Your Skin Microbiome: Are You Washing Too Much?
How often should you shower? If you’re like most people you shower or bathe six to nine times a week. Although this may be what you were taught as a child and has been your habit for years, washing daily is not as good for you as you might think. You may actually be harming your skin and in turn, your overall health.
In this article, I’ll explain what your skin microbiome is, the amazing world of your skin flora, how your skin microbiome defends you, and how washing affects it.
What is a Skin Microbiome?
Your skin microbiome — or skin flora — is the scientific term for the trillions of microorganisms that live on your skin. When your skin microbiome is healthy, there are 1,000 different species of bacteria and up to 80 different fungi species in your skin microbiome.
Not only is your skin your largest organ, your skin is also your first line of defense against the outside world. Your skin microbiome is even closely connected to your gut (I’ll explain how in just a moment), which regulates your immune system, so its health is key for your whole-body health.
Though they are connected, you have different microbiomes in different places on your body that make up your skin microbiome. The balance of microbes can be very different on your feet and scalp to those in your armpits or eyelids. A healthy skin microbiome in all of these areas will provide you with skin that is free from rashes, dry patches, and other symptoms of imbalance in your skin.
Microbiomes also form on and in animals and people. A common example is the dental plaque that forms on teeth. Biofilms also colonize the lining of your nasal passageways and in your GI tract. In fact, your gut is an ideal environment for bacterial biofilms and fungi. That’s because it has a huge surface area and a constant supply of nutrients.
Your gut is naturally lined with mucus that lubricates and protects it. However, when inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), or Candida overgrowth damage your gut wall, the mucus can also be disrupted. Damaged mucus creates an opportunity for bacterial biofilms to attach to the gut cell wall. There, it creates further damage and increasing the likelihood of leaky gut. I’ll discuss this in greater detail later on in this article.
What Lives in Your Skin Microbiome?
Your skin microbiome includes a wide array of organisms from bacteria, fungi, viruses, and even mites!
The bacteria found on your skin often plays a beneficial role, meaning the relationship it has with your body is symbiotic. Which ones inhabit your skin microbiome depends on the overall environment of your skin, the location on your skin (for example, your eyelids or just inside your nostrils), and whether your skin is dry, oily or moist. The most common bacteria that may live in your skin microbiome include:
- Propionibacterium acnes: This inflammatory type of bacteria is thought to be behind some forms of acne.1 On the other hand, recent studies have shown that it can secrete antibiotic proteins that actually kill off disease-causing Staphylococcus aureus. It can cause skin infections that can look like pimples, boils or red, swollen and painful skin eruptions.23
- Corynebacterium: This family of bacteria includes organisms that are both positive and negative for your health. Corynebacterium minutissimum is associated with a healthy skin microbiome. However, C. diphtheriae can cause diphtheria which can infect the lungs, cause skin lesions, and even, if untreated, lead to heart failure.45
- Staphylococcus epidermidis, another bacteria that may be found in your skin microbiome, has also been found to slow and stop the growth of S. aureus, which can cause blood poisoning or a bone infection.67
- Lactobacilli and Bifidobacterium are the bacteria most commonly included in probiotics. They are thought to benefit your skin microbiome health by supporting skin’s response to inflammation and the symptoms of dermatitis.8
The fungi that live in your skin microbiome include yeasts like Candida and Malassezia. We know a lot about what happens when yeast grows out of control. It can lead to nail fungus, athlete’s foot, or jock itch, though we don’t know much about their role otherwise. Trichophyton rubrum, for example, is the mold that causes athlete’s foot, and usually does nothing more than make you itch.9 However, interesting research is being done to understand where they live on your body and how they contribute to your health, including whether fungi can help guard against infection.10
Even a healthy skin microbiome can harbor viruses. Most people will have several viruses on their skin at any one time that cause no harm.11 This is called the normal viral flora. For example, a study on the viral load of 102 healthy adults aged 18 to 40 years old found that there were strains of human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common sexually transmitted infection, on the skin of 75% of the samples taken, and 50% of samples taken from the nose of the participants. As long as your microbiome is healthy, these viruses likely won’t infect your body.
There are also viruses that are part of your skin microbiome that are completely harmless or even helpful. One recent study found that viruses called phages naturally kill the bacteria Propionibacterium acnes, which is the primary culprit behind acne.12
Most people aren’t aware that tiny mites called demodex are nearly always a part of your skin microbiome.13 They live, eat, and breed on your skin, yet they are nothing to worry about most of the time. These parasites live in your skin’s hair follicles where they eat the sebum secreted by the follicle. Your immune system generally keeps them from overpopulating, though in some cases, they can breed out of control and cause an inflammatory, itchy skin condition called demodicosis. They have also been associated with rosacea.14
What Happens to Your Skin Microbiome if You Wash Too Much?
Washing too frequently can destroy the helpful bacteria in your skin microbiome, as well as strip off the oils that naturally keep your skin microbiome in balance. This may allow the types of bacteria or fungi that aren’t good news to grow out of control. It may also stop the good bacteria from doing their important jobs such as protecting your skin, naturally keeping the levels of bad bacteria in check, and aiding skin immunity.
What Happens to Your Skin Microbiome if You Wash Too Little?
Your skin microbiome may suffer if you wash or shower too little. That’s because germs don’t get washed away before they can damage your skin or enter your body. If you don’t shower or wash very often, over the long term dirt and dead skin cells can form a crust over your skin that prevents it from functioning properly. For example, your skin is one of your key organs involved in detoxification. So when toxins, sweat, and oil aren’t allowed to leave your body through your skin, they can build up inside it. This can not only cause imbalances in your skin microbiome and skin eruptions, the toxins can become the root cause of issues throughout your body — even autoimmune disease.
So What’s the Right Amount?
Bathing more than once per day is definitely not necessary — or good! — for your skin microbiome unless you have a job or hobby that actually gets you dirty. In fact, bathing every other day is generally fine for most people’s skin microbiome. If you must shower each day, simply rinse most of your body and apply soap to your armpits, groin, feet, and any parts that are actually soiled. Armpits, groin, and feet are the areas of your skin microbiome where moisture can lead to increased levels of pathogenic bacteria and fungi that can cause odor.
Most people don’t realize that you don’t even have to wash your face with soap unless you wear makeup or sunscreen. We often strip oils off our face and body unnecessarily, drying out our skin microbiome. When your skin microbiome is in ideal balance, you won’t need moisturizer — although that’s a difficult balance to maintain with the modern conveniences of central heating and air conditioning.
Protecting Your Skin Microbiome While Washing
When washing your face and body, I recommend using a pure castile soap like Dr. Brauners. It’s free of the toxic chemicals found in most soaps, the oil it’s made from helps to penetrate your skin with antibacterial agents, and it doesn’t clog your pores, ensuring you can shed dead skin cells effectively.
For your hair, every third day is fine for most people because what you’re really washing is not just hair, it’s also the skin microbiome of your scalp. However, if you have psoriasis or another skin condition that affects the skin microbiome of your scalp, you may want to wash your hair daily. If you have psoriasis on the scalp and your natural hair texture doesn’t react well to daily washing, wash your hair with a light conditioner, otherwise called the “no-poo” approach. Or, use an extremely mild shampoo made for your hair type. Go as long between washes as is comfortable for you.
When it comes to washing your hands, I recommend frequent hand washing to help prevent the spread of germs. At the very least, this means after using the toilet, before eating, upon entering your home or office, and whenever they are soiled. Follow up with a natural hand cream to prevent dryness (personally I love Beautycounter).
Other Ways to Protect Your Skin Microbiome
If you can’t go more than a day without bathing or you just want some extra protection, there are many ways to protect your skin microbiome.
Probiotic skincare is a new trendy topic but it’s actually been around for some time. Mother Dirt has a line of skincare products designed to nurture the good bacteria of your skin and can be used on your whole body. To restore the balance of the skin on your face you can try a moisturizer such as Biossance Squalane + Probiotic Moisturizer which helps to renew your skin barrier with the probiotic strain Lactococcus ferment lystate.
You may be more familiar with probiotic supplements. Taking a probiotic supplement is a great way to support your skin microbiome while also helping maintain healthy digestion and supporting your body’s immune and inflammatory response. I recommend a Probiotic Capsules 100 Billion for most people, Probiotic Capsules 30 Billion if you find you can’t tolerate the high dosage, and the soil-based Primal Earth Probiotic for those who have not found success with traditional probiotics.
Hand sanitizer has become a must have during the 2020 pandemic – and for good reason! When you don’t have access to a sink, water or soap, hand sanitizer can help ensure you’re not carrying around and possibly spreading dangerous viruses. However, it’s important to avoid any products that contain triclosan as it has been shown to disrupt your endocrine system – decreasing thyroid and adrenal hormone concentrations. An alcohol-based sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol is best to kill off the bad bacteria.
Food and Water
Finally, think about food and water! I say this so often because it’s true. What you put into your body is critical for optimal health, including your skin microbiome. Make sure to stay hydrated with clean, filtered water out of a stainless steel or glass container. Pack your dinner plate with grass-fed pasture raised meats, healthy fats and a range of organic fruits and vegetables. Feeding your body well will help keep your skin healthy.
Vitamin K and Vitamin D3
Exposure to smoke, environmental pollution and sun rays (in excess) can all cause free radical damage. Vitamin K supports your body in scavenging free radicals. Vitamin K is also involved in tissue renewal and cell growth control, which makes a difference in a soft, glowing, and young-looking complexion and a healthy skin microbiome.
One of vitamin D’s key functions is to help keep enough cells on the outside of your skin to protect you from your environment. It also plays a role in wound healing. It may also help support your body in maintaining longer telomeres, the sections of your DNA that get shorter with age, which can impact the appearance of aging.1516
Vitamin D may also directly affect our gut microbiome by supporting a diversity of flora1718 and by playing a role in modulating gut inflammation. The balanced diversity of flora in the gut, in turn, supports homeostasis in the skin microbiome.
Perhaps most importantly in terms of the skin microbiome, vitamin D plays an integral role in the skin’s innate immune system and in the production of substances that attack invasive organisms in the skin microbiome. It also plays a role in the maintenance of hair follicles and sebaceous glands — remember, that’s where those mites live!19
Unfortunately, vitamin D deficiency is all too common. According to one study, 41.6% of adults in the United States are deficient in Vitamin D, easily making this one of the most common vitamin deficiencies. In fact, the 69.2% of Hispanic people and 82.1% of Black people are deficient in vitamin D. This is due to the fact that those with darker skin absorb less UV light from the sun, making synthesis of this hormone-like vitamin more difficult.
Vitamin D3/K2 10,000 IU Capsules offer 10,000 IU of super bioavailable Vitamin D per capsule to support your skin microbiome. Each capsule also contains 45 mcg of vitamin K, to support cell renewal. Because vitamin D deficiency is so widespread, particularly among those with dark skin or those living in northern climates, Vitamin D supplementation is critical for maintaining a balanced skin microbiome, no matter how frequently you shower.
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