What if we tell you that our skin is an ecosystem? Sounds interesting? It is actually true. Our skin, the body's largest organ, acts as a physical barrier, but it is also an ecosystem, inhabited by a myriad of microorganisms, many of which are beneficial. The skin microbiome refers to the community of microorganisms that live on and in the skin, including bacteria, fungi, and viruses. These microorganisms play an important role in maintaining the health of the skin by helping to protect it from harmful pathogens and regulating the immune system.
What is skin microbiome and its significance?
The skin microbiome refers to the vast array of microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, and viruses, that live on the surface and within the layers of our skin. These microscopic communities form a delicate balance, working in harmony to protect the skin from harmful pathogens, maintain its natural barrier, and support various physiological processes.
Research has shown that the composition of the skin microbiome can vary based on factors such as age, gender, geography, diet, and lifestyle1. Certain skin conditions are also associated with alterations in the skin microbiome.
A study conducted by the National Institute of Health highlighted that the microbiome lives deep within the dermis—our thick inner layer of skin and not just on the surface layer of the skin (epidermis). The results of the study stated that there is "physical contact between bacteria and various cells below the basement membrane."2
The skin microbiome plays a significant role in supporting skin health and function. Here are some ways in which the skin microbiome supports skin health:
Immune system regulation: The skin microbiome plays a crucial role in regulating the immune system, helping to prevent allergic reactions3. It protects against foreign harmful pathogens that can cause infections and diseases.
Skin inflammation: The symptoms of inflammatory skin conditions and issues may be significantly influenced by changes in the composition and/or functionality of the human skin's microbiota, which are thought to cause immunological dysregulation and, in turn, an inflammatory response.3
Barrier function: The skin microbiome contributes to the skin's barrier function3, and protect against environmental stressors such as UV radiation5 and pollutants.
Skin disorders: Alterations in the skin microbiome have been linked to several skin disorders, including acne, eczema, rosacea, and psoriasis.3
Skin Conditions Management: Studies have shown that a disrupted skin microbiome may contribute to conditions like eczema, acne, and psoriasis. By maintaining a balanced microbiome, individuals may experience a reduction in the severity and frequency of these conditions. 3
Role of skin health in Ayurveda
Ayurveda, dating back thousands of years, has long recognized the significance of skin health and its connection to the overall well-being of an individual. According to Ayurvedic principles, the skin is considered one of the essential organs for detoxification and elimination of waste products from the body.
Ayurvedic principles emphasize the importance of maintaining a balance between the body, mind, and environment to promote overall health and well-being. According to Ayurveda4, the skin is one of the organs used for elimination, as toxins can be eliminated through the skin. Therefore, maintaining a healthy skin microbiome is considered essential for overall health.
Ayurveda believes that the human skin microbiome is associated with the characteristics of skin to quite some extent. It has been found that the complexion of the skin can change with the prakriti. Vata prakriti people tend to have lusterless skin and their nails, hair and skin are usually rough in texture. In the same way, people with Pitta prakriti generally have a fair body color but they also have the tendency to develop early wrinkles and gray hair. Kapha prakriti individuals have oily skin.
Tips for a healthy skin microbiome
Gentle cleansing: Avoid harsh soaps and cleansers that can strip away the skin's natural oils and disrupt the microbiome. Instead, opt for mild, Ayurveda-based cleansers that cleanse without compromising the skin's balance.
Moisturize regularly: Hydrated skin is essential for a healthy microbiome. Choose natural and nourishing moisturizers that provide hydration without clogging pores.
Balanced diet: Ayurveda emphasizes the role of diet in maintaining overall health, including the skin. Consume a balanced diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats to support a diverse skin microbiome.
Probiotics and prebiotics: Incorporate probiotic-rich foods like yogurt, kefir, and fermented vegetables, as well as prebiotic foods like garlic, onions, and bananas, to promote a healthy balance of microorganisms.
Stress management: High-stress levels can negatively impact the skin and its microbiome. Engage in stress-reducing practices like yoga, meditation, and mindfulness.
Take care of your gut: Multiple studies have highlighted that the gut and skin are related to each other in several ways. Both the gut and skin have an active role to play in regulating the immune system and any imbalance in either of the two can lead to a poor immune response. Modern-day research has highlighted that there is an intimate and bidirectional connection between our gut and skin6 (The microbiome in the skin can have an impact on the gut, and the microbiome in the gut can impact the skin as well). Therefore,a person should eat a diet appropriate for their dosha or body type so that it helps maintain mind-body balance and improve a person’s gut health. A balanced mind and body will likely improve a person's overall well-being and skin health. A diet that is rich in fiber and antioxidants can help to support a healthy skin microbiome.
Yoga: Yoga can offer some amazing benefits for the skin. Practicing some yoga asanas can help promote oxygen and blood flow in the body, and potentially prevent oxidative damage caused by free radicals. Some asanas that can help improve our skin are bhujangasana, ustrasana, matsyasana, sarvangasana, dhanurasna, uttanasana, face yoga, etc.
Stay hydrated: Proper hydration supports the growth and survival of beneficial microorganisms on the skin. Adequate water intake helps maintain the skin's moisture levels, preventing excessive dryness and promoting a healthy environment for the skin microbiome. Conversely, dehydration can disrupt the balance of the skin microbiome and lead to a decrease in beneficial bacteria and an increase in potentially harmful microorganisms. Maintaining proper hydration is essential for achieving radiant and healthy skin. It is especially crucial to drink an adequate amount of water in the winter season. With colder temperatures, moisture evaporates more quickly from the body, leading to dryness. By staying hydrated, you can effectively replenish the lost moisture. Moreover, consuming water aids in eliminating harmful toxins from the body, promoting overall skin health, and providing internal hydration.
Ayurveda recommends a holistic approach to maintaining healthy skin, including a balanced diet, lifestyle, and daily routine. Ayurvedic dietary recommendations emphasize the importance of consuming fresh, whole foods appropriate for one's constitution or dosha. By promoting a healthy microbiome, Ayurveda aims to support overall health and wellness.
Nakatsuji, Teruaki, Hsin-I Chiang, Shangi B Jiang, Harish Nagarajan, Karsten Zengler, and Richard L Gallo. “The Microbiome Extends to Subepidermal Compartments of Normal Skin.” Nature communications. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2013. ; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3655727/