What Is A Microbiome & Why Should You Care About It If You Have Acne?

You’ve probably heard the word microbiome before, and we’re going to guess that it was related to your gut. That’s because it’s been getting a lot of buzz lately for its ability to regulate digestive health and your immune system. So, what exactly is a microbiome? It refers to a collection of organisms, mostly made up of bacteria, that, in the case of the gut, keep it working properly: expelling toxins, breaking down the food you eat and making sure you’re absorbing its nutrients, etc. But your gut is not the only place a microbiome is found in your body. Your skin has its own microbiome—and if you have acne, research suggests keeping yours healthy is key for a healthy, clear complexion. 

First, what causes acne?

There are many theories about what causes breakouts, but it really comes down to three main culprits. One is sebum, excess oil produced by sebaceous glands can clog your pores along with dead skin cells and dirt. That sebum also makes a good home to bacteria, more specifically P.acnes bacteria, the second major player in the formation of a zit. The third component is inflammation. The clogged pore triggers an inflammatory response: swelling and redness that comes along with a big, angry pimple. 

So, what does skin’s microbiome have to do with acne?

You may have noticed we referred to P.acnes as “bad bacteria,” which begs the question: Is there such a thing as good bacteria? Yes, there is, and your skin’s microbiome is in charge of regulating the balance between good and bad bacteria. The good bugs, so to speak (think probiotics), are there nourish your skin cells and keep them functioning at an optimum level.

Your cells need good bacteria to thrive and do their job: keeping your skin healthy.

Good bacteria rely heavily on skin’s pH levels (pH is a measure from one to 10 of how acidic or alkaline your skin is). Your skin is happiest at a slightly acidic 4.5—that’s where the good stuff thrives.

What Is A Microbiome & Why Should You Care About It If You Have Acne? | Microbiome | Perricone MD

When skin’s microbiome is thrown off kilter, the bad bugs, such as P.acnes, start to overpower the good bacteria and inflammatory skin issues such as acne can erupt. In fact, a study in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology suggests that an imbalance of bacteria is linked not only to acne, rosacea, psoriasis, and atopic dermatitis (eczema). 

How does your microbiome become unbalanced?

There are a number of factors that can throw off the balance of good and bad bacteria in your skin’s microbiome and give way to issues such as acne.

The natural aging process.

Studies have shown that microbiota in your skin (the collection of living microbes) changes in aging skin. The abundance of good, healthy bacteria we have when we’re young starts to dwindle down with age.

This can mean bad bacteria can take over, one of the reasons acne isn’t just a teen problem and adults in their 30s, 40s, and even 50s can experience breakouts seemingly out of the blue. 

A consistently poor diet.

What you eat may not directly cause acne (nope, that chocolate bar won’t actually give you a pimple), but a chronically poor diet may throw off your gut’s microbiome, which can upset your bacterial balance in your skin, too.

“Gut health actually has a direct impact on what our skin looks like, so they are definitely linked,” says Rosalba Martone, director of education at Perricone MD.

Sugar and foods with a high-glycemic index can lead to an overgrowth of bad bacteria in your gut and on your skin.

Over-the-counter and prescription meds including antibiotics (designed to kill bacteria) 

Both can upset your skin’s bacterial balance, which is why some people breakout or experience other skin reactions with a course of meds. 

Environmental aggressors 

Things like pollution and chemical irritants are thought to contribute to an imbalanced microbiome. They can impact the pH of your skin, moving it away from that slightly acidic happy place we mentioned earlier, which means good bacteria can’t thrive on skin’s surface. 

Harsh skincare products

Overly drying ingredients and cleansers that affect skin’s pH levels and strip skin of essential moisture can take out good bacteria and encourage the growth of the bad stuff. Ironically, even traditional acne products can be problematic. By attempting to kill acne-causing bacteria, they wipe out both good and bad bacteria, when we really want to leave that good bacteria alone, says Martone. 

How to keep your microbiome healthy

You can’t change the aging process, the medications you have to take, or even the environmental factors you encounter, so how do you keep your skin’s microbiome happy? Fortunately, there are a few different ways. 

  • Eat your good bacteria:

What Is A Microbiome & Why Should You Care About It If You Have Acne? | Prebiotics | Perricone MD

A diet rich in probiotics (yogurt, kimchi, kefir) and prebiotics (asparagus, garlic, oats), which feed good bacteria, can encourage good bacteria in your microbiome, according to research. Typically foods that are part of an anti-inflammatory diet, one major component of Perricone MD’s three-tier philosophy for healthy skin, are good for your microbiome, too. That means healthy fats, lean sources of protein, an abundance of colorful vegetables, and low glycemic carbs such as steel cut oats and quinoa, and less sugar and gluten. 

  • Supplement your skin:

    Much like food, applying probiotics and prebiotics topically can help to create an optimal environment for the good bugs and also work to calm skin and the appearance of redness. 
  • Get your antioxidants:

What Is A Microbiome & Why Should You Care About It If You Have Acne? | Oranges | Perricone MD

Antioxidants protect skin cells from free radicals (unstable molecules that latch onto healthy cells and affect the way they function) unleashed by environmental aggressors including pollution and chemical irritants. When your cells are well protected, it’s going to be hard for anything to attack, including bacteria. Topical antioxidants including alpha lipoic acid and vitamin C keep strengthen skin’s natural defenses. 

  • Practice good hygiene (without stripping skin):

    Washing your face is essential for keeping bad bacteria at bay. But do it gently. Washing too often, especially with harsh soaps, strips away good bacteria. Also, keep your makeup brushes clean. Bristles and sponges can be a haven for bacteria and you’re swiping that on your skin every single day. 
  • Rethink your approach to acne:

Perricone MD Acne Relief Prebiotic Acne Therapy | Perricone MD

 As we mentioned, one of the main causes of acne is P.acnes bacteria, but using topical ingredients to attack every last bit of it will also wipe out your good bacteria. That’s where Perricone MD Acne Relief Prebiotic Acne Therapy line comes in. The focus is on calming skin (preventing the development of acne), reducing excess oil, and targeting acne-causing bacteria without compromising the good bugs. 

    Introducing Perricone MD Acne Relief Prebiotic Acne Therapy 

    This acne line is designed to work with your skin’s microbiome, not against it like some other harsh acne treatments. Here’s the lineup and how each product works: 

      • Gentle and Soothing Cleanser:What Is A Microbiome & Why Should You Care About It If You Have Acne? | Gentle and Soothing Cleanser | Perricone MD

        The cleanser will help wash away excess oil and pore-clogging makeup and dirt without stripping your skin or causing irritation. It contains glycerin, a natural humectant that not only draws in moisture, but helps to calm cranky skin. Plus, a small dose of salicylic acid helps reduce excess oil without over-drying skin.
      • Calming Treatment & Hydrator:What Is A Microbiome & Why Should You Care About It If You Have Acne? | Calming Treatment and Hydrator | Perricone MD

        This lightweight day lotion nourishes skin’s moisture barrier, helping skin to hang onto essential hydration (not to be confused with pore-clogging oil). It also contains a low-level of acne-fighting acids to help reduce breakouts without compromising good bacteria, all while calming visible redness and irritation.
      • Retinol Treatment & Moisturizer: What Is A Microbiome & Why Should You Care About It If You Have Acne? | Retinol Treatment & Moisturizer | Perricone MD

        This nighttime treatment contains retinol, which helps reduce excess oil, making your skin a less inviting place for acne-causing bacteria to thrive. It also includes alpha lipoic acid to help soothe skin.

    Bottom line: Balanced, clear skin starts with a balanced microbiome. The best acne treatment is one that doesn’t disrupt this delicate system, but instead works to keep it healthy.