HomeLifestyleFashionWhat is your skin microbiome, and can skincare products play a part?

What is your skin microbiome, and can skincare products play a part?

You might have heard health experts and chefs extolling the virtues of things like kombucha, kimchi and kefir recently, explaining how these fermented foods and drinks can benefit our gut microbiome.

Maybe you’ve even started incorporating them in your diet to help feed the friendly bacteria that dwell in our intestines. But did you know your skin is also home to a microbiome – and looking after it can help maintain a healthy complexion?

In fact, skincare formulated with skin-friendly prebiotic and probiotic ingredients is one of this year’s biggest beauty trends.

So, should you be adding these products to your daily routine? We asked some experts to give us the lowdown on the skin microbiome, and how to help keep it healthy…

What is the skin microbiome?


“The skin microbiome is a whole community of organisms, including thousands of species of bacteria, that live on the skin and help to keep us healthy, both inside and outside our body,” explains dermatologist consultant Dr Zac Handler.

Made up of both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria, a healthy microbiome is balanced, but problems can arise when the bad bacteria take over.

Abigail Williams, national education manager at Caudalie, says: “When this balance is disturbed, the barrier function can be damaged and skin’s immune system weakened. Skin disorders such as atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, rosacea, acne, irritated skin, which are linked to unbalanced microbiome, can occur.”

What causes an unbalanced microbiome?

“Over-cleansing the skin can strip it of its natural microbiome barrier, removing both the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ bacteria; this can leave it vulnerable to pollutants, infection, and dryness,” says Dr Handler.

Inflammatory conditions such as atopic dermatitis, eczema and psoriasis can be associated with an unbalanced skin microbiome – but when it comes to skin issues, there may be other factors at play too (and anyone with chronic skin conditions should seek professional advice about the best ways to manage symptoms).

As Williams points out: “We still do not know whether the unbalanced microbiome is either the cause or the consequence. The unbalanced microbiome will sustain the inflammation and therefore these disorders. This is why rebalancing skin microbiome is key to achieving visibly healthier-looking skin.”

How can you rebalance your microbiome?

As with gut health, alongside a healthy and varied diet, good quality prebiotics and probiotics can help to boost and support the microbiome – and they’re found in the next generation of skincare products. What’s the difference between the two?

“In a nutshell, a prebiotic substance is the skin’s good bacteria food,” says Williams. “They are sugars such as insulin, fructooligosaccharides and galactooligosaccharides which are mainly plant-based.”

Probiotics are “actual good bacteria that work to create a better skin environment,” Dr Handler says.

Are there any risks associated with prebiotic or probiotic skincare products?

“Our skin and its microbiome can be influenced by skincare products, and everyone’s skin is unique. Finding the right product, which ensures adequate skin hydration and optimum conditions for our good bacteria to thrive is important,” says Dr Wisam Alwan, British Skin Foundation clinical research fellow.

Most probiotic skincare products contain inactivated bacteria, and research is ongoing to discover “which live bacteria are the most beneficial, without a risk of causing infections”,

Prebiotic skincare is, Dr Alwan adds, “less likely to cause any issues, although anyone with sensitive skin should use new products with caution and perform a ‘test patch’ on a small area of skin before using widely.”

Microbiome buys: keep your skin in balance with these specially formulated products


Cultured Biome One Cleansing Balm, £32, Cult Beauty


Sanex BiomeProtect Micellar Soothing Shower Gel, £3.80, Sainsbury’s


Zitsticka Silkshake Body Wash Probiotic Cleanser, £23 (available September 22)


Gallinee Face Vinegar, £24


Caudalie Vinosource-Hydra Grape Water Gel Moisturiser, £26, Boots


Vichy Minéral 89 Probiotic Fractions Recovery Serum, £29, Boots

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