Microbes inhabit just about every part of the human body, living on the skin, in the gut and the mouth. Sometimes they cause disease, but most of the time, microorganisms live in harmony with their human hosts. The skin microbiome — the collection of microorganisms and bacteria that naturally live on your skin — is a fascinating ecosystem composed of living biological and physical components occupying diverse habitats and as with the gut, disruptions in microfloral balance can result in disorders or infections.
The germ theory of disease — kill the germs, cure the disease — informed twentieth century medical practice. Antibiotics saved many lives, but their overuse led to arguably the biggest discovery so far of the twenty first century: microbial balance is one of the keys to maintaining optimal health.
If our skin care practices can be similarly enlightened, our skin, including its millions of happy, healthy microbes, will thank us. Take note of the following ways you can do improve your skin’s health a million times over.
1. Ditch the antimicrobial hand wipes and cleansers.
Most cleansers contain surfactants that dry your skin and antimicrobials that disrupt microfloral balance because they're indiscriminate in their action — they kill off the good bacteria right along with the bad bacteria. This is a huge problem because it's the good bacteria that are keeping the pathogens in check. When you wipe them out, you have no defense against the pathogens taking over. It's all about the balance.
2. Go for oils over moisturizers.
Besides hand wipes and cleansers, most moisturizers and lotions are loaded with antimicrobial preservatives like parabens, sodium benzoate and phenoxyethanol. In addition, most of them consist of wax and water that initially make your skin feel hydrated and supple, but then the excess wax starts blocking your pores and results in eruptions and other irritations.
When you're buying skin care products, make sure to stay away from anything that includes the following ingredients as they indicate the presence of wax in the formula: stearic acid, cetyl alcohol, stearyl alcohol, glycol distearate, beeswax, carnuba wax.
If you have acne, especially avoid: isopropyl myristate, decyl oleate, oleyl alcohol, butyl stearate, isostearic acid, isopropyl linoleate, isoneopentanoate, isoparaffin, petrolatum, lanolin, mineral oils.
3. Clear clogged pores with oils.
So-called “deep cleansing” techniques often don’t get to the source of the congestion, which starts deep down in the follicle. Your skin’s stratum corneum (the top layer of the epidermis) is beautifully designed to hold in moisture and protect the surface from outside assault. Removing the top epidermal layers compromises barrier function and disrupts microbial balance that may eventually induce inflammation. It also does nothing to unclog pores. Basically, it’s like removing the topsoil before you plant.
On the other hand, can penetrate past the epidermal barrier. Oils are special because applied topically, they not only penetrate to lower skin structures and the sebaceous gland, but they can clear clogged pores because oils dissolve oils, they’re the best way to dissolve hardened sebum deposits.
4. Avoid oil-free moisturizers.
This is especially important if your skin is prone to break outs, clogged pores or feels greasy. People who report that their skin feels greasy rather than oily are producing a type of sebum that is low in linoleic acid. Topically introducing oils high in linoleic acid (like sunflower oil) changes the composition of the sebum in the pores. It becomes less sticky and flows more readily to the surface, where it can lubricate and protect the skin as it's designed to do. Instead of oil-free moisturizers, give your skin the tools it needs: the right oils so it can clean and lubricate itself.
5. Wear yogurt on your face.
What we don’t want to do is remove all our friendly bacteria, so after an exfoliation treatment, finish with a thin layer of yogurt. Yogurt contains many different strains of helpful bacteria which aid in fending off over colonization of bad, acne-causing bacteria. Putting yogurt on your skin has the same beneficial effects on the skin's microbiome as eating it benefits your gut's microbiome.
At night after washing off your exfoliation mask, spread about 1/2 teaspoon of whole-fat yogurt over your face and neck. Then, leave it on! It makes a great nighttime moisturizer.