Your skin microbiome
by Natalise Kalea Robinson
Our skin microbiome is part of what make us what we are
You and your special combination of traits is like a snapshot of a swirling human kaleidoscope; we’re each a variation on a theme. Over time, we learn more about ourselves and our own intricate, colorful snapshot. The more information we gather, the more likely we can make good decisions, which can ultimately help us live better lives.
Although science can sometimes seem cold and distant, it can actually tell us a lot about ourselves. Personally, I have found that leaning into science has enabled me to improve and appreciate my own intricacies. I view science as a tool that we all can use to help us better understand ourselves and the world around us.
Only over the past decade, scientists have been studying the skin microbiome, which turns out to be an important part of our skin health and wellness. The skin microbiome is the community of microbes that live in and on our skin. Like so many things, if it's working well already, then we hardly notice it and take it for granted. But, when it isn't working well, it can hurt our self-esteem, make us feel poorly, and drive us to distraction. Let me tell you a bit about your skin microbiome, why it is important to you, how yours is special, and how you can learn more about it. Why would you want to learn more about your skin microbiome? Well, if you understand your skin microbiome, then you are empowered to improve how your skin looks and feels. Here’s how.
Your skin and the microbes that live there
Your skin is a key aspect of your appearance and contributes to thousands upon thousands of first impressions over your lifetime. Because it’s so visible, the appearance of your skin (and hair) is the easiest way for others to identify you. Projecting your image is just one aspect of what your skin does. Perhaps more importantly, your skin protects you from the environment: from the harsh rays of the sun, dry air, rough surfaces, and harmful microbes.
On this last point, although your skin protects you from harmful (even pathogenic) microbes, some bacteria, fungi, mites, and other microbes from the environment live somewhat permanently on your skin; some have made your skin their home since you were an infant. They make up your skin microbiome. The microbes in your skin microbiome are usually friendly and help by protecting your skin from harmful microbes by crowding them out, conditioning your skin and keeping it hydrated, and - when you were an infant - by training your immune system to coexist with the microbes that land on your skin. Your skin microbiome also spreads back to the environment, spreads to other people (especially people with whom you live), or even can be used to make food, like cheese, and drinks, like beer. In that sense, your skin microbiome is in an equilibrium with your environment and they have noticeable effects on each other. In fact, your skin is the organ that has the largest interface with microbes, not your gut.
Your skin microbiome is distinct and it can change
The two upper layers of your skin are the epidermis and the dermis. The skin microbiome acts differently in those two layers. The skin microbiome in the lower layer, the dermis, doesn’t change much. The upper layer is the epidermis, and it’s what you see in the mirror. The skin microbiome on and in the epidermis changes depending on the environment, can change if your behavior changes, and differs between different people and in different places on your own body such as your armpit, back, or face. So, when the weather changes, we move to a different climate, change our diet, go through hormonal changes, or move in with different roommates or partners, our skin microbiome can change. Living in the city or in the countryside has a dramatic effect on the skin microbiome, depending on your age. And speaking of your age, your skin microbiome will change over time as you age. In fact, your age can be predicted within 4 years based only on your skin microbiome. But even if your skin microbiome can change naturally, do you ever notice?
You can definitely sense the effects of your skin microbiome
The most obvious effects of the skin microbiome can be seen if you have acne or eczema. These problems are partly due to genetics and partly due to the condition of your skin (whether it’s too oily or dry), but their symptoms are also due to the skin microbiome. In the case of acne, a pimple is filled with a bacterium called Cutibacterium acnes, which consumes excess sebum (your skin’s natural oil), overgrows, and inflames your hair follicle. From our experience with skin product development, if you remove Cutibacterium acnes from a pimple filled with that bacterium, then the pimple will disappear and inflammation will stop. Eczema is caused by a mutation in the filaggrin gene, but it is made itchier in the winter by dry conditions and inflamed by overgrowth of Staphylococcus bacteria. If Staphylococcus aureus is removed from cases of eczema with antibiotics, then the eczema improves. But you can also notice the effects of your skin microbiome even if you don’t have a problem like acne or eczema.
The skin microbiome strongly influences how you smell and how radiant or “youthful” your skin looks. Although your sweat can carry some odors from the foods you eat - such as red meat, garlic, and cumin - usually your sweat itself doesn’t have an odor. The main source of body odor is your skin microbiome. The bacteria in your armpit, including Corynebacteria and Staphylococci, consume your sweat and convert it into different odorous chemicals. They are the main cause of your unique bouquet. 😉 The bacteria on your feet, especially Staphylococci, can cause foot odor by making isovaleric acid from your sweat. Sometimes bacteria on your skin even create odors that make you tastier to mosquitoes. Besides how they make you smell, skin bacteria can also improve your appearance. In a study in Japan, women who put Staphylococcus hominis on their face had measurable improvement in their pore size, number of wrinkles, and other aspects of their skin appearance.
Can you improve your skin by improving your skin microbiome?
Your skin microbiome is distinct, it can change in response to your environment, and it influences how you look, how you smell, and how you feel. But can you do anything about it? At Parallel, we say YES! We’re making it our mission to provide you meaningful information about your skin microbiome and give you easy solutions if you have any microbial imbalances or skin issues that you want to improve.
We are currently conducting our IRB-approved Skin Microbiome Study. This official Parallel Study will help advance skin microbiome research and technology. And ultimately, this study will enable you to later improve your skin microbiome by helping you understand your microbial ecosystem and guiding you to the right personalized products, some of which are phage-based.
If you’d like to participate in our IRB-Approved Skin Microbiome Study, we welcome you to sign up HERE.
Have any questions about the skin microbiome or skin science, in general? Feel free to contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.