The skin’s microbiome has long been the ‘elephant in the room’ for skin care – known, but seldom mentioned. This, however, is changing with cosmetics companies investigating whether we can influence the skin’s health by rebalancing its local microflora, as Barbara Brockway writes
You can be forgiven for having never heard of the microbiome, or for not having heard of it until recently. Although scientists are taught about the communities of commensal, symbiotic and pathogenic microorganisms that live in and on all living creatures, just like the elephant in the room, its presence and influence, until now, was seldom mentioned in skin and hair care articles. For too many years, cross section illustrations of the skin, used in scientific publications and text books, included not even a hint of bacteria, let alone the layers of different microbes that live on the skin’s surface.
It is not that personal care scientists are unaware of the skin’s microbiome. They know the unspoken microbiome includes every type of transient or resident microorganism, from bacteria to archaea, protists, fungi and viruses, and then there are mites. Some microbes are considered as beneficial, some essentially neutral and others have the capacity to be pathogenic.
The industry is happy to talk about cleansing away dirt and may mention removing bad bacteria; it’s the bigger picture that is avoided – the complicated interacting communities of microbes that have gone ‘unsaid’ possibly because just thinking about bugs on our skin is abhorrent and makes us want to scratch. This is all about to change, however. The, apparently alien, unseen microbial world, is rapidly becoming fertile ground for new personal care products.
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