What if I told you that trillions of microorganisms have taken up residence on your skin? And best of all, this milieu of microorganisms offer several health benefits. As the “curtain wall” to a medieval castle so is the skin to our body. This physical barrier is our first line of defense against invading organisms and toxins.
The bacteria may be classified under four phyla: actinobacteria, bacteroidetes, firmicutes and proteobacteria. These resident microorganisms also referred to as commensals, range from Staphylococcus to Dermabacter. In partnership with our immune system, via a complex communication system, these commensals help to protect us from the microbes that cause diseases. That is, they work in concert with our immune system to maintain a balance which allows our body to be protected.
The type of bacteria found on different parts of the body is determined by the environment. Some parts of the skin are more moist or oily than others, thus providing a comfortable home for our microscopic silent partners. The nose, navel and moist areas behind the ears provide ideal conditions for bacteria to thrive. Sebaceous sites such as the neck and back are home to the propionibacterium. The dry site of the feet and the moist site found under the breast of females are home to staphylococcus.
Yes it is very possible that several types of bacteria will populate a particular area of the skin. Research has highlighted that areas such as the forearm, several areas of our hands and the buttock host the most diverse assortment of bacteria.
Elizabeth Grice, PhD, has conducted numerous research on microorganisms and has come to the conclusion that as unique as our fingerprints are, so too is the collection of bacteria found on our skin. The bacterial community is influenced by our health status, age, diet, the environment we live in and a number of other factors. It is evident that there is a symbiotic relationship between the host and the bacteria which colonize the skin, however, any change to the external or internal environment has the potential to disturb this relationship.
With this research in mind, it may be plausible to assume that the application of cosmetic products and lotions can potentially affect our body’s resident bacteria. Which leads me to question the extent to which these applications affect the balance maintained by our immune system.
In 2014, Julia Scott of the New York Times Magazine embarked on a scientific journey with AOBiome, a biotech company located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It is the opinion of the scientists at AOBiome that Nitrosomonas eutropha maintained a symbiotic relationship with the skin, and by extension the body, before the use of soap and shampoo evicted them. AOBiome investigated the potential of cultivated Nitrosomonas eutropha to perform the functions of a cleanser, deodorant, anti-inflammatory and immune booster.
The test subject was asked to spray her face, scalp and skin with AO+ Refreshing Cosmetic Mist twice daily. Swabs were taken in a lab every week and were analyzed to determine whether or not there were changes to the microbial community residing on her skin. After weeks of misting and swabbing Julia reported that her skin appeared to be softer, smoother and less prone to breakout.
AOBiome is not the first company to conduct this type of testing. In the last few years scientists have taken a keen interest in the skin’s microbiome and hope to make discoveries which will revolutionize the way we prevent and treat skin related conditions, as well as other diseases.