Bacteria: The Key to Healthy Skin?

The word "bacteria" lives in the public consciousness alongside words like "disease" and "germ." But are bacteria something to be feared, avoided, and killed whenever possible? Studies have shown how bacteria can enable digestion. Now, research is demonstrating how bacterial balance may be crucial for healthy skin. Essentially, when we reach for antibacterial soaps and cleansers, we might be harming the essential ingredients that our skin needs.

The National Skin Care Institute, which advocates for natural skin care options, estimates that we have more than 100 trillion micro-organisms living in our bodies. These help us produce important vitamins and guard against bad bacteria that can lead to infections, viruses, and parasites. The Institute recommends that the best way to maintain these healthy bacteria is through a diet rich in probiotic foods such as yogurt and supplements containing HSOs, the organisms from untreated, pesticide-free soil.

In a 2009 study from the UC San Diego Medical Center, researchers were able to identify how different bacteria that live on the skin's epidermis worked together to create a normal inflammation after injury and moderate the skin's response to enable normal healing. The study also identified how potentially harmful bacteria may live on the skin's surface without harming it. These findings may help scientists chart various therapies for inflammatory skin diseases, like acne and eczema.

The implications of this study support the "hygiene hypothesis," a decades-old theory which proposes (in simplest terms) that people who are exposed to more germs in childhood develop stronger immune systems. Applying this hypothesis to the skin, it could mean that leaving good and bad skin bacteria to strike its own balance may boost its overall health.

The National Institutes of Health recently launched the Human Microbiome Project, which hopes to identify the various bacterial colonies that inhabit different parts of the body. Earlier studies have shown that skin bacteria varies greatly from one part of the body to the other; this project will explore how the oily, moist, and dry parts of the body's bacteria function and change with disease.

So if bacteria is essential for skin health, are anti-bacterial products hazardous to it? How do we balance the benefits of hand-washing, which prevent the spread of infection and disease, with the need to preserve skin's good bacteria? While the health community works to find the best solution, they recommend that you steer clear of antibacterial products that are unnecessary or unproven, such as antibacterial toothpaste. However using antibacterial soaps or an alcohol-based sanitizer to wash your hands is essential for maintaining your family and community's good health.


National Skin Care Academy

UC San Diego Medical Center Press Release

University of Pittsburg Medical Center

Indiana University Science Center

National Institutes of Health