You’re probably familiar with the idea that excess cleanliness and loads of antibiotics and other medications can damage the gut microbiome and could increase the risk of allergy and autoimmunity, among other issues. This is called the “hygiene hypothesis,” and there's a lot of research to support this important concept.
Ditto for the skin microbiome.
Excess use of antimicrobial hand sanitizers and soaps contributes to skin dysbiosis and antibiotic resistance, thus stoking various skin conditions. An imbalanced microbiome, or skin dysbiosis, is associated with many diseases, including psoriasis, allergies, eczema, contact dermatitis, acne, poor wound healing, skin ulcers, dandruff, yeast and fungal infections, rosacea, and accelerated skin aging.
So if you’re addicted to “clean,” you could be damaging your skin microbiome. Take soap, for example. By its very nature, it’s alkalinizing. That’s how it works to remove dirt and microbes. But recall that our skin microbiome prefers a pH of about 5. At this relatively acidic pH, the healthy microbiome thrives. It’s also understood that the opportunistic bacteria — the dysbiotic players — do better at a higher, more alkaline pH. And soap has a pH of about 10! Thus, we may actually be damaging our microflora with soap and setting the stage for increased risk for skin issues.
What else can affect the skin microbiome? A recent study showed that kids who hand-wash dishes have a lower incidence of allergies compared to those in families that use a dishwasher. That sounds paradoxical given what I’ve just mentioned about soap, but the authors speculate this has to do with the benefits of skin exposure to the microbes on the dirty plates.
Hand sanitizers, topical steroids, and internal medications (such as antibiotics, oral steroids, acid blockers, and nonsteroidal pain relievers) can also directly or indirectly damage the skin microbiome. Plus, anything damaging to your gut microbiome or immune system will likely also influence what’s happening to the skin.
Finally, while there is less research in the area of toxins and the skin microbiome specifically, we can infer that parabens, phthalates, sulfites, and others are also likely damaging.
Here's what else you can do to keep your skin microbiome healthy: