Microbes: Citizens of Your Skin
by Natalise Kalea Robinson
My hometown of New York City is what people may deem a “melting pot,” a place where various different cultures, religions, ethnicities, and perspectives mesh into one, “melting” together and blending heterogeneity into homogeneity. The millions of people flowing through Ellis Island (the United States’ busiest immigration inspection station) during the late 19th to early 20th century helped form the many communities that make New York City the melting pot that it is. These communities—Flushing, Jackson Heights, Little Italy, Koreatown, Harlem—have their own diverse populations, filled with generations of history, decades of kindness, and really, really good food. And while New York City bustles with life thousands of miles away from Parallel’s home base next to the Pacific Ocean in California, the same concepts hold true in our work—just at a much smaller, microbial level. At Parallel, our work revolves around the skin microbiome—a melting pot of microbes, if you will—that are occupying the pores on your face as you’re reading this piece.
A healthy skin microbiome exhibits a fairly weak acidic pH, ranging between 4.2 and 5.6 (neutral pH is 7). (1) This natural acid mantle plays many roles in preserving skin health, as it not only creates a harsh, unfavorable environment that prevents pathogenic bacterial colonization, but also helps maintain skin moisture and quality. (2) In short, the skin’s acid mantle can be thought of as a sort of force field, killing harmful bacteria that get too close to it. However, this force field can easily be worn down. Constant washing with alkaline (pH higher than 7) products such as typical liquid or bar soap can raise skin pH, which reduces the skin barrier’s effectiveness and makes the skin more prone to damage or infection. In fact, in cases of skin disease such as acute eczema, skin pH has been measured to be as high as 7.4, which constitutes a thousand-fold increase over healthy skin pH (pH is measured on a logarithmic scale, so going from 5.4 to 7.4 is an increase of 10^2). (3) Specific bacteria have been discovered to cause acute eczema, including Staphylococcus aureus, an opportunistic pathogen which, despite typically not being able to thrive well among the skin’s natural defenses, can cause devastating infections if allowed to grow and replicate in sections of poorly protected or broken skin. (4)
Appropriate, targeted skincare is essential to prevent growth of harmful bacteria while simultaneously ensuring preservation of beneficial microorganisms. Contrary to popular belief, not all skin bacteria negatively impacts skin health, and many instead help the skin maintain its natural status. In recent decades, innovation in the areas of DNA sequencing and shotgun metagenomics (both of which we use profusely here at Parallel), have revealed that a significant portion of the bacteria on the skin actually help preserve its natural acidity, in addition to various other beneficial functions such as killing pathogens, reducing inflammation, and strengthening the skin barrier. (5) With this in mind, skin “treatments” such as antibiotics soaps or washes, despite being effective in killing acne-causing bacteria such as C. acnes, can actually also kill many beneficial bacteria, which can lead to a worsening of existing skin conditions and an increase in skin pH, allowing other pathogens to grow. This undifferentiated bacterial eradication is exactly the reason for Parallel’s existence. Current products on the market are overgeneralized and harsh on skin. More specialized products, such as those that use salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide as their main active ingredient, are effective in killing the bad bacteria that cause many issues, but it also kills good bacteria. In fact, these ingredients come with a number of tradeoffs. Due to their harsh, bactericidal, acidic nature, both salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide contribute to significant skin drying, as well as the potential for skin irritation, allergic reaction, or facial swelling. (6, 7) At Parallel, we’re advocating for a gentler, more natural solution, one that minimizes harshness and potential for irritation, and one even more targeted and personalized than current market options. We’re using bacteriophages, or “phages” for short—little tiny microbes that infect bacteria. These phages are coded to specifically destroy its target bacteria with no negative effect on any other microorganisms or cells. (8) Thus, Parallel’s phages are, we believe, a more effective, more sustainable solution for combatting pathogenic bacterial infections on the delicately balanced skin microbiome. Using data taken from your skin, and combining with cutting edge sequencing technology, we can precisely identify the genomes of every bacteria occupying your pores and match them to our bacterial genome library. With this information, we can use a unique concoction of phages to make a skincare product that will target the specific pathogenic and blemish-causing bacteria on your skin, naturally, safely, and effectively.
New York City is nothing without its diverse population. Without the people, nobody occupies the skyscrapers. Without their experiences, there are no stories to tell. Without the roots of the concrete jungle, there is no New York. In the same vein, the microbes living on your skin serve as its heartbeat. Without them, your skin is unprotected, subjected to the harsh reign of pathogens and foreign microbes that can cause infections, blemishes, and discoloration. This is the very reason we take targeted skincare so seriously at Parallel. Our cutting-edge products will help you retain beneficial microbial diversity on your skin, while also deterring unwanted intruders, maximizing skin health and ensuring a bustling microbiome. A city cannot stand without its citizens, and neither can your skin.
A parallel world lives amongst us: the microbial world. This world impacts not only our lifespan, but also our healthspan.
Our mission is to empower people with real science to make meaningful decisions to improve their healthspan.
Parallel is a microbial diagnostics and next-level skincare company that aims to revolutionize skin health by providing deep insight and true personalization, through best-in-class testing and targeted, clean microbial formulations.
Interested in joining the Parallel community? Sign up here to gain access to skin microbiome testing opportunities and personalized skincare products.
1, 2. Kober, Mary-Margaret, and Whitney P Bowe. “The effect of probiotics on immune regulation, acne, and photoaging.” International journal of women's dermatology vol. 1,2 85-89. 6 Apr. 2015, doi:10.1016/j.ijwd.2015.02.001
3. “The Importance of Skin Ph.” CWI Medical, https://www.cwimedical.com/importance-skin-ph.
4. “Infected Eczema: Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319561.
5. Marie Veronique. “Balance Your Skin's Microbiome to Clear Acne.” Marie Veronique, https://www.marieveronique.com/blogs/science-research/59491459-did-you-know-skin-microbiome-balance-to-clear-acne. \
6. "Benzoyl Peroxide Topical Uses, Side Effects & Warnings.” Drugs.com, https://www.drugs.com/mtm/benzoyl-peroxide-topical.html.
7. “Salicylic Acid Topical Side Effects: Common, Severe, Long Term.” Drugs.com, https://www.drugs.com/sfx/salicylic-acid-topical-side-effects.html.
8. Principi, Nicola, et al. “Advantages and Limitations of Bacteriophages for the Treatment of Bacterial Infections.” Frontiers in Pharmacology, vol. 10, 2019, https://doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2019.00513.