Nomenclature of the Skin Microbiome
Updated: Mar 25
We are learning more and more about the delicate balance of microorganisms that inhabit human skin, but there is still more research to be done. Many skin care products make marketing claims about containing probiotics or having probiotic benefits for the skin, yet we still don’t know what bacteria lives on the skin and which topical ingredients may be beneficial.
To help your patients better understand confusing marketing claims and make well-informed decisions when shopping for skin care products, share with them this information about what the skin microbiome is and how it works.
Microbiota and the Microbiome
The term “microbiota” refers to the diverse group of microorganisms that inhabit an environment. When we discuss the microbiome of human skin, we also factor in the specific characteristics of that environment in which these trillions of microbes live. For example, the microbiome of oily skin may be very different from that of dry skin. We also know that the specific populations of certain microbes on the skin can cause or aggravate many chronic skin conditions, including acne, eczema, and rosacea.
P. acnes bacteria, now known as C. acnes, is largely responsible for causing acne. A vaccine is currently being developed to reduce the amount of this bacteria growing on the skin to therefore treat and prevent acne.
Other bacteria that are known to be related to chronic skin conditions include staphylococcus aureus, which is implicated in the development of atopic dermatitis, and the Bacillus bacteria found in the Demodex mite that may contribute to rosacea.
It is important to emphasize to patients, however, that not all bacteria and other microorganisms living on their skin are necessarily bad. Nearly everyone has some amount of P. acnes and Demodex mites living on their skin, for instance. It is only when these populations expand to excessive numbers that skin conditions like acne and rosacea appear.
Probiotics and Prebiotics
One possible way to control overpopulations of specific bacteria is to introduce sufficient numbers of beneficial bacteria, called probiotics, to the skin. Probiotics are different from the good bacteria that already exists on the skin in that they are introduced externally, whether orally or topically, for the purpose of achieving a health benefit. For example, a 2018 study found that three strains of oral probiotics can have a preventative effect on skin afflicted with atopic dermatitis, or eczema. Although this study involved mice and further studies will need to be done on human skin, there is promising evidence that the right probiotics could be used an effective treatment for this common skin condition.
Prebiotics provide nourishment for live probiotics so they can thrive in a particular environment. Patients often see dietary supplements or even topical products that claim to contain prebiotics to achieve any number of health effects. However, the right prebiotic needs to be administered to the right environment where the right probiotics live. Not every prebiotic will be beneficial to every probiotic in every environment. We are still learning more about which bacteria naturally inhabit the skin and which probiotics might affect them.
Can Probiotics Treat Other Skin Disorders?
The short answer is that we’re not sure yet. More research is needed to better understand the nuances of the skin’s delicate microbiome and which probiotics and other ingredients can affect these microorganisms. We do know that by improving the balance of bacteria in the gut can have systematic benefits throughout the entire body, including the skin, but we are still researching the specific mechanisms behind this.
There is so much information out there for patients to consume when it comes to taking excellent care of their skin. As a physician, it is important to help educate your patients so they can make well-informed decisions about which skin care products and treatments will work for their skin and which do not have enough evidence to support empty marketing claims. Probiotics for skin health is becoming a very popular topic, but the bottom line is that there is still much more research to be done in this area.
To stay in the know on the latest news and research in probiotics and skin health, connect with me (Leslie Baumann) on LinkedIn, where I share more news and articles.
You can learn more about how the Skin Type Solutions Franchise System can help your patients receive customized, science-based skin care regimens directly from your office by contacting my team online or calling our Miami office at 305-714-5322.
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