The Skin’s Microbiome

The Skin’s Microbiome

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The microbiome refers to the micro-organisms (or bugs!) which live inside and on the human body including the surfaces of the skin, digestive, respiratory and reproductive tracts. 

Extensive research and scientific advances are being made in the field of microbial communities and many experts believe that it may hold the key to treating a wide range of diseases. Microbiome is topical in dermatology and there is early evidence to suggest that an imbalance in the microbiome is linked to skin disorders such as atopic dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, dandruff, fungal infections and skin ageing.

Dr John Ferguson, Consultant Dermatologist at the Cadogan Clinic comments, The skin microbiome is an exciting area of expanding understanding in dermatology. It is normal to have bacteria, yeasts and even tiny insects (like the demodex folliculorum mite) on the skin withresearch aiming to discover how these microorganisms either negatively encourage, or protect against, skin disease.”

The skin is the largest human organ and is also the home to a large array of microbes which are mostly either harmless or beneficial to their host. There are 1 trillion different types of microbiome living on our skin of which there are 1,000 different species of bacteria and 80 different types of fungus. They are present on the surface of the skin, all the way down through the layers to the subcutaneous fat layer. Dr Ferguson explains, In and on our bodies, microbial cells outnumber human cells by a factor of 10 and eliminating bacteria is not practical, possible or desirable on healthy skin. However, changes in the balance of the different populations of bacteria on our skin often coincide with the development of common skin diseases like acne, rosacea, eczema and psoriasis.”

The skin has a very complex ecosystem living on it with different types of bacteria thriving in different parts of our skin, dependent upon the micro-environmental conditions, area of the body, sebum levels, exposure to light, temperature, pH levels, hair follicles etc.  It is unique to each individual and is also influenced by gender, age, lifestyle and disease.

The skin’s microbiome is responsible for promoting good skin health, protecting against infection, controlling inflammation and aiding in wound healing. Skin microbiome also have anti-ageing properties, helping to repair the damage of sunburn, plumping and firming the skin.

Studies have indicated that people presenting with specific skin conditions can have a significant alteration in the diversity and composition of the microbiota on the skin, essentially there are not enough of the good bacteria to fight off the bad. In some skin diseases bacteria may play a negative role and their populations may need to be reduced or rebalanced. It may also be that some bacteria are desirable or even protective against disease,” explains Dr Ferguson.

It is understood that the skin and gut are related in purpose and function with crucial immune and neuroendocrine roles and some of the skin’s microbiome are also present in our gut microbiome. Diet can play an intrinsic part in the skin’s microbiome and medications such as antibiotics, oral steroids and pain-relieving medications may damage the gut microbiome and immune system, which may also subsequently impact on the health of the skin.

However, it’s not just about what you put in your body, but also what you put on it. In the past, bacteria were perceived as unhealthy for the skin and something that needed to be removed. It’s now understood that bacteria are actually healthy and beneficial to the health of the skin. Excessive usage of antibacterial products such as hand sanitisers contribute to antibiotic resistance and may cause the onset of skin conditions and diseases. The alkaline nature of soap is designed to remove dirt but in doing so, also removes microbiomes. A healthy skin microbiome thrives at around pH 5, however soap has a pH level of around 10, thus damaging our microflora and possibly exacerbating skin conditions.

Experts now believe that by creating a healthy environment for microorganisms to colonise on the skin we will be able to help restore, preserve and strengthen it. Understanding the microbiome may lead to for innovative new treatments for skin disease.

Frequently Asked Questions

+ What is the skin microbiome

Skin microbiome is the name given to the colony of micro-organisms that live on our skin. There are over a trillion different types of microbes including fungi, bacteria and viruses, all of which are mostly either beneficial to the skin or harmless.

+ What role does skin microbiome play in skin health

The skin’s microbiome plays an essential role in promoting skin health, protecting against infection, helping to control inflammation and assisting in the repair wounds. Skin micro-organisms also help with anti-ageing contributing to repair after sun damage and perhaps helping plump and firm the skin.

+ How do I maintain healthy skin microbiome?

Everybody is unique with their own individual microbiome and therefore there is no fixed skincare routine. People wishing to achieve healthy skin microbiome should consult with a dermatologist who will be able to review their regime and advise on a treatment plan. Dr Ferguson comments, “In dermatology the skin’s microbiome represents a colossal expanding horizon for research. For patients wanting to maintain healthy skin it is best to talk to dermatologist for advice - there are no established rules.”

+ What impact does skin microbiome have on skin diseases?

Healthy skin microbiome has been linked to healthy skin. Changes in the skin’s microbiome may play an important role in the development of skin diseases such as rosacea, eczema, acne and psoriasis. Extensive research is being undertaken in the field.


To make an appointment with Dr John Ferguson please call the team on 0808 250 6828