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The sun, the skin & the microbiome

The skin microbiome is a complex community of trillions of microorganisms that live on the surface of the skin. These microorganisms play an important role in protecting the skin from harmful bacteria and other environmental stressors. They also help to regulate the skin's immune system and maintain its overall health.

The sun can negatively impact the skin microbiome in a few ways. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun can damage and kill beneficial bacteria on the skin. Changes in the microbiome can trigger inflammation which disrupts the skin's natural barrier function. This can make the skin more vulnerable to infection and other skin problems. Additionally, the sun can dry out the skin, which can worsen eczema symptoms.

Skin conditions that can result from a change in the skin microbiome

Eczema is a chronic skin condition that is characterized by dry, itchy skin. It is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. The sun is one of the environmental factors that can trigger eczema flares. Flare-ups can also be caused by irritants found in soaps and surface cleaners that trigger the immune system, causing inflammation.

Researchers did a small study1 on short-term holiday-related sun exposure on the skin. They found that increased sun exposure led to changes in the microbiome on the skin. Happily, these changes normalised within 28 days of returning home (and not being in the sun as much presumably). Ninety-four percent of the skin microbiome consists of actinobacteria, proteobacteria, and firmicutes. This study showed that those who had the most UV exposure had the lowest levels of proteobacteria. Decreased levels of proteobacteria have been linked to skin conditions such as eczema2.

Other research has shown that S. aureus (a bacteria) is often present on the skin of people with eczema3. The more of these bacteria present on the skin the worse the eczema is. This bacterium is thought to secrete toxins which further damage the skin barrier. A healthy microbiome helps to keep this kind of undesirable bacteria in check, but when you spend more time in the sun this delicate balance can be upset.

Other skin conditions that have been linked to an imbalance in the skin microbiome include:

  • Acne is a common skin condition that is caused by inflammation of the sebaceous glands. The sebaceous glands produce oil, which helps to keep the skin hydrated by reducing water loss from the skin. However, when the dead cell layer on the skin surface becomes thicker from inflammatory damage to the skin, it can clog the pores and lead to acne breakouts. A change in the skin microbiome can lead to an increase in acne-causing bacteria, called C. acnes, which can worsen the condition.
  • Rosacea is a chronic skin condition that causes redness and inflammation of the face. It is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. A change in the skin microbiome can worsen rosacea symptoms by triggering inflammation and increasing the presence of acne-causing bacteria.
  • Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects the skin. It causes the skin cells to grow too quickly, which leads to scaling and inflammation. A change in the skin microbiome can worsen psoriasis symptoms by triggering inflammation and increasing the presence of pro-inflammatory bacteria.

Managing eczema symptoms

In addition to protecting the skin microbiome from the sun, there are many other things you can do to prevent eczema flares:

  • Avoid scratching your skin. Scratching can damage the skin and make it more susceptible to infection.
  • Take lukewarm baths or showers. Hot water can dry out the skin and trigger eczema flares.
  • Use a humidifier in your home. Dry air can irritate the skin and worsen eczema symptoms.
  • Avoid wearing tight-fitting clothing. Tight-fitting clothing can trap sweat and irritate the skin.
  • Manage stress. Stress is a common trigger for eczema flares. Find healthy ways to manage stress, such as exercise, relaxation techniques, or therapy.

Protect the microbiome

There are a few things you can do to protect the skin microbiome from the sun:

  • Seek shade during the middle of the day when the sun's rays are strongest.
  • Use a mineral sunscreen to protect from UV.
  • Wear protective clothing, such as a hat and sunglasses.
  • Avoid using harsh soaps and detergents, which can strip the skin of its natural oils and disrupt the skin microbiome. Avoiding ingredients like parabens and sulphates can also help to protect the desirable microbes.
  • Use moisturisers that contain prebiotics and probiotics, which can help to restore and maintain a healthy skin microbiome.

Hypochlorous acid at the correct concentration, like that in our Thoclor Labs GF2 Skin Series formulations, can help to manage the symptoms of eczema & psoriasis, by soothing any pain or inflammation, preventing infection, and restoring the skin’s natural function. The product is at the correct pH for the skin (slightly acidic) to keep the skin’s natural barrier intact. HOCl is also microbiome-safe, so whilst it will eradicate disease-forming microbes it is safe for the desirable organisms that live on the skin. HOCl is also effective in restoring skin suffering from rosacea and acne, with regular use.

Further reading

  1. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fragi.2023.1217635/full
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6518061/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7317931/
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