by Lisa Keilhofer

It is not only about our inner values – why we should pay more attention to our shell

Our skin
Our skin - Our wonderful cover (Picture: © photo_pw -

We would like to draw our readers’ attention to a couple of articles in the last edition of GEO (ed. 06/2020, GEO kompakt Nr. 59) that are excellently summarizing the state of the art in microbiome research for “novices” and also show how much up to date the topic is.

Especially, we would like to highlight an essay by Ute Eberle about “our wonderful cover” that is scrutinizing our outer shell on eight pages plus another four pages interview full of many interesting details. Here’s the summary for you:

The skin has more tasks than you might think

In general, our skin is underestimated, we just take it for granted. The author is guessing this is because we focus more on the inner values than the outer appearance – a very noble assumption. Many people do not know that our skin counts as an organ and in fact is the biggest of all. An adult skin sums up to 1.5 to 2 qm and outweighs the associated skeleton. Losing only 20% of the skin means the sure death. So, let’s shed some light on our skin!

Structure and function of the skin

Our skin is built up by three layers, the subcutis, the dermis, and the epidermis or upper skin. The deepest layer (subcutis) is for isolation. The subcutaneous fat helps our body keep the temperature and prevents from overheating, but also serves as energy storage and buffer zone against impacts from the environment. The middle layer (dermis) holds our arteries and veins, our sweat and sebaceous glands sit here, and also our nerve cells. This makes it responsible for feeling temperature and pain. The permanent information the brain receives from the dermis, is vital for us. Are we touching a sharp or blunt object, of what material and surface is it, is there any danger of burning or injury? It takes only fractions of a second to decide and our subconsciousness makes the decision based on the sum of information that all the sensitive sensors in our skin provide.

But it is not only averting damage! The mere orientation in space, information on our own volume in the environment or where seats, paths, or items end, all that makes us aware that we are “us” and the rest of the world is “outside” – we know all this because of our skin!

The upper skin, or epidermis, covers that giant information center, shields it from dangerous UV rays, helps keeping the body temperature and moisture. In addition to the dermis, our body is covered by one more layer that in actual fact is not exactly “us”, but nevertheless just as important: our skin microbiome.

Bacteria as an important part of the system

For a long time, we assumed bacteria to be an inevitable, but harmless thing not really worth bothering. Now we know about the importance of our little fellow occupants and their metabolic products and that they are even a key factor for the complete range of functions of our skin. Tests showed that some microbes produce substances capable of fending off pathogens.

>>> read more "Virus infections - Your microbiome protects you!"

The variety of microbes that we typically (and ideally) find on our body mirrors the variety of different skin sites that we have. We find actinobacteria, firmicutes, proteobacteria, and bacteroidetes on the dry sites of our arms and legs. The humid areas (like our armpits or navel) are inhabited by Corynebacterium and Staphylococci species in a vast density. Our greasy parts such as forehead, nose or back are home to Propionibacterium species.

>>> read more "Your microbiome at different body sites"

Our skin wants to be touched

Our skin is in constant contact with our clothes, the floor we walk on and the seating space of the chair we sit on, it notices if the weather is cool and humid or warm and dry and if we are touched by something – or somebody. Especially the last point is an interesting one, as according to Eberle, human touches are not to be underestimated. As early as in week eight of the pregnancy, the embryo reacts to touches. And we need the stimulation of a human body contact from then on and for the rest of our lives. If we lack this – and one cannot resist on referring to the Corona crisis – our wellbeing is diminishing, our blood pressure, heart rate and stress level are rising. The lack of touches results in physical discomfort.

Applying cremes as attack on our skin

Of course, the cosmetics and wellness industry has already realized the potential of this circumstance. Cremes promote that you are treating yourself with something good. Whether it is a fragrant shower gel, a nurturing hand lotion or a rich face creme: our skin reacts positively to the sheer touch.

But how do the millions of bacteria protecting our skin react to the application of a creme? In many cases, the touching itself should definitely outweigh the application of any substance contained in the lotion. An intact microbiome does not need any additional creme. Unfortunately, we often don’t live in these ideal conditions nowadays. Instead, we live in air-conditioned and heated rooms that are drying out our skin, we face the presence of micro particles and fine dust that have a chemical or mechanical effect on our skin. Our jobs require us to put on airproof boots or sterilize our hands several times an hour. And, moreover, there’s phases like the puberty when the circumstance cannot be perfect enough to prevent pimples on the forehead every once in a while. To put a long story short: the modern human being doesn’t get around occasional cremes.

Protecting the microbiome

Therefore, it is even more important to choose cremes that preserve the diversity of bacteria and protect our skin. Make sure to purchase only products with the “Microbiome-friendly” seal, because when it comes to skin health, it is not only the inner values that matter!

Lisa Keilhofer
Lisa Keilhofer

Lisa Keilhofer studied at the University of Regensburg. She works in internationalization and as a freelance editor.

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