Microbiome 101: What You Need to Know

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When it comes to the world of skincare, there’s a slew of buzzwords that get tossed around fairly frequently—with “microbiome” being a major one over the last few years. But what does the trendy skincare term mean, exactly? And why should you care? Here, with the help of board-certified dermatologist Marisa Garshick, MD, you’re about to find out.

What exactly is the microbiome?

On a very basic level, the microbiome — or the skin microbiome, to be more specific, since other areas of the body, like the gut, can have a microbiome — is an ecosystem of bacteria, or microbiota, that live on the skin. These microorganisms can be very beneficial when it comes to keeping skin healthy, balanced, and clear due to its protective properties, says Dr. Garshick.

A healthy microbiome is diverse and made up of a massive range of microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, viruses, and even mites. Before you get freaked out, it’s worth noting that none of these microorganisms are visible to the naked eye — and that they’re essential to the microbiome’s overall makeup and function. The skin microbiome thrives when its pH is around 5.0, which is relatively acidic and helps to shield the skin from harm’s way. 

What does the skin microbiome do?

The microbiome is basically like your skin’s armor, as it works to keep the good in and the bad (i.e. harmful pathogens) out. “The microorganisms that make up the microbiome are helpful at protecting the skin, boosting immunity, and keeping pH in balance to support the skin barrier,” explains Dr. Garshick. “It’s very important to help maintain skin barrier function.”

How to support your microbiome

Life happens, even to the skin microbiome, which can be damaged by harsh ingredients and antibiotics. “When the skin microbiome is disrupted, it can lead to impairment of the skin barrier,” Dr. Garshick says. And, as we’ve covered before, a damaged barrier can leave skin susceptible to dryness, irritation, and sensitivity, says Dr. Garshick.

For this reason, she recommends using a blend of prebiotics and postbiotics in your skincare routine to help effectively support the microbiome so it, and your skin, can function properly. Prebiotics help to feed, support, and stimulate the growth and activity of existing bacteria in the body and on the skin; they can be beneficial because they help maintain a healthy environment for microorganisms to thrive, which ultimately leads to a stable microbiome. “That can help with inflammation — protecting against free radical damage, improving hydration, and fighting off any harmful bacteria,” she says.

As for postbiotics, says Dr. Garshick, these are the compounds that living bacteria release after they’re metabolized. “They can have beneficial effects through decreasing inflammation and improving healing,” she says.

That’s why you can find both in the Avocado Ceramide Moisture Barrier Cleanser. While you can find the usual actives dedicated to skin barrier-support, such as ceramides — which fill the gaps in the barrier to prevent moisture loss and enhance protection from external aggressors — it’s also packed with prebiotics and probiotics. In keeping the microbiome balanced, it can balance and strengthen skin, supporting its overall health even after you rinse it off.

Ultimately, just understanding what the skin microbiome is and its function is already a great first step for getting healthier skin. And putting those learnings into action — via microbiome-friendly ingredients — makes it that much easier.

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