The Skin Microbiome: Our Body’s First Line of Defense

When we look at ourselves in the mirror, we can tell a lot about our health from the condition of our skin. Is it dry, oily, flushed, rested, or blemished? What we may not acknowledge are the millions of bacteria, fungi, and viruses also inhabiting the surface of our body.

The skin microbiome is comprised of millions of bacteria and immune cells, all working together to maintain its protective borders. This is a critical job since our skin is in constant contact with the outside world and serves as the body’s first line of defense against foreign invaders and toxins.


Why Are Bacteria So Important to our Skin and Overall Health?

Though we often associate the microbiome with the gut, skin microbes may affect the body’s well-being beyond just the skin on which they reside.

The skin microbiome confers immunity by:  

  1. Starving out invaders through competition for nutrients.
  2. Blanketing the skin surface, crowding out pathogens attempting to adhere.
  3. Altering and educating immune cells, influencing the development of T cells and antigen-presenting cells.
  4. Secreting antimicrobial substances that fight and destroy invaders.
  5. Secreting lipoteichoic acid (LTA), aiding in the prevention of skin inflammation.


The Gut/Skin Connection

Intestinal bacterial imbalances may trigger skin conditions. GI disorders, small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), and dysbiosis are often present in many of the patients I see suffering from ailments like acne, eczema, rosacea, rashes, and hives. In many cases, working on the underlying problems and restoring gut health can help restore the skin as well.

At the same time, skin disorders and breaches in the microbial defense systems can lead to pathogenic infections affecting various organs, systems, and overall health. Maintaining healthy skin and intestinal microbiomes helps support overall immunity.


Supporting the Skin Microbiome

Your skin microbial communities are alive and need care to thrive. Antimicrobial soaps and cleansers may seem like a good idea, but they can also wipe out beneficial bacterial populations. Switching to natural compounds that gently cleanse and moisturize the skin may help support your skin’s beneficial microbes.

Topical and oral probiotics can also be powerful therapeutic agents when dealing with skin disorders. Topical probiotic products are relatively new to the market, but they may encourage the growth of healthful skin organisms. Yogurt masks may replenish positive bacteria to the skin, as well. And don’t forget: proper diet and other healthy lifestyle choices can also benefit you and your many microbes, inside and out.


Raphael Kellman, MD, graduate of Albert Einstein College of Medicine, seamlessly integrates holistic and functional medicine with his visionary understanding of the world and nature, the root of who we are and its connection to health and healing. Dr. Kellman speaks around the world about the profound importance of the microbiome and coined the term “Microbiome Medicine.” Through his deep understanding of the importance of the microbiome, Dr. Kellman treats gastrointestinal issues, chronic fatigue syndrome, heart disease, autoimmune disorders, Lyme disease, cancer, autism spectrum disorders, and unexplained, unresolved health issues.