Your skin is the largest organ of your body. It not only protects your body from pathogens, but a very diverse group of bacteria1 called your skin microbiome also live on it. The health of your skin microbiome is just as important as your gut microbiome in keeping you healthy. Starting at birth we are exposed to our first host of bacteria through the birth canal. From then on, there are many factors that affect the health of our skin microbiome, including environment, pathogens, and toxins we put on our skin and in our body.2
The skin’s diverse microorganisms are for the most part harmless and many are beneficial to the host. We have many misconceptions of these organisms, thinking that we have to sterilize everything. The fact is, many of these bacteria and other organisms are beneficial to our immune systems. It has been shown that some of the bacteria on our skin educate our immune system and act as a barrier to keep you healthy.3 If we disturb this balance it may lead to skin infections and even compromise our immune responses. The reverse is also true; studies have shown that our gut microbiome, known to play a major role in immunity, also affects our skin.4,5
In my early 20’s I suffered from psoriasis. I went to the doctor and they prescribed a topical cortisone cream to deal with the inflammation. Not once did they address my diet. Back in those days I was drinking sugary soda and eating a lot of fast food. I was also under a lot of stress.
Looking back, I now understand that both of those things could have been the source of my skin problems. Not one doctor even asked me about my lifestyle and my habits. Now I know that when I eat poorly, I will start to develop symptoms. When I am under stress, I start to develop symptoms. The cortisone cream did nothing but temporarily reduce the inflammation without addressing the core issue, and it would end up popping out in another spot. The solution was so simple and yet nobody educated me. These days, I know exactly how to keep my gut and my skin healthy. I eat a healthy diet with lots of fiber to both clear out the toxins and help feed my healthy bacteria while trying to manage my response to stress (would be great to eliminate stress, but we all know that is hard to do).
So the moral of the story is to take care of both the inside and the outside to help keep our immune systems strong. Here are some tips to help you do just that:
- Don’t overuse antibacterial soaps. The main ingredient in many of these soaps is triclosan.It has been shown that these soaps can promote antibiotic resistance in bacteria. It is possible that it also alters the gut microbiome.6
- Eat a healthy diet with both probiotic and prebiotic properties. This means lots of whole and fermented foods.
- Try to manage stress by meditating or getting a massage.
- Help support your immune system with nutritional, science-based supplements.
- Go outside and have some fun. Exposing your skin to bacteria from dirt or pets has been shown to help support our gut microbiome. Check out my one of my previous blog posts on the benefits of getting dirty.7