Tune In: The Secret To Younger-Looking, Healthier Skin Is Invisible To The Naked Eye
"We live in a microbial world. It's just been invisible to us. People ask me, what's the microbiome? It's you. It's as much a part of you as your arms, your heart, or your lungs, but you can't see it or feel it," says skin microbiome expert Larry Weiss, M.D.
On this episode of Clean Beauty School, I had on Weiss, who is helping lead charge of the conversation around the microbiome. I last spoke with him to report on the new and evolving science of the skin microbiome for one of our 2023 Wellness Trends, and on today's episode, we picked up where we last left off.
Weiss' biotech company focuses on expanding our understanding of the skin microbiome from an evolutionary perspective. Essentially, they're working to create a blueprint of what the human microbiome used to look like (and what it did for us) as we evolved into the humans we are today. You can see some of the fruits of their labor through their skin care company Symbiome (of which Kate Hudson and beauty editors, like myself, count ourselves as fans).
But much of the work is still behind the scenes.
And this is important work because the current state of our microbiomes looks vastly different from what it did centuries ago. Understanding how it's changed may very well be the secret to uncovering why skin experiences things like premature aging (such as wrinkles and dark spots), as well as inflammatory skin conditions like eczema and acne.
Studying the microbiome from an evolutionary perspective may be the missing link to healthier skin. Here's why
In expanding the understanding of this invisible, microbial ecosystem—we better understand ourselves. In the episode, we get into more of the details of how this research is done, what the microbiome could have looked like, and ultimately, what it means for modern-day folks.
But as a sneak peek, let's talk about the curious case of essential amino acids and essential fatty acids. "There are what we call essential amino acids and essential fatty acids. What this means is that we need them, but we don't make them ourselves," he tells me.
The essential fatty acids omega-6 and omega-31 are vital for skin barrier function and overall health. Without them, we may experience inflammation, transepidermal water loss, and all the skin concerns that come with those—sensitivities, fine lines, dullness, discoloration, and redness.
"And that was always very puzzling for researchers: Like, if they're so badly needed, why aren't we making them?" he explains. "And the reason was we never had to. We emerged into a world where microbes made those for us. So our bodies never had to have those metabolic pathways."
Essentially, many of the nutrients we prioritize in skin care, are the very things that the microbiome used to create for us. (Sometimes we call these postbiotics, or the byproducts of the living organisms on the skin.) We're coming closer to understanding how we can best care for this microbial world and replicate what has been lost, but we are by no means even close to done.
"This microbial world is the connective tissue for us biologically," he says. "And we need to rebuild our relationship with it."
Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.