How to keep your skin microbiome healthy and balanced

The skin is home to millions of good bacteria, fungi, and viruses.

Written by
Carolina Mateus
Medically reviewed by
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You already know about the bacteria in your gut, but what about your skin? The skin is home to millions of good bacteria, fungi, and viruses — also known as your skin microbiome.

This microbiome is a finely balanced ecosystem, but certain factors, like your stress levels or skincare habits, can whack it out of balance, impacting the way your skin looks, feels, and functions.

Keen to learn more? Read on to understand what the skin microbiome is and how you can maintain (or restore) yours.

What is the skin microbiome?

The human skin microbiome, also known as skin flora or microbiota, refers to all the microorganisms that live on the skin surface, as well as in its deeper layers.

We all have a unique skin flora that is established at birth, and that plays an important role in our skin health and impacts things like pH balance and immunity.

Although scientists don't yet know exactly how the human skin microbiota works, they believe it is the first line of defence against bacteria, working as a protective layer to combat harmful bacterial species and keep infection at bay.

When out of balance, the skin microbiome can disrupt your skin health, being linked to several skin diseases and conditions:

  • Acne. Research suggests that the build-up of a bacteria called Cutibacterium acnes can lead to acne vulgaris [1].
  • Atopic dermatitis, or eczema. Studies have found that people with eczema typically show elevated levels of the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus [2].
  • Psoriasis and rosacea. More research is needed here, but initial studies suggest there is a connection between the skin microbiota and both skin conditions [3][4].

What's the link between the skin and gut microbiome?

The skin and gut microbiome are different, as are the microbial communities that live in each — and researchers are still investigating how the two are connected.

However, we know that:

  • Certain oral probiotics used for the gut microbiota may improve skin conditions, namely eczema [5]
  • Two common gut conditions — inflammatory bowel disease and coeliac disease — have been shown to affect skin health [6]
  • Dysbiosis, an imbalance in the gut or skin flora, can play a role in the development of atopic dermatitis

So, the link is there, but more research is needed to truly understand it.

What can disrupt your skin microbiome?

Focusing our attention back on the skin microbiome, several things can weaken it, including:

Environmental factors

Air pollution is one of the main external factors to impact the skin flora, with research suggesting that it leads to a more fragile skin microbial network [9].

Air pollution can also lead to clogged pores and, as a result, create an environment where harmful bacteria can grow and trigger acne breakouts [10].

Another environmental factor to consider is the weather.

Though there is a lack of research here, we know that cold temperatures can lead to a decrease in skin hydration and pH, which can interfere with the skin microbiome [11][12].

In summer, our skin is exposed to higher levels of UV radiation, which can damage microbial DNA, suppress the immune system, and cause inflammation [13].


Cleansing your skin daily is a must-do to keep it healthy and radiant. However, there is such a thing as over-cleansing.

When you do so, you can damage your skin microbiome by:

  • Stripping your skin off natural oils that play a role in keeping your skin microbiome balanced
  • Eliminating good bacteria that help protect your skin.

Not cleansing often enough can also impact your skin microbiome.

Dead skin cells, dirt, and other residue can build up on the skin, leading to clogged pores.

This means that things like sweat and oil can't exit your body and instead accumulate inside, potentially causing imbalances in your skin microbiome.

Beauty products

Using too many cosmetic products can reduce the number and variety of microbes that live on your skin [8].

Plus, some ingredients found in beauty products may block the growth of certain skin bacteria, disrupting the balance of the skin microbiome and increasing your risk of skin issues like inflammation, dryness, and itchiness [8].

Signs of an unbalanced skin microbiome

There are a few telltale signs that indicate your skin microbiome is unhealthy, including:

  • Dryness and flakiness
  • Dullness
  • Redness
  • Inflammation
  • Extreme oiliness
  • Skin sensitivity
  • Wounds that won't heal
  • Accelerated ageing signs
  • Uneven skin texture
  • Skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, rosacea and acne

How to improve your skin microbiome

Some easy tips for keeping your skin's delicate ecosystem balanced and happy include:

Avoid excessive exfoliants and harsh cleansers

We mentioned before that over (and under) cleansing can impact your skin's microbiome — and so can the type of cleanser you use.

If your skin doesn't react well to your current face wash (perhaps it gets too dry and tight or it ends up overcompensating with excessive oil production), you may be using a product that is too aggressive for you.

In that case, switch to a gentler formula, like Software's Hydrating Cleansing Oil.

Enriched with pre and postbiotics, this oil-to-milk cleanser was developed to help your skin flora flourish, while locking in moisture and fighting inflammation.

It is powerful enough to wipe away a full face of makeup and daily debris through a gentle process that promotes healthy skin and supports the skin’s barrier and microbiome — no harsh scrubbing involved.

Use gentle, nourishing products

A healthy skin barrier is key to maintaining your skin microbiota, and the key to a healthy skin barrier? Gentle, nourishing skincare.

Software's Ceramide Repair Balm delivers long-lasting moisture and protects the skin barrier, shielding it against external aggressors like pollution and weather, as well as free radicals.

For an instant hydration boost, we love our Hyaluronic Complex Serum. It is supercharged with 4 types of hyaluronic acid to combat dryness and dehydration, maintain elasticity, and strengthen the skin's surface. The result? Skin that is visibly supple, smooth, and healthy.

If it's a sheet mask you're looking for, our Hydrogel Face Masks fortify the skin barrier and protect against dehydration and irritation, thanks to the ceramides and Natural Moisturising Factors it is formulated with.

Sweat it out

Sweat contains an antimicrobial peptide named dermcidin, which works as a natural antibiotic, helping to build up the skin microbiome by shielding it against harmful germs [7].

This is not to say you should let the sweat linger on your skin for too long and not wash it off after a workout.

But knowing that while it is sitting on the skin, sweat can benefit your skin flora is yet another reason to make exercise a part of your lifestyle.

Plus, working out can be a great way to relax and unwind — an extra benefit since stress can impact your microbiome, potentially causing flare-ups and inflammation.

Consume pre and probiotics

We know that the gut and skin microbiomes are interconnected, so eating the right foods can benefit your skin microbes.

Some prebiotic-rich foods to add to your plate include oats, legumes, bananas, almonds and soy, while yoghurt, kombucha, kefir, tempeh and miso will give you an extra dose of probiotics.

You can also use supplements to increase your pre and probiotic intake. Juniper's Daily Essential Superblend is a great option, benefiting not only your skin but your immune system and energy levels as well. Win, win, win.

Image credit: Getty Images

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