Our skins provide the habitat for a zoo of tiny life forms that will help us if we help them, writes Daniel Jardim
WE all know probiotic foods improve digestion, but emphasis is shifting to learn more about the “friendly bacteria” living throughout our bodies — including the surface of the skin. For the longest time, we believed that all “germs” are intrinsically bad, but that mentality is fast changing. This is largely due to the findings of the Human Biome Project, a huge research initiative launched in 2008 exploring the microbiology of the human body. The study not only confirmed that the human body is made up of trillions of microorganisms co-existing with our own cells, but that these provide numerous protective and health-giving benefits.
“Like the gut, the skin is home to countless microorganisms and we are discovering that most of these are essential in maintaining skin health,” says Trevor Steyn, the chemist behind the Esse probiotic skincare range. “Without these microbes, the basic functioning of skin decreases, and the rate of ageing accelerates.” Esse launched its range of organic skincare products in 2002, but the findings of the Human Biome Project opened a whole new field of exploration. “These discoveries remodelled our entire approach to skincare. It is not only about what you put on the skin, it is understanding that the body functions as a complete ecosystem,” said Steyn. One of the crucial functions of the skin is to act as a barrier against environmental factors, such as pollution, which can speed ageing.
“Once you bring diversity back to the skin you create the best line of defence against those factors. Instead of layering on more products, you encourage this vital function at the source. This is what skin is designed to do,” adds Steyn. This grass-roots approach to skincare extends to keeping skin supple too. Certain strains of bacteria actually produce an abundance of moisturising acids. “It’s like installing little moisturising factories directly on the skin, and they do some of the work for you,” he said.
Perhaps the greatest irony is that many of the harsh chemicals purported to reverse visible ageing can cause the greatest long-term damage. This is because they ultimately destroy the natural ecology of the skin. Just as we embrace sustainability to make better choices for our global environment, we are learning that the same principles apply to our bodies too. Perhaps by optimising skin health, we can slow ageing in the long term.
Visit Esse Skincare for more information.
This article originally appeared in the April 30 2017 Sunday Times