How Urban Environments Can Alter Your Microbiome and Affect your Skin
56.2% of the global population live in cities, and for good reason. There are obvious benefits to living in highly urbanized environments like access to jobs opportunities, culture, restaurants, nightlife, the list goes on. But did you know that cities can alter your microbiome and cause your skin to be more sensitive? Studies have shown that the microbiome of people who live in urban areas compared to those who live in suburban areas are less diverse, less robust, and offer less protection to your body. Read on to learn more.
First off, What is the Microbiome?
The microbiome is the invisible layer of bacteria, fungi and viruses that live on the surface of your skin. It is an entire universe of trillions of residents, calling your skin home. Don’t worry it's less scary than it might sound. This ecosystem works in epic cohesion to protect your body from outside irritants, and act as the first line of defense against outside viruses.
All these microorganisms living on our skin are in constant conversation with the skin’s tissues to keep a healthy balance. Cells in your skin perform background checks on microorganisms around them to identify bad ones. The cells work with good microorganisms to kill off any dangerous creatures.
This means that microorganisms like bacteria are always protecting you from outside threats. They fight pathogens, fungus, and parasites which may cause diseases or infections. We can also thank them for combating inflammation and helping our skin repair itself.
How Can Cities Affect Your Microbiome?
A 2018 study conducted by scientists in China examined the microbiome of people living in megacities compared to those living in less urbanized areas. The experiment was rather simple to conduct. The team swabbed the faces of 231 people — 50 per city other than Guangzhou with 31 samples — and then determined the species and diversity of the bacteria present. The hope was to find a link between population size and differences in skin microbial composition. If the team could find different trends, they might be able to find links to suspect issues such as pollution, climate and socioeconomic status.
The results showed a stark difference in microbial populations based on city size. Scientists discovered that those living in the most urban environments tended to have vastly less diversity in their bacterial populations. Research revealed that a lack of diversity in the microbiome made the microbiome more fragile.
With this result in place, the team attempted to find one or more reasons for the lack of diversity in larger urban environments. This required moving away from the lab and collecting information on the cities themselves. The team acquired information on over two dozen different factors ranging from gross domestic product to rain days to the levels of polluting chemicals. If the group was right, they could find a link between the lower diversity and one or a few of these parameters.
When the results came back, the team had found links. Yet, instead of only one or two, the data revealed 12. The team had no choice but to conclude the simple act of existing in a larger city puts the microbiome and consequently, a person's skin health at risk. For “the authors, this large number of links demonstrates a rather unsettling reality. The skin microbiome is part of a much larger ecosystem comprised not just of our bodies but also the environment around us. Without major changes to the way these cities function, little can be done to reduce the chances for fragility” (A Big City Lifestyle Could Pose Risks For Your Skin Health, Huffington Post)
Why is a Less Diverse Microbiome An Issue?
The less diverse your microbiome is, the less powerful it is when it comes to protecting your skin, and your entire body, from outside irritants. A diverse microbiome means that your skin is healthy and thriving, a microbiome that is lacking vital bacteria + fungi is unbalanced.
How Do I Know if my Microbiome is Unbalanced?
Multiple skin issues including: dryness, itchiness, acne, rosacea, eczema & more have been linked with disruptions within the microbiome. If you are suffering from skin descriptions, there is a high chance you microbiome is unbalanced. Simply put, you cannot have healthy skin if you microbiome is not healthy.
The only way to know the state of your microbiome for sure is to test it, our Skin Microbiome Kit is an easy to use test that can be completed in the comfort of your home. With just one swab you can discover the trillions of bacteria and fungi that call your skin home. Results of the test come with diet + skincare recommendations and a score based on your microbiome makeup. Learn more about our test here.
How Can I Repair an Unbalanced Microbiome?
If you discover your microbiome is unbalanced via our Skin Microbiome Kit or your own skin symptoms, there is always hope to repair your microbiome! Allowing your skin flora to flourish and thrive is an easy task if you are committed to using microbiome-friendly and minimalist products on your face and limiting the amount of times you wash your face daily.
We have created 2 routines, the Recovery and Maintenance Routines specifically designed for the upkeep and preservation of your microbiome.
Cities are full of fantastic opportunities and a variety of people and experiences. However, it is important to recognize the intrinsic link between your skin and where you live. Pay attention to your skin and test your microbiome, use minimal skincare products, and always, respect your microbiome.
Kim H-J, Kim H, Kim JJ, et al. Fragile skin microbiomes in megacities are assembled by a predominantly niche-based process. Sci Adv. March 27, 2018. 4, e1701581 (2018). doi: 10.1126/sciadv.1701581