You might already know that the microorganisms in your gut are a key piece of the puzzle of your overall health. The human gut is inhabited by over 100 trillion microbes across hundreds of species. In fact, the total microbial cell count in and on our bodies is 10 times greater than the actual number of human cells in your body.
But this huge microbial footprint isn’t limited to your gut. Your skin, the body’s largest organ, is also inhabited by a vast range of microorganisms. You may be surprised to learn that the microbes that dwell in your skin are actually more diverse than those found in the digestive tract, representing thousands of species with diverse properties and functions. Collectively, we call them the ‘skin microbiome.’
Yup – bacteria, fungi, and even viruses are all over your skin. These microscopic skin residents are far from freeloaders, though. Many of these inhabitants play key roles in modulating your body’s immune response, and of course in skin health itself.
Initiatives like the Human Microbiome Project and other studies aimed at revealing the function of our skin-dwellers have revealed both great variation between humans and striking patterns in the types of bacteria that like to live on our skin. Physical factors like oiliness, dampness, and exposure to sunlight influence what kinds of bacteria are likely to be found on any given zone of your skin’s surface.
Hidden heroes of your skin
Research has demonstrated that when we wipe out certain beneficial bacteria in our digestive tract, other, less-benign species may move in and cause health issues. Well, it turns out that this same principle may apply to your skin.
The reason for this goes beyond a simple issue of clearing space for invading bacteria to move in. The normal milieu of microbes in your skin also modulates dermal immune signals. This crosstalk is crucial to regulating inflammatory responses, which are key to fighting infections – both on skin and elsewhere in the body’s other organs.
Cultivating your microbial garden
Evidence suggests that specific microbial ‘profiles’ may be associated with dermatologic conditions like acne, eczema, and rosacea. As the importance of the skin microbiome in determining health and disease becomes better understood, scientists are also looking into the possibility of manipulating it. Could putting “good” bacteria in a cream or in a serum to influence the microbial communities there strengthen the health of your skin?
While there are now an increasing number skin probiotics available, there’s not enough evidence yet to know how or whether such probiotic cosmetics work. But many scientists will agree that manipulating the members of the human microbiome to promote wellness could very well be a way of the future in medicine. Hygiene, diet, climate, and lifestyle all influence the wellness of our skin. Could some of these effects be mediated by changes in the composition of our skin microbiome?
Turns out your skin is more than meets the eye…
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