We all know about, and have come to love, our gut family but what about our skin? While we’re very much at peace with our gut microbes, the cities of organisms living as part of our skin microbiota may be a whole other matter. But it’s certainly nothing to panic about because most are normal, they’re supposed to be there, and they have a very important role to play.
So – news flash – the exterior surface of the skin does normally have resident microbes – say a big warm hello to Staphylococcus epidermidis – and we are increasingly recognising that their presence and activity is part of what makes ‘normal’ skin. But what’s important to realise is that most of our normal microbes are located in ‘protected’ sites within the skin glands and ducts, doing they’re important and chief job – protection. Here they won’t be greatly disturbed by your normal cleansing routine and your skin microbiota can keep on, keeping on.
You’ll find them living on the surface of the skin, in sweat glands, sebaceous glands and hair follicles.
And while skin microbes more broadly are bacteria (most of them) and fungi, the crucial concept here is ‘balance’. Not just a property of the microbes, but rather a property of the way our body interacts with them. A healthy immune system is one that has tolerance of normal exposures.
You will have microbes on your skin at all time, but you want a balanced immune response to them. Anyone who has experienced skin issues will know that while Propionibacterium acnes is found on most skin it’s in abundance in acne sufferers, and that most of us harbour Staphylococcus aureus in our nose but when this little devil transfers onto the skin surface ‘golden staph’ is no fun at all.
There is some stability to our normal skin microbiota (they even have a community structure of their own) but let’s not forget we, and the environment, are a player in this system too. The normal, stable microbiome, resists the entry of pathogens – hurrah! – and we can help them with a healthy diet (nutritionally balanced and with adequate fibre), a skin that is regularly exposed to air movement (no long term wearing of tight-fitting clothes) and where we allow natural skin secretions (the body’s oils) to do their work.