One of the things I’m passionate about is helping people optimize their microbiomes. The microbiome is the collection of microorganisms (mainly bacteria and fungi) that live in and on your body. A huge number of them live in your gut, and they have a major impact on your health overall, including your skin health.
However, there are also a lot of those little guys living on the surface of your skin. As with the microbiome in your gut, your skin microbiome can be helpful or harmful, depending on the specific balance of species that are present.
Recent research, which I find absolutely fascinating, has found that one of the many effects of the skin microbiome might actually be changing the skin’s response to the sun.
How can microbes change your skin’s response to the sun?
Researchers have identified a number of ways that microbes may be able to help your skin respond better to the sun. It turns out that certain bacteria can produce melanin – the same chemical as the brown pigment in skin. Melanin is highly protective against UV radiation. They can also make other types of compounds that can absorb UV radiation, such as pityriacitrin. All of these compounds help to protect your skin against sun damage.
Bacteria can also make compounds that act as antioxidants. Antioxidants help to protect cells by absorbing harmful chemicals created by certain reactions with oxygen. This also helps to minimize damage from UV light.
In addition, some microbes make compounds that help to reduce inflammation. UV light can actually reduce inflammation in the skin – that’s why light therapy can help many people with conditions like eczema or psoriasis. The skin microbiome may react to UV light, which can help to dampen inflammation even further – or, if there are harmful species rather than helpful ones, these may block the reduction in inflammation, so that UV light therapy or sun exposure wouldn’t work as well for helping reduce flare-ups.
What does this mean for people with chronic skin conditions?
This research could potentially open the door to new types of therapies for chronic skin conditions. Researchers are exploring using topical solutions of probiotics (beneficial bacteria) and/or prebiotics (food for beneficial bacteria) on the skin. Shifting the balance towards species that are more helpful could potentially benefit your skin health. This may help to make UV light therapy more effective, and also to protect you against the damaging effects of sun exposure while maximizing the benefits.
For now, those products aren’t yet available. But we can work on optimizing the microbiome in other ways. One is to help optimize your gut health. By helping to promote a healthy balance of bacteria in your gut, we help to keep your metabolism healthy, which in turn could help healthy bacteria to be able to grow on your skin. There’s a connection between the gut microbiome and the skin microbiome, and eating well can be very helpful for keeping both of them healthy.
It can also be beneficial to get outside in nature. Studies have actually shown that people who spend more time outside have more diverse microbiomes than those who lead a more urban existence. Of course, it’s important to be mindful, and not to touch anything that might be dangerous. But activities like gardening, hiking, or even having a picnic in the park could be beneficial for your microbiome.
You should also be mindful about what you put on your skin. Sanitizers and harsh soaps can damage your skin’s microbiome. It’s best to use more gentle cleansers, to help protect your healthy bacteria.
Your skin microbiome does a lot for you, including helping to protect you from the sun. I’ll definitely talk more about the skin microbiome in future posts, because this is a crucial topic for people with chronic skin conditions. If you’d like some support in helping to optimize your lifestyle for your skin microbiome, I invite you to join us inside Mind Gut Skin Academy. The brand-new version of the program will launch soon. You can head over here to learn more or to get on the waitlist!