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What is the link between microbiota and skin?

The link between microbiota and skin:
maintaining healthy, balanced skin

The microbiota is a collection of micro-organisms (bacteria, yeasts, viruses, etc.) that play a part in numerous biological functions. It is found in many places: in the intestines, mouth, vaginal mucosa, lungs and on the skin.

The health of our skin depends on the balance of our microbiota, more specifically our gut and skin microbiota. These two interconnected ecosystems play an essential role in the protection, hydration and immunity of our skin.

Let’s take a closer look!

The intestinal microbiota: A key to skin health

Microbiote intestinal

The intestinal microbiota is made up of billions of micro-organisms living in our digestive tract. These bacteria, yeasts, viruses and other micro-organisms play a crucial role in our overall health.

The intestinal microbiota has several functions:

  • Strengthening the immune system: It acts as a barrier, preventing external pathogenic bacteria from taking hold and preserving non-pathogenic bacteria.
  • Protection of intestinal cells: Facilitates digestion and better integration of dietary compounds such as fiber.
  • Participates in the synthesis of certain vitamins: vitamin K and certain B vitamins.

Recent studies have shown that the gut microbiota also influences the health of our skin. A complex network of communication, known as the “gut-skin axis”, links the gut and the skin. A study of the gut microbiota as a regulator of this axis shows that it affects skin keratinization and the modulation of the cutaneous immune response in various diseases (1).

Indeed, imbalance of the intestinal microbiota can lead to systemic inflammation, which can manifest as skin problems such as acne, eczema or psoriasis. Inflammation is a defense mechanism in which the immune system reacts to aggression. The intestinal microbiota acts on the immune system and indirectly plays a role in inflammation phenomena.

By balancing the intestinal microbiota, inflammatory phenomena can be regulated and inflammatory skin problems alleviated. A healthy digestive system is therefore a good starting point for healthy skin.

The skin microbiota also plays an important role in certain skin problems (acne, atopic dermatitis, etc.). An unbalanced skin microbiota allows pathogenic bacteria to colonize the skin and cause inflammatory skin problems.

The cutaneous microbiota: Protector of the skin

Microbiote cutané

The skin acts as a protective barrier against external aggressors (temperature changes, stress, pollution, etc.). It is an “emunctory” organ, meaning it plays a part in the fight against toxins. The skin is made up of 3 layers: the hypodermis, the dermis and the epidermis, the most superficial layer. 

The cutaneous microbiota, or skin flora, is a group of micro-organisms living on the epidermis. It is essentially made up of bacteria, but also includes a few viruses and fungi. It is unique to each individual.

The cutaneous microbiota performs several vital functions to maintain skin health:

  • Protection against pathogens: the skin microbiota forms a physical and chemical barrier that limits the growth of pathogenic micro-organisms. Good, competitive bacteria prevent pathogens from adhering to and colonizing the skin.
  • Reinforced barrier function: The micro-organisms in the cutaneous microbiota help maintain the integrity of the skin barrier, essential for preventing moisture loss and the entry of harmful substances into the skin.
  • Modulation of the immune response: The cutaneous microbiota interacts with the skin’s immune cells, helping to regulate and balance the inflammatory response. Disruption of this balance can lead to skin conditions such as eczema or acne.
  • Influence on sebum secretion: Certain microorganisms in the skin microbiota are involved in regulating the production of sebum, an oily substance secreted by the sebaceous glands. An imbalance in microbiota can contribute to skin problems such as acne.

Recent studies show that good bacteria are real allies for our skin, and that an imbalance in the microbiota is not without consequences. In 2015, a review of the cutaneous microbiota presented its complexity and the role it can play in the development of certain pathologies such as psoriasis, acne or chronic wounds (2).

What impact does the microbiota have on the skin?

Imperfections cutanées

The skin’s normal flora acts as a defense for the host, but an increase or reduction in bacterial composition leads to an unbalanced microbiota, known as dysbiosis. This means that our body is no longer in symbiosis with the bacteria that make it up. This type of imbalance can lead to the appearance of certain pathologies such as diabetes, intestinal inflammation, eczema, psoriasis and acne. The appearance of imperfections can affect not only the face, but also the back, neck and bust.

The environment in which we live and our lifestyle can influence the composition of the cutaneous microbiota, leading to its imbalance. Poor hygiene or the use of water that’s too hot (above 35°C) and unsuitable cosmetics can damage the protective hydrolipidic film and upset the balance of the skin’s microbiota. Similarly, factors such as diet, stress, sleep and excessive use of antibiotics can also have an impact on our skin’s health by altering the composition of the microbiota.

As a result, the skin is less well protected against bacteria and microbial infections. It is therefore important to take care not only of your skin microbiota, but also your intestinal microbiota, which will also have an impact on your skin.

The right reflexes to rebalance your intestinal microbiota

To take care of your intestinal microbiota, here are a few simple steps:

  • Balancing your diet

A healthy, balanced diet can also help rebalance the skin microbiota. Eat foods rich in fiber, antioxidants and essential fatty acids, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, oily fish and probiotics (like yogurt and sauerkraut).

  • Take probiotics

Probiotics are beneficial micro-organisms for the intestine. They are found naturally in foods such as yoghurt, sauerkraut, kefir and kimchi. You can also take dietary supplements containing probiotics.

  • Manage your stress

Chronic stress can affect gut health and disrupt the microbiota. Practice stress management techniques, such as meditation, yoga, deep breathing or any other relaxing activity that suits you.

  • Exercise regularly

Regular exercise promotes good blood circulation and helps maintain a balanced microbiota. Find an activity you enjoy and make it part of your daily routine.

The right reflexes to rebalance your skin microbiota

To take care of your skin’s microbiota, here are a few things you can do:

  • Avoid irritating products

When choosing your cosmetics, look for those that are free from synthetic fragrances, alcohols and colorants. These ingredients can aggress the skin and disturb the balance of the cutaneous microbiota. Instead, opt for hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic products, specially formulated to minimize the risk of adverse reactions.

  • Use gentle products

Avoid harsh cleansers that can upset the balance of the skin’s microbiota. Instead, opt for gentle, non-irritating cleansers that are soap- and fragrance-free. Choose products specifically formulated to respect the skin’s pH (pH 5.5).

  • Avoid excessive washing

Excessive washing can remove natural oils and disrupt the skin’s microbiota. Limit washing to once a day, except in cases of excessive perspiration or accumulated dirt. When washing, use lukewarm rather than hot water, as hot water can dry out the skin.

  • Protect your skin from the sun

Excessive exposure to the sun can have a negative impact on skin health and skin microbiota. Protect yourself by using a sunscreen adapted to your skin type and limiting your exposure to peak hours.

Understanding the importance of the link between microbiota and skin is essential to maintaining healthy, balanced skin. We need to take care of our cutaneous and intestinal microbiota to avoid an imbalance that can lead to inflammation and skin problems.

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Sources : 

  1. SALEM I, RAMSER A, ISHAM N, GHANNOUM MA. The Gut Microbiome as a Major Regulator of the Gut-Skin Axis. Front Microbiol. 2018. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30042740/
  2. DUNYACH-REMY C, SOTTO A, LAVIGNE J. Le microbiote cutané : étude de la diversité microbienne et de son rôle dans la pathogénicité. Revue Francophone des Laboratoires. 2015. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1773035X15728212

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