It’s true. Your pets change your skin microbiome.
by Natalise Kalea Robinson
If you’ve read other articles here at Parallel, you’re probably familiar with the idea that your skin microbiome refers to the ecosystem of microorganisms that reside on your skin; these microbes have a symbiotic relationship with you. And as your skin acts as the first line of defense against harmful pathogens and chemicals in the environment, the skin microbiome plays an important role in regulating the protective functions of your skin.
Diversity is good– not just in the real world, but in the microbial world, too.
One of the key ways to understand your skin microbiome health is to understand its diversity. The more diverse your skin microbiome, the healthier it is, in general. Here’s why: your ecosystem of microbes can educate your immune cells about harmful environmental pathogens. This communication between your microbes and your cells is important for developing immunity against pathogens. Exposure to a greater diversity of microorganisms is proportional to the production of memory immune cells. That is, greater microbial diversity means a more effective immune response against disease-causing organisms.
Furthermore, there are also indirect ways that your skin microbiome can support your immune system. A diverse skin microbiome can bump out pathogens that want to live on your skin. If you have a healthy, diverse skin microbiome, then there’s no space or resources left for the pathogens that visit your skin. On the other hand, if your skin microbiome is really imbalanced, then there’s plenty of room and resources for pathogens to make your skin a long-term home. While pathogens that hang out on your skin may not cause disease right away (like Staphylococcus aureus, which lives on almost a third of us in the US), if there’s a cut or some other problem, then S. aureus can overgrow quickly and complicate a normally simple problem for your immune system.
How your four-legged friends affect your skin microbiome
Our fur-babies provide love and companionship, but did you know, they can also change your immune system? Household pets such as cats and dogs inhabit a myriad of different species of microorganisms. Greater exposure to different ecosystems such as grass and bodies of water increases the amount and types of microorganisms that are present in the bodies of household pets. An interesting thought is that animal microbiomes can often be more complex than the human microbiome. More specifically, different topographical features of the external surface of pets increase the complexity of their skin microbiome.
When you cohabitate and interact with your animals, it enables a meeting of your collective microbiomes. That is, when your dog licks your face, you run your fingers through your cat’s fur, or when you cuddle in bed with any of your fur-babies, organisms from their oral or skin microbiome are often transferred to your human skin microbiome. Assuming that your pets are generally healthy, this sharing of microbes can create greater microbial diversity and stronger immunity for you. (And this can work in the other direction, too! If your microbiome is healthy, then it can improve their microbiome.)
Get to cuddling.
Our research has shown that pet owners tend to have greater microbial diversity, and therefore, arguably stronger immune systems than they would have without their pets. So what we’re really trying to say is – go on, get to cuddling with your fur-friends.
Have questions about how pets affect your skin microbiome? Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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A parallel world lives amongst us: the microbial world. This world impacts not only our lifespan, but also our healthspan.
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Parallel is a clean, science-based skin microbiome health company providing effective, personalized skincare, powered by genomics.