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4 Things That Are Destroying Your Skin Microbiome + Exactly What To Do Instead

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May 24, 2017

There’s a new buzzword taking over the skin care industry, and it's focused on something older than mankind: the microbiome. And while this word isn’t necessarily new to anyone who’s studied biology, chemistry, or the environment, it's definitely a new word when it comes to caring for our skin.

Though they are invisible to the naked eye, our bodies play host to trillions of microorganisms. Just as our gut relies on a variety of bacteria to stay balanced and function properly, so does our skin. This elaborate ecosystem of microbes is the skin microbiome. Why have we started hearing about it so much more recently?

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Perfect skin is still elusive.

We’re living in a time of irony; despite being "cleaner" than ever and having more products to choose from than ever, we seem to be having more skin issues, allergies, and sensitivities. In fact, sensitive skin is the fastest growing category in cosmetics, and perfect skin still seems elusive—despite all the solutions out there.

New research on the microbiome shows we may have overlooked something, both for our skin and our planet. The chemistry of our products could be having a destabilizing effect on the skin’s ecosystem, which could be resulting in skin issues over time. It’s looking more and more like shifting our relationship with the microbial world (especially on our skin and in our guts) has the potential to be one of the biggest innovations in public health.

You can nurture your skin microbiome.

Starting that shift is easier than you think; here are four common items that are dramatically affecting the skin microbiome plus some easy solutions:

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1. Avoid cleansers with harsh surfactants like SLS and SDS.

Ever lather up in the shower and find that your skin feels tight and dry after you rinse? These lathering agents can strip away your natural moisture barrier and are also actually toxic to the delicate microorganisms on your skin.

Instead: Look for cleansers without SLS and SDS, plus try to lather up only where you need it. Lathering up head to toe is often not necessary. Focus on the areas that need it most, rinse the other areas with warm water, and you’re good to go! Much more biome-friendly, and you’re just as clean—really!

2. Avoid antibacterial products.

Recent studies have shown that antibacterial products are not a necessary part of your daily routine. Plain soap and water will do the job just as well! The only exception would be extreme environments like hospitals where sterility is actually a requirement.

Instead: Choose basic soaps instead of antibacterial products and you’ll be clean while going a little easier on your skin. For easy and effective cleaning on the go when you might not have water available, use non-antibacterial hand wipes. This is great for kids as a swap for hand sanitizer!

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3. Avoid antiperspirants.

As if we needed one more reason to ditch these! Conventional antiperspirants contain antimicrobial agents and sweat blockers to combat unpleasant odors. These can be like a hamster wheel of necessity where the more you use, the more you need. Those antimicrobials aren’t just destroying the bad bacteria; they’re destroying the good too. A balanced ecosystem in the underarm could actually negate the need for deodorant, with no risk of BO! Seriously.

Instead: Try shifting away from antiperspirants and slowly take\ your deodorant down a few notches. It might not happen overnight, but try over a period of many months.

4. Avoid mouthwash.

Just as our gut and skin have microbiomes that we want to keep thriving—so does our mouth! Many mouthwashes contain alcohol, which is what causes that burning sensation and feeling of dry mouth. And most mouthwashes contain ingredients intended to kill bacteria as a way to fend off bad breath.

Instead: Just stick with a good flossing and brushing schedule to keep your mouth minty fresh.

"Less is more" is a good rule of thumb when it comes to skin care. Using a multitude of products for our skin and hair is something the generations before us didn’t do. Cutting down on product usage—even just a little bit—will not only save you time and money, but it will help save your skin’s microbiome and the environment.

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Jasmina Aganovic
Jasmina Aganovic

Jasmina Aganovic is the President of Mother Dirt, a company developing biome-friendly products created to restore and maintain the delicate balance of bacteria on the skin. She is a cosmetics and consumer goods entrepreneur who received her degree in chemical and biological engineering from MIT. While her career has taken her to brands like LVMH, Fresh, NutraClick and Living Proof, she moonlights as a Pilates instructor, avid traveler, and charcuterie aficionado with a hidden penchant for Bravo shows.