The Skin Microbiome and Exfoliation: Are We Scrubbing Good Bacteria Away?

Healthy skin isn’t pulled off by loading up on concealers and foundations. Accomplishing healthy skin starts with the microbiome. Most people think that the microbiome is only in your gut, but this is not the case [1]. Your skin is teeming with bacteria, and maintaining a healthy skin microbiome is important to help protect your skin and keep a healthy pH balance [2].

While exfoliating your skin will help keep its natural glow, you might not want to do it every day. This abrasive behavior may cause more harm to the skin microbiome than good. Let’s take a closer look at the skin microbiome and how overdoing it with the exfoliation might be a bad idea.

What is the Skin Microbiome?

skin microbiome
Our skin is our
first line of defense

The skin microbiome is a term used to describe the community of bacteria which reside on human skin. There are over a thousand skin flora species that derive from 19 phyla [3].

On the other side of the skin are your vital organs and gut biome. So, it’s the job of the skin microbiome to protect these essential parts of our system.

That’s why our skin is our largest organ. It covers us from head to toes, protecting our microbes from the outside world.

This connection between the skin and our insides is exactly why the skin microbiome has such a profound impact on our immune system.

The Skin Microbiome and Immune System

Your skin is the first barrier against the outside world, making the skin immune response vital to a robust immune system. Recently, studies have shown that a healthy population of beneficial bacteria is critical in making sure your skin’s immune system is in top condition [4].

A meta-analysis looking at the skin microbiome stated,

“The skin represents the primary interface between the host and the environment. Microbial profiling has revealed the presence of highly diverse commensal communities along distinct topographical skin sites. Moreover, cutaneous inflammatory disorders such as psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, and rosacea have been associated with dysbiosis in the cutaneous microbiota. Indeed, microbial products from skin commensals are known to exert immunoregulatory effects [4].” 

Science

Your skin microbiome acclimates your immune system to the presence of non-pathogenic bacteria. This dipping of toes in water makes your skin’s immune response less sensitive. That way, your immune cells will only react when it’s necessary [5].

immune system and gut biome
Meet your immune system cells

When our immune response isn’t working properly, it can cause skin conditions, such as psoriasis and atopic dermatitis, along with others [6]. Making sure you take care of your skin’s microbiome is essential in disease prevention. One way to strengthen your skin microbiome is by not over-exfoliating. 

What is Exfoliation?

skin microbiome
Say “bye” to dead cells!

Exfoliation is when you take an abrasive substance and rub it against your skin.

This action helps open your pores, clean out debris, and balance out oils.

Typical exfoliants are dubbed on cosmetic products as “scrubs,” masks,” or “creams.” Otherwise, you use physical objects to rub against your skin. These types of exfoliants are sold in health and beauty aisles within close proximity of scrubs and masks.

Some people use all-natural products during their beauty routine. However, others may opt for a chemical-based product. Let’s take a look at the different types of exfoliation techniques and how they interact with the skin microbiome.

Different Types of Exfoliation

There are many different ways to exfoliate, but they generally fall under one of two categories:

  • Chemical Exfoliants
  • Mechanical Exfoliants

Chemical exfoliants use light acids to gently remove dead skin cells, while mechanical exfoliants use physical materials such as brushes or abrasive scrubs [7].

Types of Chemical Exfoliants

Many feel chemical exfoliants cause less physical pain than mechanical. They break up the lipids that hold dead skin cells together. Therefore, you can clean out your clogged pores much easier.

The two most common types of acids used in chemical exfoliants are:

  • Alpha-Hydroxy Acids (AHA)
  • Beta-Hydroxy Acids (BHA)

For a deeper clean, opt for AHAs. They are water-soluble, so these acids can penetrate deep into your spongey pours. Meanwhile, BHAs are oil-based. So, their exfoliation is surface-based.

No matter what, make sure these are all organic sources. Many chemical exfoliants may be synthetically engineered. These can cause adverse reactions, such as drying out the skin or causing a rash.

Types of Mechanical Exfoliants

This approach is more abrasive. It’s like using sandpaper to polish up a wood floor. However, this type of exfoliation can also leave your skin feeling refreshed and bring about a more natural glow.

skin microbiome
Be careful of how rough you are
with that sponge!

Good organic sources of exfoliants include:

  • Sea Sponges
  • Walnut Shells
  • Fruit Peels
  • Coffee Grounds
  • Mineral Salt
  • Brushes

Depending on how sensitive your skin microbiome is, it’s crucial to pick a method of exfoliation that works best for you.

From there, make sure you don’t overdo it. Different ways of exfoliation can be used more or less often. If you have questions regarding what type of exfoliation is right for you, we would recommend talking to your dermatologist. 

How Exfoliation Can Hurt Skin Microbiome

We all know that maintaining a proper skincare routine is essential to keeping a healthy glow. Exfoliation can be a critical component in retaining that vitality. It also can be beneficial for the skin microbiome because exfoliation helps to remove dead skin cells.

skin microbiome
Be kind to your skin!

Making sure to exfoliate appropriately is important, though. If you do not exfoliate correctly, you could end up doing damage to your skin and your skin’s microbiome. 

When you exfoliate your skin you are stripping your skin of its top layer. Therefore, your skin microbiome becomes more exposed. You’re leaving it more prone to infection and irritation.

It’s beneficial to give your face a fresh start every few days. However, exfoliating too much can cause more harm than good if done incorrectly. It’s important to be gentle when you exfoliate.

How to Boost Skin Microbiome

Along with being careful to not over-exfoliate, another way to boost your skin’s health is by taking care of your gut microbiome [8]. We already know that the health of the gut is directly linked to our skin. Making sure to eat foods that nourish your microbiome is essential. If you want to step up your skincare game, probiotics are a perfect way to do that.

Probiotics and Skincare

Topical probiotic creams and lotions are showing promise in helping to repair the skin microbiome. However, the research is still in its early stages [9].

Thryve Inside Probiotics for Skin Microbiome
Feel your best. Look your best. Thryve Inside.

Oral probiotic supplements, though, are a well-established method of improving your skin health. Here at Thryve Inside, we make a customized probiotic supplement specifically targeted to your microbiome. By making sure to maintain a proper skincare routine without over-exfoliating, and by taking care of your gut microbiome, you are well on the way to healthy, glowing skin.

Thryve Probiotics Gut Health

Resources

[1] Fredricks, David N. “Microbial Ecology of Human Skin in Health and Disease.” Journal of Investigative Dermatology Volume 6, Issue 3, Pages 167–169, Science Direct, Dec. 2001, www.jidsponline.org/article/S0022-202X(15)52900-X/fulltext.

[2] Lambers, H., et al. “Natural Skin Surface PH Is on Average below 5, Which Is Beneficial for Its Resident Flora.” Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd (10.1111), 19 Sept. 2006, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1467-2494.2006.00344.x.

[3] Grice EA, Kong HH, Conlan S (2009). “Topographical and Temporal Diversity of the Human Skin Microbiome”. Science. 324 (5931): 1190–1192. Bibcode:2009Sci…324.1190G. doi:10.1126/science.1171700. PMC 2805064. PMID 19478181.

[4] Naik, S., Bouladoux, N., Wilhelm, C., Molloy, M. J., Salcedo, R., Kastenmuller, W., … Belkaid, Y. (2012). Compartmentalized control of skin immunity by resident commensals. Science (New York, N.Y.)337(6098), 1115–1119. doi:10.1126/science.1225152

[5] Schommer, N. N., & Gallo, R. L. (2013). Structure and function of the human skin microbiome. Trends in microbiology21(12), 660–668. doi:10.1016/j.tim.2013.10.001

[6] Ayala-Fontánez, N., Soler, D. C., & McCormick, T. S. (2016). Current knowledge on psoriasis and autoimmune diseases. Psoriasis (Auckland, N.Z.)6, 7–32. doi:10.2147/PTT.S64950

[7] “How to Safely Exfoliate at Home.” How to Safely Exfoliate at Home, American Academy of Dermatology Association, 2019, www.aad.org/skin-care-secrets/safely-exfoliate-at-home.

[8] “Probiotics Hold Promise for 4 Skin Conditions.” LiveScience, Purch, 24 June 2014, www.livescience.com/46502-probiotics-hold-promise-skin-conditions.html.

[9] Farris, Patricia K. “Are Skincare Products with Probiotics Worth the Hype?” Dermatology Times, 8 Aug. 2016, www.dermatologytimes.com/article/are-skincare-products-probiotics-worth-hype.