, among others. Ultimately, we can call all plant foods prebiotics, as they feed the "good" gut bacteria and allow them to thrive.
Do you remember the oxidative stress discussed above? In order to render the free radicals harmless, we need to take in their counterparts - so-called antioxidants - in sufficient quantities through our food. These include vitamin C, vitamin E, secondary plant compounds (e.g. beta-carotene), selenium and zinc.
Other micronutrients that are particularly important for the skin are: Vitamin A, the B vitamins (especially B3, B6, B7), vitamin D and vitamin K.
It is common knowledge how important sufficient fluid intake is for our (skin) health. But again, it's not just about the products we use for skin care, but also about our general water intake. So make sure you drink enough fresh, still, untreated water.
How much? Rule of thumb: divide your body weight by 32, and the result will give you a good indicator of how many litres of fresh water you need at least every day. If you weigh 60 kg, you should drink at least 1.9 litres of water a day. Herbal teas are also a good option.
But be careful: not all fluids are the same. Coffee contributes to over-acidification of the body (see point 4), which means that our water needs increase with every cup of coffee.
8. Boost detoxification
Along with the liver, intestines, lungs and kidneys, the skin is one of the body's five detoxification organs. This means that we eliminate toxins through the skin. The following points support the detoxification process: drinking a glass of warm lemon water in the morning, dry brushing (see point 2), visiting the sauna, stimulating the lymph flow through exercise or massage.
In addition, the intake of toxins through food, water and air should be avoided as much as possible. This also includes clothing and everything that comes into contact with the skin - for example detergents and other household products.
9. Stress less
Everyone knows it, the stress response. It is a natural function of the body, essential for survival, to help us escape from a perceived threat. The hormones released, such as cortisol and adrenaline, give us the energy to fight or flee the stressor. In addition to our general health, such as the cardiovascular, digestive and immune systems, they also affect our skin and hair [9, 10]. Cortisol, among other things, increases sebum production in the skin, which can contribute to clogged pores. In addition, stress can further inflame already existing inflammations in the body - including skin diseases such as eczema or psoriasis.
Since chronic stress, whether personal or professional, is detrimental to our health, it is important to reduce stress levels and learn to manage stress. Regular exercise, taking breaks, "me time", relaxation and breathing exercises, yoga, adequate sleep and a supportive environment are some of the ways to help.
10. Skin contact and touching
Speaking of stress management... Did you know that physical contact and caressing are wonderful for our health? Studies show that skin contact can lower stress, strengthen the immune system, activate certain centres of the brain and reduce pain, among other things. There are also benefits for the cardiovascular system and a reduction in inflammation levels in the body. Both have a positive effect on skin health. [11-14]
Who would have thought that cuddling with loved ones, a pet or a massage could be good for skin health?!
With the help of these 10 tips, you can now develop a routine tailored to you and your skin to take the best possible care of your skin microbiome on a daily basis. Have fun!