Did you know that our skin contains over 1 Million organisms per square centimeter? That means over a trillion organisms on the entire skin surface for most of us!
Think of the microbiome as the ecosystem of our skin, with all of its components that work together so that everything can co-exist, in perfect balance. Microbiota refer to the actual organisms that are part of this environment while the microbiome is the environment as a whole.
A good analogy for the microbiome is to think of your skin as a community or city. A community has farms to grow food and streets and buildings and structures and people and animals playing specific roles. The community is like the microbiome, and all of the people, animals, plants, and other living structures within it are the microbiota. The buildings and structures and farms need all of the people, animals and plants to be purposeful, and vice versa...we need places to live and work, and food and water to nourish us, in order to exist. Every person or organism that lives in the community has a job or purpose.
I actually picture our skin microbiome like a bustling city...Constant movement and communication. There is a government and police who help the city stay organized and safe. There is abundant food and water to nourish all of the people and animals in the city. There are small farms that supply fruits and vegetables and other foods. The city needs to maintain just the right balance of people and animals, food and water, temperature, and habitat so that everything can thrive. Everything has a purpose. That’s what’s happening at a teeny-tiny cellular level on the skin surface.
So why do we care about the skin microbiome? Well, just like that city, if things get out of balance, a lot can go wrong. Imagine if there are only 3 places to get food, but thousands of humans that needed to buy food? What if there is no organization to the traffic? What if criminals come into the city? Then the city is not safe, and bad things can happen. Our skin is somewhat similar, except we are talking about a balance of GOOD bacteria, fungi, viruses, bugs, and yeast living in harmony with their surroundings. These organisms actually help maintain the skin barrier and keep BAD bacteria, fungi, and yeast out of our skin.
Every day we do things that impact our skin’s natural microbiota: we wash our hands frequently or put anti-perspirant in our armpits (which are designed to stay damp). We brush our teeth, and the toothpaste gets on the skin around our mouth. I’m not suggesting that we don’t want to continue these hygiene practices, but it’s important to make sure that we are choosing products that keep our skin strong.
Water is one of the most important ingredients to support the microbiome of our skin. Think again of that community and imagine if there was no water supply for weeks. How would the people drink or how would the food grow? Our skin is just as dependent on water; that hydration helps the enzymes in our skin make fats and proteins so that it can function properly.
Bottom line is that our skin is a complex structure with its own functional and unique environment. Everything that we can do to support this environment promotes the health and support of all of the good organisms that live on our skin; and these good organisms are what keep out those bad organisms and help our skin stay strong and balanced.