Experiencing Acne? Your Microbiome Might Be The Culprit.
These days, we think a lot about our skin barrier – but not so much about our skin microbiome, which is made up of a vast network of living organisms. And while the science surrounding the skin microbiome is still emerging, there are indications that it plays a critical role in the overall health, clarity and glow of our complexion.
It turns out there’s also evidence to show the microbiome plays a part in the formation of acne, so if you’re looking for the key to calm and clear skin, making friends with your good bacteria might be the key.
What Is Your Skin's Microbiome?
The microbiome is an ecosystem of bugs and bacteria that exists on our skin. It’s made up of thousands of individual species that vary based on our age, gender, lifestyle and environment.
It might sound gross, but these bugs are microscopic and play a very important role when it comes to skin health. A balanced microbiome will ensure a complexion that’s smooth, hydrated and protected; when it is out of whack, however, concerns like dryness, sensitivity and acne can crop up.
How does microbiome affect skin?
Like the gut, one of the key functions of the skin’s microbiome is to fight infections by crowding out bad microbes. It also maintains a healthy pH balance, defends against environmental aggressors like pollution, and mitigates inflammation.
Think of the microbiome as the skin’s first line of defence, and a star player when it comes to maintaining a clear, glowing complexion.
What causes skin microbiome imbalance?
An unbalanced microbiome is a contributing factor in a stack of different skin issues, one of which is acne.
In order for acne to form, there needs to be a perfect storm of excess oil, cellular build-up and the presence of Propionibacterium acnes or P.acnes bacteria (often now referred to as Cutibacterium acnes). This specific type of bacteria already lives on our face; if they over colonise however, they can lead to the formation of pimples.
Acne can also be caused by an overgrowth of fungus (as opposed to the bacteria discussed above). The main offender is Malassezia, a type of fungus that multiplies in hot, humid, sweaty conditions. It can be tricky to distinguish the two, but the main difference is that fungal acne consists of smaller, itchy bumps, and often comes on very quickly.
Skintel: A lot of maskne [acne caused by wearing face masks] cases are actually caused by Malassezia, as masks trap moisture, skincare, sunscreen and makeup in sauna-like conditions – creating a perfect environment for the fungi to thrive.
If you suspect your spots are fungal, be sure to book an appointment with your doctor or dermatologist who can prescribe an anti-fungal treatment cream.
How to nurture good bacteria and glowing skin
Fostering a healthy skin microbiome is important for everyone, but especially those dealing with persistent breakouts.
Sun damage, hot showers and pollution can all have a negative impact on your skin, as can excessive skincare, namely antibacterial agents, gritty scrubs and exfoliating acids.
This is where it gets confusing because some of the same ingredients are also necessary for the treatment of acne. The key is to not overdo it, so you can minimise causational factors without damaging the skin barrier and delicate microbiome.
Here’s a few key formulas we love, and how to use them for smooth, spot-free skin:
Expert Refine AHA Glycolic Toner
This hard-working liquid exfoliator is rich in Glycolic Acid (5% to be exact) to remove cellular build-up without irritation. There’s also Green Tea and Aloe Vera for added hydration. Use it two to three times a week on clean, dry skin.
This cleanser is spiked with Glycolic Acid as well, but because it washes off, there’s hardly any risk of damaging the skin barrier. When used daily, it helps to smooth, refine and subtly brighten.
We use spherical Jojoba Beads in our scrub, which means you get all the smoothing and decongesting benefits without any damage. It’s a fantastic formula for thick, oily complexions – simply use it after cleaning and before serums and moisturisers a few nights a week.
Formulated with Glycolic Acid and Wakame Seaweed extract, this brightening serum exfoliates and brightens – a top pick for anyone hoping to soften the look of post-pimple marks.
Acne-prone skin still needs moisture! Our Moisture Defence for Oily Skin is water-based and fortified with Zinc and Niacinamide which helps strengthen the skin barrier.
This MVP is a hard-working gel formula with plenty of uses. Rich in Vitamins B5 and E, it’s antibacterial so works brilliantly as a spot treatment, or as a leave-on mask to reduce redness and irritation. Think of it as a cooling salve for inflamed, stressed skin.
Want more tips on how to best protect your skin barrier? Read our explainer feature here.