To help the skin microbiome, you need to understand what it’s made up of and what kinds of ingredients are harmful or helpful to maintaining the delicate balance that is good and bad bacteria. Unfortunately, scientists still don’t know a lot about what, exactly, good bacteria vs. bad bacteria is. Obviously, there are some major bacteria that are always bad for human health—such as staphylococcus or streptococcus (which are the causes of staph infection or strep throat, respectively) but scientists are still trying to fully understand the microbiomes of the human body.

For the most part, the balance of good vs. bad bacteria is needed to maintain proper microbiome health. Many products promise to rid the body of bad bacteria by replacing it with good bacteria, but since we don’t know a lot about what good bacteria really is, it’s hard to say that one would be more beneficial than the other, Further, the microbiome is all about balance, so wiping out all of one type of bacteria and replacing it with another could throw that delicate balance off. Think of the microbiome like a rainforest ecosystem. A rainforest needs thousands of different species of plant and animal life in order to thrive, in the same way, that your gut and skin microbiomes need thousands of diverse species of bacteria in order to stay healthy.

Skin health links to gut health

Although there are two of these micro-ecosystems within our bodies—on our skin and in our gut—the connection between them helps them function together to maintain a healthy body. The gut-skin axis, as it’s been called by researchers, helps maintain a healthy skin function when both internal and external microbiomes are well-balanced. Researchers suggest that improper gut health can lead to skin disorders such as acne, rosacea, and psoriasis. A well-balanced diet is linked to good skin health, and the synergy of the various microbiomes in and around the body are the reason why. 

While all three of the aforementioned disorders can also be caused by imbalances in the skin microbiome, gut health remains a major factor in how the body regulates and treats exposure to bacteria. It would be incorrect to say that rosacea and psoriasis are caused by bacteria, but the way that the body reacts to imbalances in the microbiome can impact how the symptoms of these disorders appear. Acne, on the other hand, can be caused by a variety of factors—one of which does have to do with an imbalance of bacteria that penetrates the skin and causes blemishes. Products that help balance the microbiome, instead of eliminating bacteria altogether, can help control these types of breakouts. 

Many doctors and dermatologists will recommend a probiotic or prebiotic product to help regulate either the gut or skin microbiome. These types of ingredients will help regulate the balance of good and bad bacteria within each individual microbiome. In food, nondigestible probiotics are seen in products like yogurts, kombuchas, and other fermented foods like kimchi and pickles. In skin care, these ingredients can look a lot different (obviously, or we would all be rubbing pickle juice on our skin).

The skin microbiome & skin care

In food, caring for the microbiome means ingesting ingredients that can help regulate and balance the microbiome ecosystem within your gut. In skin care, it means applying ingredients that are going to help balance the delicate ecosystem on your epidermis. That being said, there are a lot of products already on the market that are marketed as being beneficial to the skin and body but are actually harmful to the skin microbiome. 

For example, soaps and cleansers that promise to eliminate most or all of the bacteria on your skin can be damaging to the microbiome. This is because they tend to strip the skin of all of its microbiota, leaving it at risk of being exposed to bad bacteria that can cause skin inflammation and other diseases and disorders. Products that are labeled as antibacterial are among those with ingredients that damage the balance of the microbiome. Similarly, products with pH levels that are too acidic can also destroy the delicate bacterial ecosystem. 

When it comes to caring for the skin microbiome, consider making products that will clean the skin without damaging this delicate ecosystem. Gentle cleansers or products with natural ingredients are best to use on the skin. The growing demand for holistic approaches to beauty and cosmetics has boosted sales among products that are meant to cater to the skin microbiota. Attitudes surrounding microbes are beginning to see a new light: where consumers used to seek to remove, they now seek to nurture.

Terminology & ingredients

While most products that are made to nurture the skin microbiome were originally among the holistic market, the increase in interest surrounding the subject in the beauty industry has seen its migration into the mainstream. High end beauty products are now focused on maintaining the delicate balance of microbiota within the skin microbiome. Below are a few basic terms to understand when creating and marketing products to help the skin microbiome:

Prebiotics: ingredients that can promote the growth of microbiota when applied to the skin or ingested into the body. These ingredients, also called compounds, are important in maintaining the balance of good and bad microbes within a microbiome—whether it be within the gut or on the skin. 

Probiotics: If the prebiotic is the fertilizer, the probiotic is the plant. Probiotics are groups of living microbiota that can help maintain the balance of good and bad microbiota in or outside of the body. These microorganisms are what the body would, or does, produce naturally. Think of it as an added boost of microbiota—or, like adding more ants to an ant farm.

Postbiotics: The byproduct of the bacteria that live on your skin or in your gut. Postbiotics are also important factors in maintaining the delicate ecosystem of bacteria that live within the body. 

Microbiome: The ecosystem that hosts thousands of bacteria, both good and bad, within the gut and on the skin. 

Microbiota: Another word for the bacteria that live in your gut and on your skin.

Live Cultures: Another word for the microbiota living within probiotics. Also called active cultures.

Ingredients You Can Find Through Covalo

Covalo can link you to a variety of prebiotic, probiotic, and postbiotic ingredients that can be added to a number of skin care supplements and topicals. As holistic and natural approaches to beauty become more popular, cosmetics companies are finding that offering such products are beneficial to helping their consumers achieve their skin goals. 

When searching for ingredients that will protect the microbiome, think about the fact that protecting it with skin care is more about finding ingredients that will clean without disrupting. Antibacterials, antibiotics, and other ingredients that can over cleanse will strip the microbiome of its balance and do more harm than good. This is also where pH comes into play the most, as products with pH levels that are too low or high can disrupt the natural balance of bacteria on the body. Below are a handful of popular holistic ingredients that can help improve the function of the skin microbiome:

Active Concepts - ACB Yogurt Extract: This yogurt extract ingredient is presented as a lactic acid which works to slough off dead skin cells, leaving behind a more youthful complexion. As a probiotic, the ingredient works to balance the skin microbiome as it exfoliates. This will assure that your skin is protected as it’s being treated. 

Lipotec - Fensebiome Peptide: This holistic ingredient is Halal certified and promotes double barrier function reinforcement. Lipotec’s peptide ingredient is presented as a hydrator, which is safe for all skin types and works to protect the skin against urban pollution. The promotion of microbiota balance through this ingredient will help the skin’s natural immune system and restore the skin to its natural state. 

CLR Berlin - Repair Complex CLR PF: This ingredient from CLR Berlin works to restore the skin after UV exposure as well as preventing long-term damage from UV rays that come from the sun. It also prevents immunosuppression, which is when the skin’s natural immune system is suppressed by external forces. 

Active Concepts - Probacillus Revive: Also from Active Concepts, this ingredient specifically helps to repair and restore the skin at a faster rate than it would on its own because it helps to increase collagen production in the body. Collagen helps turn over skin cells faster, making skin look younger and more supple. 

Ganeden -  Bonicel: Bonicel has been backed by scientists as a probiotic-derived personal care ingredient. The ingredient has been shown in clinical studies to enhance skin elasticity by improving skin hydration without disrupting the microbiome. Probiotic ingredients help the microbiome while treating the skin for specific issues like hydration or anti-aging.

As you can see, the skin microbiome has different needs than many skin care products advertise to treat today. While antibacterial products may sound healthy, for example, they can actually leave your skin exposed to harmful bacteria because they’ve disrupted the delicate ecosystem of bacteria already present on your skin. Studies have shown that being exposed to potentially harmful bacteria (such as letting a dog lick you) can actually be beneficial in the long run because it helps the microbiome become stronger. This increases its chance of fighting real threats, such as the staph infection bacteria. 

Probiotic ingredients in skin care are meant to coexist with other products. They are meant to be added into anti aging or hydrating products, depending on what the ingredient is intended to do. Bonicel, for example, would make a good additive to a moisturizer. Meanwhile, Active Concepts’ ACB Yogurt Extract would make a good active ingredient in an anti-aging serum or cream. For a complete list of options on probiotic ingredients click here to search within Covalo.

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