Covering our skin with petroleum-based chemicals may be one of our most hazardous modern day practices. Research shows that our skin contains billions of valuable microbial allies that leave us vulnerable when wiped away.
As the body’s largest organ, the skin is colonized by various species of fungi, bacteria, viruses and even mites. This ecosystem, or skin microbiome, has been the subject of much research leading some scientists to conclude that skin disorders like acne, rosacea, and psoriasis are exacerbated by “dysbiosis” or an imbalance in the microbial community. (The website Skin Microbiome offers excellent updates on the latest research.)
In light of increasing research encouraging us to work with our microbiome rather than against it, consider these intuitive suggestions for protecting your valuable skin flora:
1. Bathe Less
Only in the last hundred years have we made bathing a daily practice. Are we overdoing it? According to Dr. Richard Gallo, chief of the dermatology division at the University of California, San Diego,
“Good bacteria are educating your own skin cells to make your own antibiotics. . . and they produce their own antibiotics that kills off bad bacteria.” (NY Times “The Great Unwashed“)
Gallo believes showering not only removes lipids and oils that keep your skin from drying out, showering also removes some of the good bacteria.
I have been moving away from frequent bathing since moving to a shampoo-less regimen. (I use rhassoul clay and herbal formulas exclusively. Find out more here.) I use minimal soap, primarily for hand washing.
I also follow the natural bath as outlined in the 1903 book “Return to Nature!” by Adolf Just. Rather than a full bath, the natural bath is done in a tub with cold water about 3 and a half inches deep, so that the seat and the feet only touch the bottom of the tub.
” The water is vigorously dashed over the abdomen with the hollow of the hand. . . Hereupon the entire body is rapidly washed with the bare hands. . . Then the body is rubbed with the bare open hands (not with a towel or flesh brush) until it is completely dry.”
I have found the natural bath to be stimulating not only to my digestive system but to my clarity of mind. I still practice skin brushing as a way to stimulate my lymphatic system and exfoliate, but do so away from cold baths. (Adolf Just’s book is available for download free of charge here. Note: He is a bit dogmatic, but I find his writing intriguing and prophetic.)
2. Go Natural
Chemicals are ubiquitous in our beauty and body care products. Less than 1% have been tested for safety, yet we apply them with abandon and continue to see a rise in the incidence of skin disorders.
Triclosan, the active ingredient in many hand sanitizers and other personal care products, is now under safety review by the Food and Drug Administration. Introduced as a pesticide in 1969, triclosan has been implicated in hormonal disruption, skin irritation and antibiotic resistance.
Sunscreens containing oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate not only disrupt skin flora but may disrupt hormones and speed the development of skin tumors and lesions. (See National Institutes of Health’s Photocarcinogenesis Study of Retinoic Acid and Retinyl Palmitate.)
Thankfully natural skin care products abound. Remember that less can be more when it comes to soap and other personal care products. I have found I use far less soap and don’t need deodorant as my overall health improves and I continue to practice a natural regimen. Consider gentled soap using an all natural soap as the base:
- Grate your bar of soap.
- Place 1 ounce of the grated soap in a glass jar.
- Add 1-2 cups filtered water and leave overnight.
- Stir the next day until well blended.
This gentled soap stores indefinitely in a capped jar. Simply dab your washcloth into the mixture and apply to your skin. (I make and sell natural soap found here.)
3. Apply probiotics
If indeed our skin is home to vital microorganisms why not add them to our skin care regime? One company, aoBiome, is in the process of patenting a topical spray containing Ammonia Oxidizing Bacteria (AOB) which are found in human sweat. New York Times journalist Julia Scott shared her experience using the AOB spray in the article My No-Soap, No-Shampoo, Bacteria-Rich Experiment.
Our skin is naturally acidic with a pH of 4 to 5.5, creating an uncomfortable environment for inhospitable microorganisms. By regularly applying properly prepared fermented products like cream kefir, kombucha or even natto can go a long way to restoring the proper skin flora balance.
4. Avoid Super Sterile
Microbial diversity in our environment has a direct impact on our skin. Dogs have been shown to positively impact our biodiversity. (See the NPR article Bacteria on Dog Lovers’ Skin Reveal Their Affection.)
One study found that teens living with less biodiversity in their environment were more likely to suffer from allergies:
Compared with healthy individuals, atopic individuals had lower environmental biodiversity in the surroundings of their homes and significantly lower generic diversity of gammaproteobacteria on their skin.
Of course this doesn’t mean allowing the home to proliferate with toxic mold or other toxic substances, it simply means that we may need a bit more beneficial microbes. This is why I often clean with sour kombucha or Four Thieves herbal formula. It can’t hurt to add in some friendly microbes while cleaning!
Acknowledging the host of microbes that abound on our skin will not only revolutionize the way we live, it may give a powerful boost to our overall health.
Eva Berkes, MD says
As an allergist/immunologist with a specialty in the skin microbiome, I couldn’t agree more! In fact, I co-founded a biotech company (www.quoruminnovations.com) several years ago to create microbiome-derived probiotics specifically designed to benefit skin microbiome health.
Did you know those expensive “probiotics” you are using today are foreign to your body? Derived from dirt, animals or food, those little bugs are not natural like our healthy microbiome bacteria, which Nature trained to be good for us through countless generations of peaceful co-existence on our bodies. Here at Quorum Innovations, we believe that better health is more likely to come by working with our own microbiome, rather than potentially working against it with foreign microbes.
Our bodies are covered with beneficial bacteria, normally teeming with microbial life. Unfortunately, modern “hygienic” living, sanitizers, environmental pollutants, other skin care products, chemicals, antibiotics, even aging, can throw our microbiomes out of balance. Just like our gastrointestinal tracts or any other organ, our skin microbiome needs and deserves our daily support. So our research team set out to create the first skin care line in the world containing human microbiome probiotics, uniquely designed to support a healthy skin microbiome.
We discovered a probiotic we call BellaCell, taken from the human microbiome. Unlike other skin care lines containing “probiotics” originally isolated from food, dirt or animals, our microbiome-derived probiotic BellaCell is 100% natural to the human body because it comes from it. Wouldn’t you rather use a probiotic Nature intended to be on our bodies, instead of foreign bacteria? Because BellaCell evolved in harmony with us and on us, it is designed by nature to be good for human health. Our research studies showed that BellaCell helps balance the skin microbiome, stimulate the skin immune system and promote skin strength, unlike the foreign “probiotics” we tested.
We are now launching our own skin care line called BioEsse, containing a concentrated extract of BellaCell (www.bioesseprobiotics.com). Women in our clinical trial loved our products, which also leave out all the toxins – parabens, phthalates, gluten, silicones, petroleum products, artificial fragrances, MEA/TEA/DEA, formaldehyde releasers, polyethylene glycols – most skin “care” lines still contain. These toxins can impair not only our health, but the health of the skin microbiome. In our 4-week clinical study of BioEsse, complexions, fine lines, redness and problem skin improved as early as 2 weeks. Our ladies started noticing a new “glow” to their skin they hadn’t had in years.
BioEsse is the only skin care line in the world containing a probiotic from the human microbiome, and is scientifically and clinically proven to be truly good for your skin’s whole ecosystem, from your skin cells to your good bacteria. Welcome to your microbiome!
Eva A. Berkes, MD, Co-Founder, BioEsse
Andrea Fabry says
I’m very happy you found this post, Eva. I’m also excited to check out your products and website. Thank you for reaching out.
Can this product be used to treat pityrosporum folliculitis? It’s a yeast overgrowth in the hairfollicles
Andrea, the link for the Adolf Just book says there is an error. Is that no longer a viable link? I am interested in reading it.
Andrea Fabry says
Here it is Karen. I’ll fix the post.
Amelia R says
Just to address one factual issue—AO Biome’s bacteria was cultured from a human
Lola Twinkle says
Well the natural bath sounds fun! I can’t think of anything more soothing and relaxing than sitting naked in 3″ of cold water. Lovely. Think I’ll stick to my three warm showers a week thanks! Otherwise, a great article! Very informative and well researched and thankfully lacking in woo.
Is dry brushing still a good idea with regard to maintaining a healthy skin biome?
Andrea Fabry says
I asked several sources and all agreed that it helps. It doesn’t really wipe away the good guys…just stimulates them as I understand it, Carol.
Tom Dobbie says
I am a physicist and very disturbed by the human race to become unnatural. It took a long time to get here in this form (microbiome etc) and we are throwing chemicals around like demented creatures. Testing a product for ridiculously short times (in scale of human evolution) and for things not seen is extremely bad science.
Our society is working against nature, against the very forces assembled in a very complicated symphony that gave us our form, our shape, our functions our health.
The madness has to stop somehow, and I am very happy to support articles like this.
I googled ‘washing skin microbiome’ and found this article because a friend of mine told me that the fact that I leave the house without having a shower, go to work without a shower, don’t have a shower every day etc., means I don’t love myself and that I’m being disrespectful to those I work with. I disagree strongly because I know about the skin microbiome, I eat such a clean diet that I don’t stink, and I don’t subject my skin to hot chlorine filled municipal water because I DO love myself and want to do what is best for my health.