The Next Microbiome Frontier is Your Skin

Part One: Skin Detox

After years of swimming in chlorine, my skin desperately needed a break.

If you’ve read my story, you know a bit about my history with gut issues as a competitive swimmer in the late 90’s, when very little information was available on digestive health. It wasn’t just my gut that was affected. As any athlete hoping to compete at the international level knows, our skin takes a beating from sweat, injury, and exposure to a myriad of environmental conditions. But the skin of a swimmer is especially vulnerable. In California, we were constantly bombarded with UV rays because our pools are usually outdoors—good luck reaping the benefits of sunscreen when you’re in the pool 5 hours a day! Add to that harsh chemicals in the water like chlorine and it’s a recipe for disaster—at least it was for my skin—and for my gut, too.

Looking back to those years in the pool, not only was my gut trying to forewarn me of the perils of the processed diet I had automatically adopted to ‘better my performance;’ my skin was also crying for help. I was often teased in school for smelling like chlorine—my nickname was Waterlogged or Ducky; Waterlogged because of wet hair that smelled like (you guessed it) chlorine and Ducky because I walked like a duck (as many breaststrokers do!).

On top of the teasing, I also suffered from chlorine rashes on my legs and arms. I had no luck with my dermatologist’s advice to “wash the chlorine off” with a special hypoallergenic solution. In fact, the situation got worse. My skin inevitably became dry and flaky, and I constantly had to scratch my legs—there was a hypoallergenic cream for that too. Sadly, neither worked.

Years later I stumbled upon a study that looked into chlorine by-products as an irritant to the eyes, nose, skin, and airways of swimmers. It turned out that I had the perfect storm brewing in my gut and skin microbiome that might have been the catalyst to my gut dysbiosis and immune issues, like suffering from fatigue at a young age. Fortunately for swimmers now, it appears the industry is looking into new methods to help avoid the harmful chemicals and byproducts found in chlorinated pools. For me, though, the solution came at around age 20. When the hypoallergenic creams didn’t help, I began searching for unconventional ways to resolve my skin issues that were unlike what I had tried before. Much of my evolution to a natural beauty routine was inspired by a lady from my grandfather’s Greek village. That summer she was selling tinctures of a special olive oil serum that was naturally colored from the pigment of olive skins. She explained to me that our skin should be treated the same way we should treat our belly: with all-natural products, no harsh chemicals or fillers. I remember the conversation to this day, and it became the basis of so many of the DIY beauty recipes in Wild Mediterranean.

Consumer Trends are Going Back in Time: What is Old is New Again

Doesn’t it feel good to see the things that you want appearing in the marketplace? Much of the growth in natural products comes from the power of consumers looking to adopt the best options for their health. The current consumer-led trends are being taken very seriously by the skincare industry which, among other things, is adopting ways to include fewer damaging chemicals in products.

For example, a controversy around antiperspirant deodorants made a big impact a few years ago when a consumer email circulated widely on the Internet that read: “I just got information from a health seminar that I would like to share. The leading cause of breast cancer is the use of antiperspirant. Yes, ANTIPERSPIRANT. Most of the products out there is an antiperspirant/deodorant combination so go home and check your labels.”

While there continue to be lots of spirited conversation and studies around the possible carcinogenic impact of aluminum in deodorants, the silver lining in the deodorant story is that consumers’ genuine concern about it led major manufacturers to rethink their antiperspirant formulas and remove and re-label their products as “aluminum free.”

While many commercial skin care products have a long way to go when it comes to safe and natural ingredients, a conscientious response to consumer requests is occurring more and more in the skincare industry as a whole.

Inside-Out For Healthy Skin

I have a few real favorites among the U.S. riser trends in skincare ingredients from the article Google unmasks the skin care trends of 2017. They include the use of Epsom salts, apple cider vinegar, bentonite clay, turmeric, and charcoal. Most of these trending ingredients are just as great for your gut microbiome as they are for your skin microbiome.

In Wild Mediterranean, I tried to emphasize the importance of gut health and its impact on the health of your skin. These are interconnected, just like the gut-brain axis. Don’t forget–your gut is often referred to as your second brain!

Your Skin Microbiome

Studies have been looking into the influence our skin has on our bodies—including the gut microbiome. Your skin actually contains a diverse population of microbial organisms, just like your gut does. Many of these microbes live within the follicles of skin, and the bacteria found naturally on our skin and follicles play an active role in forming the barrier of our skin to protect the gut from “microbial penetration.” Was my gut microbiome impacted by the external skin microbiome being constantly bombarded by chlorine? Based on current studies, I would say yes.

Recent studies have also shown the relationship between the microbiome of both the gut and skin and atopic dermatitis (AD) based on reactions to allergens. The study went even further to conclude that “undisrupted skin” shows great potential “in allergen tolerance through the complex landscape of skin immunity.” Undisrupted skin, although there is not an exact medical definition, could mean many things that might also be correlated to the type of products you use on your skin.

Join me for article 2, Skin Detox Foods and DIY Beauty Recipes.