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Zoom Masterclass TOMORROW!
A seminar on shifting the skincare industry with me and Dr. Elsa Jungman.
The thought of appearing live on camera — of having to SPEAK while people stare at my FACE and judge what I’m doing with my HANDS — makes me want to scream/cry/throw up. And yet, I’m doing that exact thing tomorrow (the appearing live on camera part, at least) because one of my beauty industry idols, Elsa Jungman, Ph.D., invited me to host a very exciting and necessary online masterclass with her!
Please join us for a ~free~ Zoom seminar titled Shifting The Beauty Industry, where we’ll discuss why the future of beauty should be (mostly!) product-free.
Date: Wednesday, November 3
Time: 2:00pm ET / 11:00am PT
Where: Anywhere! It’s online!
Why do I love Dr. Jungman so? I’ll give you one trillion reasons. Literally. The scientist is a leading expert on the skin microbiome — the collection of one trillion microorganisms that live in and on the skin. Both Dr. Jungman and I believe that the key to healthy skin is supporting the skin microbiome, and the key to supporting the skin microbiome is — generally — Leaving Your Face The Fuck Alone.
To that point, Dr. Jungman recently launched an at-home microbiome skincare test (!!!) to “give you an overview of the top 10 bacteria and fungi on your skin’s surface” as well as “a personalized microbiome-friendly skin health guide and dietary suggestions based on your skin profile.” I was part of the test trial last year and let me tell you… ordering this kit will do more for your skin than ordering another skincare product, I promise.
Microorganisms Are The Original Skin-Care Products
Everything you currently rely on a skin-care product to do for you, the microbiome and its host (your skin) do all on their own. Like, everything.
Some of its one trillion microorganisms signal the skin to produce lipids, like ceramides, to keep the barrier strong and seal in internal hydration. Some feed off sebum, the skin’s natural moisturizer, to keep your oil levels in check. (In Clean: The New Science of Skin, Dr. James Hamblin proposes that oily skin may not be a product of oil overproduction at all, but of microbial imbalance: The skin is missing the microorganisms that “eat” the oil, making the skin appear overly oily.) Others feed off dead skin cells, essentially taking care of all your exfoliation needs, and still others produce potent antifungal and antimicrobial compounds.
“Good bacteria on the skin are part of a checks-and-balances system that prevents overgrowth of bad bacteria,” Dr. Joshua Zeichner adds—although “good” and “bad” are oversimplified terms for what’s happening here. For example, C. acnes, the “bad” bacteria associated with acne, is an essential component of a healthy microbiome. It only becomes “bad” when there aren’t enough “good” bacteria to keep it from taking over. These “good” strains of bacteria also “help inhibit inflammation, maintain hydration (think anti-aging), and maintain optimal pH, which also helps prevent pathogenic growth,” Dr. Nadia Mussavir, a naturopathic doctor who specializes in skin health, tells Coveteur.
In fact, it’s likely that what we think of as the acid mantle—the slightly acidic layer of the stratum corneum that keeps invading bacteria, viruses, and contaminants from penetrating the skin—is not a separate part of the skin barrier, but a byproduct of the microbiome. “Acidity is the normal state of the ecosystem of the skin, harboring the microbes that help us live,” Dr. Hamblin writes. Basically, the acid mantle is made possible by “a rich diversity of non-dangerous microbes.”
The skin microbiome’s abilities aren’t limited to skin care. (Remember, it has one trillion moving parts.) Dr. Musavvir notes the existence of the gut-brain-skin axis, which proves that the bacteria in the gut influence the bacteria in the skin and vice versa.
As for the “brain” part of that axis? Early research shows that some strains of bacteria on the skin may impact mental health. “Certain lactobacillus that are growing on your skin create compounds like oxytocin,” says Paul Schulick, a master herbalist, microbiome expert, and founder of For The Biome. “One of the most exciting strains is called DR7, which is capable of enhancing the serotonin pathway.” That’s why every For The Biome box bears the words “Your keratinocytes [skin cells] are smiling.”
Sorry, But Your Microbiome Is Probably Compromised
“Everything we do—and don’t do—to our skin has some effect on these populations,” Dr. Hamblin declares. And these days, we’re doing entirely too much and too little.
Let’s start with the “too little” part. Modern Western living typically involves less exposure to the outdoors, less exposure to other people, and therefore less physical touch, fewer vaginal births, and fewer fresh fruits and vegetables; all vital sources of microorganisms. (More on that in a minute.)
What’s worse, though, is that we’re actively harming the microorganisms we do have with too much pollution, too many harsh medications, and too many topical products.
“Regarding skin conditions, [dermatologists] have been treating the abundance of C. acnes in acne with antibiotics,” Dr. Jungman says. “We are learning that those therapies are not working long-term, as they are attacking the whole microbiome and not the specific bacteria that is causing the issue, leading to long-term damages and resistance.” (This goes for both oral and topical antibiotics, including those prescribed for conditions not related to the skin.) In Clean, Dr. Hamblin posits that antibiotic overuse is one of the biggest contributors to “messing up our microbiomes.”
Other standard prescription treatments may harm the microbiome as well, including isotretinoin, also known as Accutane. This drug works by shrinking the sebaceous glands, leading to less sebum production and therefore, for some patients, less acne. But since sebum is a vital food source for the skin’s beneficial bacteria, the medication has the unintended effect of exacerbating microbial imbalance and potentially creating long-term skin issues: barrier damage, chronic dryness, and in many cases, recurring acne. (It’s worth noting that these go-to dermatological medications were created and researched in a time when the role of the microbiome wasn’t fully understood or even acknowledged.)
The other, more ironic reason your skin microbiome isn’t functioning properly? Um, that would be your skin-care routine.
Every single time you slather something on your skin—no exceptions! even water!—you “at least temporarily alter the microscopic populations … either by removing them or by altering the resources available to them,” Dr. Hamblin writes. The introduction of outside chemicals “can damage your skin microbiome and stratum corneum,” Dr. Jungman adds, “and the protective function of this ecosystem can be lost.”
Layering on all sorts of essences, serums, moisturizers, and oils also affects the microbiome’s ability to thrive. “If these bacteria are living in an ocean made of silicones and mineral oil, it’s not their natural environment,” says Sue Nabi, former president of L’Oreal and Lancôme and founder of vegan skin-care line Orveda. “It’s like taking a fish from the sea and putting them into [fresh water]. It would kill them. It’s the same for the bacteria you have on your skin.”
Of course, there are certain skin-care ingredients that are more harmful to the microbiome than others. “For cosmetics, preservatives are essential to protect a product from contamination, but today we know that those antibacterial ingredients can affect our skin ecosystem once they are on the skin,” Dr. Jungman says, since preservatives exist precisely to impede bacterial growth.
Dr. Hamblin’s research corroborates this claim: “Anything with a preservative in it is probably damaging some part of your microbiome,” he writes, and practically all skin-care products (barring waterless formulas and oils) contain preservatives. Parabens are particularly problematic. “The National Institute of Allergy and Infection Disease have found that products containing parabens can block the growth of Roseomonas mucosa from healthy skin,” as he reports in Clean. “This bacteria seems to help improve the skin’s barrier function and can directly kill the Staph. aureus that proliferates during eczema flares. The researchers raised the concern that through this chain of events, parabens could leave people more susceptible to eczema flares.”
“So many ingredients are antibacterial, not just preservatives,” Dr. Jungman says. “For example, essential oils or fragrances.” She’s also concerned about the effects of emulsifiers and soaps or simply using too many ingredients in general. “The more products we use with a lot of ingredients, the more it can damage our skin barrier and microbiome,” she laments. “Experts recommend choosing cosmetics with simple formulations, possibly with less than 10 ingredients.”
Can’t wait to see you there! Just don’t judge what I do with my hands!!