Skin Microbiota and Your Health

Skin Microbiota and Your Health

by Chris Kresser

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skin microbiota

Just two decades ago we knew very little about the role of the microbiome in human health. Today, it’s one of the hottest topics in both the scientific literature and the popular media. But while most studies so far have focused on the microbes that live in the gut, researchers are now turning their attention to the skin microbiome—with fascinating results.  

Skin is the largest organ of the human body. Healthy, intact skin helps our bodies to retain moisture and provides a protective barrier from physical stress and strain as well as from environmental pathogens.

Skin is composed of the outer epidermis and the inner dermis. Sweat glands and hair follicles with their associated sebaceous glands originate in the dermis and connect to the skin surface through the epidermis. The sebaceous glands form sebum, an odorless oily substance that keeps the skin and hair moist, effectively “waterproofing” it. The amount of sebum produced and retained in the skin varies depending on hormone levels and hygiene habits (1, 2, 3). Sebum also sets up what is known as the “acid mantle,” a protective barrier that places limits on the types of beneficial microbes and pathogens that are permitted to reside in the skin (4).

What role does your skin ecosystem play in your skin and overall health? And how can you actively cultivate a healthy skin microbial community?

Your Skin as an Ecosystem

Human skin hosts a diverse ecosystem of bacteria, fungi, viruses, mites, and archaea (5, 6). It is estimated that our skin harbors approximately 1 billion microbes per square centimeter (7). Just like any other ecosystem on earth, resident skin ecosystems vary depending on their location on the body and are controlled by moisture and temperature conditions; one’s gender, age, and genetics (8); and individual environmental factors (9, 3).

This skin ecosystem is established at birth, and its development is heavily influenced by the method of delivery. A baby born via the birth canal will be inoculated with Lactobacillus species from mom’s vaginal flora. A baby born via C-section will come into contact with mom’s skin ecosystem first and be seeded with that particular set of microbes (6). From there, the skin microbial community is cultivated by those who care for the infant and altered by routine hygiene practices, personal care products (10), types of clothing that touch the skin (11, 12), exposure to medications (7, 13), time spent in contact with others (14), and time spent in nature (5).

Skin Ecosystem and Disease

Researchers at the forefront of the skin microbiome field are just now beginning to understand how they can shed light on the relationship between microbial communities and disease. This study has been limited by methods of culturing microbes in widely varied “skin climates,” by techniques of genetic analysis, by the challenge of isolating microbes from skin material, and by the fact that current analyses measure the entire historical record of microbes (both living and dead), not just the microbes that may influence health at the present (15, 16, 7).

Nonetheless, new research suggests that there are changes in the skin microbial communities associated with many health conditions, including:

  • acne (17)
  • psoriasis (18)
  • atopic dermatitis, eczema (19)
  • tinea versicolor (20)
  • seborrheic dermatitis (dandruff, cradle cap) (21)
  • rosacea (22, 23)
  • vitiligo (24)
  • warts (25)
  • blepharitis (26)
  • malaria and attractiveness to mosquitoes (27)

What do these associations mean? Does this mean that if you suffer from rosacea you can find relief by changing the microbial community of your skin? This is one avenue of skin microbiome research, but researchers are finding that it’s not easy to draw clear conclusions.

Six changes you can make to encourage a healthy skin ecosystem

What we do know is that individual members of the skin ecosystem can suddenly change from commensal or beneficial to pathogenic (25, 28, 29, 30, 31). The best example of this is Staphylococcus epidermidis, the cause of staph infections. S. epidermidis is a common and innocuous member of the human skin ecosystem, except of course when it’s not innocuous. S. epidermidis produces different biofilms, has antibiotic resistance, and contains mobile DNA elements when recovered from hospital settings compared to natural human environments. The chimeric nature of some bacteria suggests that their presence or absence is not the primary cause of disease but that there is some environmental trigger controlling pathogenesis (30).

Rosacea has long been treated with antibiotics, suggesting a bacterial root for this common skin condition despite the fact that the mechanism by which bacteria might cause rosacea has not been established. Attempts to better understand the pathogenesis of rosacea have led researchers to investigate the role of the skin mite Demodex (an arachnid) (22). Demodex species inhabit the sebaceous glands of most people, existing on epidermal cells and sebum. People who suffer from rosacea have a higher density of Demodex in their skin, and while this correlation is interesting, it does not explain why rosacea responds to antibiotics. Jarmuda et al. (2012) propose that the bacteria Bacillus oleronius, which have been isolated from Demodex mites from rosacea patients, may be responsible for the rosacea condition.

Why then are some people more prone to higher density of mites? The answer may lie in the composition of skin surface that supports the community. One study demonstrates that the fatty acid composition of skin is significantly different between people with and without rosacea (23). Rosacea patients have reduced levels of long-chain saturated fatty acids, potentially compromising the integrity of the skin barrier. This insight opens the door to rosacea therapies that shift the fatty acid profile of the sebum.

There is a bigger picture unfolding with respect to skin microbial communities and disease, one where the microbes are opportunistic rather than necessarily pathogenic. A recent study suggests that people with immune deficiencies simply have more permissive skin (32) and that skin disorders are associated with compromised immunity. This study evaluated the skin microbiota of people with rare primary immunodeficiencies (PID) and atopic dermatitis compared to a healthy group. They discovered that the group with PID hosted microbes that were not seen in the healthy controls, including Clostridia species and Serratia marcescens (a common household microbe). The PID group also had less variation between skin ecosystems of the body. In other words, the skin ecosystems of people with decreased immunity are weakened, permitting colonization of opportunistic pathogens.

What Can You Do to Cultivate a Healthy Skin Ecosystem?

While skin microbiome research is in the “wild west” stage today, there are many things that you can do to be proactive about your skin health.

Redefine for yourself what it means to be clean. Soaps, fragrances, and personal care products may alter your skin’s ecosystem in a way that nature hasn’t intended. Wild animals take “dust baths” that effectively bathe their skin in soil bacteria that help to keep them clean. Products that contain preservatives and synthetic ingredients may change the pH of your skin and disrupt your natural ecosystem, particularly if you have decreased immunity.

Consider what touches your skin. While you can’t see it, cosmetics have been found to alter the microbial composition of skin (34). Make-up has also been found to cultivate its own ecosystem with time (35). Get rid of old make-up and consider reducing the role that cosmetics play in your life.

Consider your clothes. Interestingly, researchers have investigated the microbial growth in synthetic vs. natural clothing. They have found that synthetic materials harbor bacteria that are not native to or are out of balance with the human skin ecosystem, while the microbial communities found in natural fibers mirror the skin microbial communities. Even more, it has been found that washing machines serve to disperse microbial communities among members of a household (12). Most dryers are not hot enough to kill microbes and may even promote growth if clothes are left damp. Air drying clothes in the sun may better disinfect clothing.

Consider your environment. Chronic exposure to sterile or otherwise unnatural indoor environments and the microbes that they support may permit opportunistic species to colonize your skin, particularly if you are already immune compromised. Exposure to natural microbial environments may promote a healthy human microbiome, inside and out (36).

Consider your overall health. While the skin ecosystem is fascinating to study, it does not exist in a vacuum. Addressing only topical and environmental changes to support skin ecology is short-sighted, especially considering the influence of overall immune function on skin permissiveness. Check out my Nutrition for Healthy Skin e-book to better understand the nutrient requirements for optimal skin health, and my Gut Health e-book to learn how to support your immune system.

Reestablish your skin microbiome. Although the research in this area is not yet robust, some evidence suggests that applying ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) can help to reestablish a healthy skin microbiome. These bacteria have populated our skin microbiome naturally, acting as peacekeepers for the microbial community, but widespread use of soaps, deodorants, and other personal care products wiped them out. Mother Dirt has a line of skin biome-friendly products (such as soaps, shampoos, and sprays) that contain AOB and can be used daily to improve skin health. I and many others in the Paleo community have used these products and found that they can either partially or completely replace conventional soaps and shampoos, with no increase in body odor. You can check them out, and first-time buyers can enter their email address to get 20 percent off plus free shipping.


Join the conversation

  1. Hello Chris,
    Thank you for this interesting article.
    How about seborrheic keratosis…?
    I’ve got serious problems with them.. it seems they are growing & spreading out all over my body.. if it goes on like this, in 5 years my whole skin is covered with those ugly senile warts and I’m only 42. Already now I’m ashame of my skin and do not like to go swimming in public and try to cover my skin. I’ve been to several skindocs and they all say it’s just about genetics, there’s nothing I can do about it… I can just watch them spreading out. I first notices them after I became mom some 17 years ago, so I suspected it could have some hormonal reason. I also have hashimotos. 10 years ago I had some of them removed by laser, but it hurted like h*ll and they grew back.
    I live in Germany, so many of the recommended US-products are not available here.

  2. Hi Chris,
    I have been suffering from seborrheic dermatitis on my face for several years. For the past 6 weeks under the direction of an acupuncturist, I’ve tried the candida diet (which I believe is similar to Paleo) along with the following supplements: probiotic, garlic, Zymex wafer and gut flora complex (both to promote healthy gut microbiome) with no improvement. Do you have any nutritional or supplement advice, or any recommendations for a practitioner specializing in skin in Los Angeles?

    • Hi Erin,

      I think you’re on the right track trying to replenish your gut microbiome, because many skin ailments have their origin there.

      As a medical skin care specialist, I see a lot of skin problems on people who were born by C-section, due to a disturbed gut flora. I always suggest going to the root of the problem, in addition to trying “external” like creams & lubricants.

      Re. Gut flora: why don’t you try adding Sacchoromyces Boulardii.

      I’ve had very good “skin clearance” results with this probiotic and it easily can be obtained here in the US from the Jarrow co. and also ordered from Swansons. (Take 1 cap twice a day). Good results can often be seen in 1-2 weeks…but that can vary.

      What I also always stress: be sure to add “healthy fats” to your diet…like organic coconut oil, olive oil, ghee, etc. Being so bombarded by the cosmetic industry with advertizing for face/body “creams” as lubricants for the skin, its what we put INTO our body that counts!

      Furthermore, you could also experiment with “fermenting” vegies and fruit yourself. After all, that would yield natural pro-biotics and are even better than those in capsules.

      I’ve done this for many years (ok, I’m from Europe and its a long tradition there, but now live on the East coast) and have (but not always did) extremely good skin!

      Its very easy to do: I cut pieces of organic apples or pears, etc. and put them into a glas jar. I also use frozen Brussle Sprouts or pearl onions (this works and its easy!), Daikon radish and , of course, cabbage, etc. and cover them with brine. (4 C of water and 3 T of fine sea salt makes a Basic Brine. I got this recipe from Dr. David Perlmutter’s Brain book has very detailed instruction for fermenting at home.)

      Let the jar (I cover it with a small shot glas to keep all the apple pieces underwater) sit on the kitchen counter. Depending how warm it is in your environment, the fermentation is often done in a few days. Then tightly close the jar and refrigerate it. This stops the fermentation.

      The fermented apple pieces can then also be made into a terrific “apple sauce” in a blender! Kids love it!

      Good luck to you Erin! I wish you all the best. Experimenting what your body needs and discovering the origin of your ailment is the way to go! Keep reading Chris Kresser’s contributions and his “Gut Health”…and re-read the readers comments here!

    • Erin – Had similar issues, fixed it by removing gluten from my diet (actually I removed all grains from my diet) and went on a high fat low carb diet. You might also need more vit D3 in the form of sunshine. Vit C and grounding will help with the electrical blood flow to your skin. Grounding also may help.

  3. Want to share one more thing the skin microbiota, more properly referred to as the skin flora, are the microorganisms which reside on the skin.
    This article really helps us !
    Thanks For sharing.

  4. Thanks Chris for that informative article. Your points on redefining what it means to be clean is a good point. We use harsh soaps and detergents and after all that even follow up with toners to get that “clean” skin effect. This is definitely not the way we used to cleanse our skin when we were more in tune with nature. We used natural clays that worked with the microbiota on our skin. I also find that products that are pH balanced and natural do wonders with consistent use. I don’t use much makeup anymore (which typically requires those harsh detergents to strip it off) and use clay-based pH-balanced cleanser NuVsio Purifying Mineral Mask to gently remove impurities without stripping the skin of acid mantle or good skin microbes. I also take in clays using CHI Edible Healing Earth for a monthly detox. It worked wonders and now I have a clear glowing complexion!

  5. I have read about a link between digestive problems (low stomach acid) and rosacea. Has anyone else read about this? I had a consultation with an awesome herbalist, and he took one look at me and knew I had digestion problems.

  6. Chris and colleagues, can you offer any insight into the effect the Norwex body cloths may have on the microbiome? Not asking for an endorsement by any means, but there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence of the cloths being used to replace cleansers, with skin clearing outcomes. The cloths are a moderately loose synthetic microfiber washcloth, and the microfibers are manufactured with silver integrated into the fibers.

      • The silver remains within the cloth, as it’s manufactured into the fiber. The silver doesn’t remain in contact with the skin longer than the use time, so I am not sure that its bacteriostatic effect is really in play. I think it’s the light exfoliation and removal of foreign matter but I appreciate all thoughts and comments!

  7. It’s good to see more discussion about the skin microbiome! I run an online support group for natural acne healing and this is an important piece. For a lot of acne, bacteria is a *trigger* (not a cause), which is why antibacterial and antibiotics are used and prescribed but these make the problem worse in the long because by killing off the bad bacteria, they also kill off the good bacteria which is supposed to keep the acne-causing bad bacteria in check!
    A lot of people in my support group have tried antibiotics and had them work temporarily, but then their acne came back several months later, necessitating a higher dose of antibiotics. This is why it’s so important to understand the skin microbiome.
    I have heard from a lot of people that they have also stopped washing their face as vigorously or as much and that that has helped them too.
    If acne is something you deal with, feel free to join the support group for help healing it naturally and identifying the root causes.

  8. This article is very timely for me. I’ve suffered from debilitating hand eczema on and off for the past 5 years. The problem started after I finished a round of antibiotics. Four months ago, I started the Autoimmune Paleo Protocol and began taking Garden of Life Raw probiotics. Within a week, my eczema had cleared up completely. Since I’ve stayed on the probiotic, I’ve added back in every food except grains, dairy and alcohol, and my hands have remained eczema-free. I’m convinced the probiotic has done more than eliminating or adding any other food. I’ve heard a little about the presence of Staph in eczema sufferers but was very curious to know more. Thank you for the report!

  9. Can I just spray some “API Quick Start Aquarium Water Conditioner” on my skin? It looks like it contains similar bacteria. I just can’t justify spending $50 a month on AO+ mist.

    • Are you serious? Ok, we do have evolutionary connections to FISH…but I woud never recommend you do this.
      It might sound harmless: API calls itself “biological” and says it contains “only natural” ingrediences. REALLY! Look at tall the other stuff in it, like preservatives & chemicals to increase its self-life for a year? Fish might not care, but you should!
      The recommended Mother Dirt Products like the “Skin Mist” might be very good – I’ve not tried it, but I trust Chris – its also very expensive and for that reason, I would not buy it! Also, because of its elaborate packaging — so unnecessary and a waste of resources, in this day and age!
      I think for many people the product might represents “a quick fix to great skin” …just as many Diet Products on the market today represent “a shortcut to weight-loss!”
      I maintain: if you restock your GUT with healthy bacterias, it will positively influence your face & body skin! That means, start from WITHIN – I’ve been saying that forever to my clients! – eat healthy fats & foods (no fast-food crap!) and get a very good probiotic! Then load-up on fermented foods…they are very easy to make, but also can be bought.
      AND – not overnight, give it a few weeks – your skin pH will change on your face & body and will become more resistent to “harmful” bacteria….those that can cause skin problems, etc. Your immunity will increased and it fights them. Your body odor will also be greatly reduced and if you feel you do need a deoderant for your armpits – just to make sure – dust them simply with baking soda; its highly basic pH will discourage oder causing bacteria from existing/growing!

      • Well yes, I’m totally serious. The only ingredients I could find in the API product are water, nitrobacter winogradski, and nitrosomonas eutropha (the bacteria found in the Mother Dirt Product). Thank you for your concern.

        • Hey Evan, that’s a very interesting question. I looked it up also and found nothing in the ingredients other than what you listed. Fish are highly sensitive to chemicals (chlorinated water is lethal for them).
          Unfortunately, the Mother Dirt products don’t yet ship internationally so it isn’t an option for me.
          So, thanks for the heads up on the API product, I may test it out 😉

          • After hearing about MotherDirt through a Buzzfeed TestFriends video, I researched AOB and the ingredients in the AO+Mist, and found API Quick Start. I’ve been using 2ml API-QS mixed with water in a 1 liter spray bottle with a mist nozzle. It’s been 3 months since I started, and my skin has become acne-free, less oily, and my overall complexion looks better. The neatest benefit was being able to get rid of my antiperspirant deodorant because I don’t sweat that much, and when I do, it doesn’t have an oder anymore.

            Here’s more info about the API Quick Start and the 2 AOBs in it:


            • Your experience sounds very positive! I also looked in to the data safety info and I’ve been using a solution of the API QS for only a few days so it’s too early to determine any effect as yet. A couple of questions though; how did you arrive at the mix ratio, (my mix is somewhat more concentrated), and are you using water only washing or do you continue to use soaps and shampoos etc. (aside from hand washing, I’ve been soap/shampoo free for over 2 years now). Aside from nurturing my inner micro-biome, I’m particularly interested in the development of a healthy outer micro-biome with respect to improving my immune system.

              • In the beginning, I was worried about the possibility of having a negative reaction, much like the armpit rash the TestFriends girl experienced in that buzzfeed video, so I figured I’d just start with that amount and gradually increase the API-QS if my skin handled it well. The API-QS directions are 10ml for a 38 liter (10gal) aquarium, so I figured 2ml per 1 liter bottle was a safe place to start.

                However, I noticed I hadn’t had much body odor after the first few days, and by the end of the first week, I had no BO at all, so I never added more API-QS because I figured it was already working well at that ratio. I’ve never been a sweaty person, nor have I had much BO, but I was never able to forego deodorant without having a slight musk by the end of the day until I started using the AOB spray.

                There was an awkward drying phase for the first week or so, and I felt like my skin was a little tight at times, but that changed eventually without altering my regimen. My skin kinda normalized moisture on it’s own between the first and second week, and now it has a nice healthy glow. It took slightly over a month for my acne to clear up.

                For washing, I’ve been using the oil cleansing method for about a year with a combination of coconut/olive/castor oil in the shower with warm water.

                • That’s very helpful info. I now feel confident to dilute my spray! In so far as body care products, coconut oil, pure shea butter, and olive squalane oil are what I’ve been using – gotta keep those microbes healthy too.

                  A big thank you for filling me in about your experience.

                • Hi Amy,
                  I have sourced the squalene oil from several different online outlets; Swansons, iHerb etc. Swansons have a house branded one which I found to be good, and a company called Life Flo Health have one too. I have used the real Mother Dirt spray and found no noticeable improvement over the solution of API. Due to my total avoidance of body/hair detergents for some years now (aside from soap for hand washing) I suspect I have achieved a pretty healthy skin microbiome. My skin has never been healthier.

            • AIBiome’s product is currently under trial for allergic rhinitis, migraines and high blood pressure! Apparently whilst being trialled for acne, participants reported it helping with these other conditions. AOBiome says its product only lasts 1 month out of the fridge. Could you tell me how long the API bottle is supposed to last, and does it say to keep it in the fridge? Also do you need to use filtered water with it? Our tap water tastes of chlorine so we use a filter for drinking water. I’m thinking maybe we should get one for the bath; otherwise every time we bathe we will probably be sterilising our skin again. Rather, it might be better to bathe in API QS.

  10. Chris,
    I am wondering if there is a doctor in the Bay Area that you recommend for young children. I know that Dr. Nett doesn’t take patients under 7, and my three year old with chronic severe eczema needs help.


    • I have had eczema off and on since I was 3 years old. I am now 73. There is a doctor I went to see and he was so helpful in finding out what why my skin was breaking out. He found out what I was bothering my skin by having tests done. Here is his contact info;
      Dr. Timothy J. Smith
      Hope you are able to get help for your child.

      • Elimination diets help but adding in probiotics and prebiotic are essential. Cold water Omegs 3. We use Melaleuca for my granbaby. I am currently researching Chinese Heral cures and Ayruveda fixes. Oh and Melaleuca Renew lotion does wonders. Don’t order from Amazon their way over priced and can be very old. Remove all toxic detergents and cleaning products. If you would like info, please let me know.

    • Add digestive Enzymes and Probiotics to your child’s diet and do an elimination diet of common allergens – gluten, dairy, corn, soy, nuts. I guarantee your little ones eczema will go away when you isolate the problem foods.

  11. I am very interested in the topic as I have had eczema every once in a while. However in the last month it has flared all over my body and I do not know what to do any more. I have just started some testing but this doc is not doing food testing- anyone have any ideas in general on what to do? Thanks

    • My experience has shown (and I’m a skinc care specialist) that skin ailments are best treated from within. Focus on just “topical applications” brings little in the case of eczema…its a symptom of a deeper cause.
      Interestingly enough, children born by C-section (instead of vaginal delivery) have a higher rate of eczema…due to not having been innoculated with their mother’s gut flora by passing through the birth canal. They often can be helped by re-establishing the ecosystem of their gut…via nutrition, probiotics, nutrients, etc.
      I would recommend: become aware what’s going on in your health/life that might cause the eczema flare-ups. Do a “nutritional inventory” re. how much sugar, the type of carbs, what kind of fats, etc., you eat… all important stuff that influences your gut’s health!
      And – if you have not done so already – read the e-books Chris recommends: Nutrition for Healthy Skin & Gut Health.

  12. Hi Chris,

    I like your writings and follow them since years. In particular I appreciate that you prove your statements by scientific references and add personal or clinical experiences. What I do not appreciate however is sentences like this one: “You can check them out, and first-time buyers can enter their email address to get 20 percent off plus free shipping.” Honestly, this degrades all the text with all the many serious and interesting pieces of information to the level of a commercial advertisement. Do you need to do that? It is really ok that you mention product names if you have tried them or used them in your work with patients. But trust me, we are readers who convince themselves to go and buy a product if your otherwise scientific-grade texts match our health needs. We are able to decide and do not need anyone to tell us “buy now!”. Please dont degrade yourself to the level of Mercola & co. We read your pages because you are better.

  13. Thanks for sharing this article! It will probably be a good idea to save this as a reference. As far as I know, taking proper care of the skin is the most crucial part of a healthy lifestyle because the skin is more susceptible to free radicals being exposed. The continuous research about skin microbiota or what others call skin flora is indeed a useful knowledge especially in the field of medicine. While a lot of things need to be considered in order to maintain or encourage a health skin ecosystem, the food we eat is also an important factor to consider.

    Thanks to you, I will be very careful in shopping for clothes starting today. I have always overlooked the effect of the clothes I wear to my skin health. I usually just buy the clothes that are in trends or the clothes that are appealing to my fashion sense. It might also be useful to maintain a clean closet. After all, cleanliness is one of the key to the general health.

  14. Each year when in the garden doing the weeding and pruning I get skin cuts and sometimes these get infected and cellulitis kicks in. Of course not doing the weeding and pruning is an option and once cut applying sufficient antiseptics does help. I watch though in fear that the cellulitis will reoccur. And I have wondered if I have a skin flora that is predisposed to causing cellulitis.

    I get antibiotics from my General Practitioner or local hospital Accident & Emergency Centre when cellulitis does occur, but have wondered whether there is something “more natural” that would boost my skin biome so that the organisms in it are less likely to cause me to get cellulitis, or alternatively that would knock out the microbes that cause the cellulitis. So far I have not been able to find anything helpful.

    Oils seem to be one option – I think of the good samaritan and his use of oils on the cuts of the person who he attended. But which are the appropriate oils to use? Olive oil seems to be rather innocuous. (I have my mind set on more exotic herbal oils – I don’t know why!)

    I had not thought of dirt baths – but that option only seems to be appropriate to use before any cut to the skin occurs.

    Any thoughts appreciated.

    • Just talkin’ here, but do you douse your cuts with rubbing alcohol after they happen? I farm and garden a lot, have three cats that don’t mind giving me a scratch from time to time, and have a lot of skin issues and know that my personal microbiome is off, but I don’t tend to have any of the problems you encounter. And yes, we went through a bad bout of MRSA here a few years ago. For that, after the initially visiting with a slew of ignorant doctors, I “cured” myself and my 2 year old son with heavy doses of probiotics, along with taking good, natural care of ourselves, and some herbal supplements. But….I find rubbing alcohol to me my best solution to cuts and other problems that do get out of hand. And maybe povidone iodine (sp).

      • Thanks Jane for your reply. Yes I do try to clean the scratches that the plants with barbs inflict upon me. I don’t however use alcohol or iodine on the cuts: soap and water and an antiseptic cream – but it is not always effective.

        I just wonder if the cellulitis is from the bacteria on the skin or the bacteria that the plant introduces. My thinking is that if the former then changing the balance of the bacteria on my skin would be helpful. I had a look at the Mother Dirt website and wonder how applying just one bacteria in your skin is going to change things that much. My thinking is that a mixture of beneficial bacteria might do the trick, or some topical treatment of oils might change the balance of the existing skin bacteria population.

        • You could do a test. If the cellulitis is on your skin then you should get sick from all cuts, not just the gardening. Try disinfecting a knife of fork and then cut yourself. If you get sick, then it must definitely is you skin’s microbiome.

          • Hello Christopher. Thanks for the suggestion. I can see the logic behind it and the scientist in me likes the idea. However, I’m not that keen on cutting myself and think I’ll hold the idea in reserve for the time being.

    • Hmm, I would consider adding a good quality, “therapeutic grade” healing essential oil such as lavender and/or frankincense to a small amount of fractionated coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, etc and see if that helps the healing. However, it can’t be just any essential oil you can buy off the shelf as these frequently have chemicals added and do not have the therapeutic qualities of the more expensive brands.

      • Hello Lynda. Thank you for the suggestion of Lavender and Frankincense oils. I’ll definitely give it a go. I did once try a branch of Neal’s Yard, but not having the appropriate background about which of the essential oils might help had to ask about the therapeutic use of the oils they had in stock. Unfortunately, the sales assistant seemed not to have the appropriate knowledge to assist me in my quest, and I came away empty handed. On another occasion, I tried using Tea Tree oil, though I’m not sure now how good a quality oil it was: it did not seem to work as on that occasion the infection spread.

        • I use a refrigerated organic hemp oil mixed with organic cold pressed coconut oil and have had good results.

  15. My son has developed hidradenitis suppurativa after surgery to repair an inguinal hernia. Have you had success with natural methods for this or have you heard anyone using Mother Dirt with positive results with this condition? Thank you!

    • I have been working with a client with hidradenitis suppurativa for a number of months now and we have seen great improvements. Many steps have proved helpful including: eliminating foods causing sensitivities, applying topical GSE ( &, correcting blood sugar imbalances, clearing systemic candida and providing emotional support with a mixed chelate lithium product, evening primrose oil ( she is 1/4 Irish) and lifestyle coaching. I look forward to suggesting the saccharomyces boulardii that I learned about in the comments below!!

    • Hi Shellley
      My partner has HS and she found Tara Chester Grant’s book the Hidden Plague a life changing read. Using an auto immune protocol diet helped her be HS free. It might not be a topical problem but a dietary one. Worth looking into.

    • Thank you all! It is a small area and we are trying to treat for the first time with antibiotics and curcumin. Looks like the hernia he just had repaired, so perhaps surgeon is wrong. It does get bigger and smaller, but little on the outside to suggest the diagnosis. Hoping for a miraculous recovery. 17 years old and off to college in a year will make it tough to maintain a strict diet. I am heartbroken for him.

    • Hi Shelley!
      I suffered from HS for about 5 years. It came out of nowhere. I can tell you what worked for me, but everyone is different. Birth control pills worked for me after taking them consistently for 6 months. You have a son so that won’t be a likely treatment, but I have gone off of the pill (after fighting my doctor to not go off- I was scared they would come back) and am HS free! Getting my blood sugar in check by eating Paleo has changed my life. I found out I was allergic to hops and barley, so every time I drank beer I would break out. Taking a natural hormone stabilizer like Maca can help, too. I take mine twice a day. Whatever it is, it’s coming from within and is hormone and blood sugar related. It might not be the surgery that caused it- it’s the changes your son is going through. I suggest consulting a metabolic Doctor. All my dermatologist did was put me on large doses of doxycycline and that did nothing for me. I hope this helps!!!

  16. As a skin care specialist, I’m interested in MEDICAL and not just “cosmetic” issues and this is a superb summery about what contributes to the health of the skin. It mentions many things I already know, but also many that are new to me.
    I totally agree with you Chris about the Biome of the Skin and am so glad that this is being researched/studied.
    Let me tell you about an example from my praxis: one of my former clients told me that she developed (in a very short time) an incredible skin break-out all over her face: it looked like akne/rosacea, etc. (She could not tell me what she had done differently or wrong that might have led to this.)
    Totally alarmed bec. of an upcoming conference in Germany, where she had to give a lecture, she saw her GP, who send her to a dermatologist and there she given the usual “topicals!” They did not work. (She refused to take antibiotics, bless her!)
    She left for Germany with her pimply face and one day walked into a pharmacy. The person behind the counter (probably a pharmacist) took one look at her and said: “You need Perenterol” …in German, which she speaks. Asking if this was a prescription medication” she was told NO, its the prebiotic: saacharomyces-cerevisae, that is given not just for akne but also travel diarrea.
    She bought it and took it according to direction and in 10 days her skin had totally cleared up. She was ecstatic and when she returned researched it and, of course, this prebiotic also exists in the US and can be had for a fraction of what it costs in Germany.
    In the past, I have suggested it to MANY of my “akne & rosacea” suffering” clients and they have experienced great remission. I also have encourage them to start focus on their GUT health and make themselves knowledgable re. fermented foods, etc.
    Today my client who traveled to Germany has skin to die for! In the meantime, she learned as much as she could about prebiotics, the eco-systhem of the GUT that, obviously, affects also our skin, brain, etc…. as the fast literature recently published on this subjects has taught us!
    BRAVO Chris for writing this…I will put it in my files for reference and pass it on to all my “skin-distressed” clients…also send them to your website!

    • The Perenterol is actually saccharomyces boulardii rather than saccharomyces servecii. Very interesting to learn about it’s effectiveness for skin. Thank you!! I will suggest it for a client
      with whom I have been working on her hidradenitis suppurativa with significant improvement for a number of months now. See above note in response to the hidradenitis suppurativa comment.

      • To Judith Ames: the Perenterol from Germany (I have a bottle infront of me) contains: saccaromyces cerevisiae!

          • Yes! The saccharomyces cerevisiae in Parenterol (the German product) is in a dry form in caps. Its available like that also in the USA in health food stores, such as Vit. Shop or at Whole Foods’s vitamin division.
            A note to Judith Ames: A MD friend of mine just made me aware of that in the medical profession its also often ref. to as: saccharomyces boulardii! – So we can look for it also under that name.

            • Saccharomyces boulardii is a strain of saccharomyces cerevisiae. They are both available as probiotic supplements. (Saccharomyces cerevisiae as Lynside Pro GI+).

              • Acually, its not!
                S. Boulardii is related to, but distinct from s. verevisiae in several taxonomic, metabolic and genetic properties.
                Its a tropical strain of yeast named after Henri Boulard, who first isolated it in 1923 from lychee and mangosteen fruit.
                Anyone interested in the specifics re. this probiotic, there’s lots of info on the internet that lists its effectiveness in treatment & prevention of many gastrointestinal disorders.

                • According to Wikipedia it’s not.
                  ‘Whether S. boulardii is different from S. cerevisiae was a matter of debate; this debate is now over. Despite certain phenotypic differences, genotypic and proteomic analyses have definitively recognized S. boulardii as a member of the species S. cerevisiae’
                  That’s from here:
                  They reference these studies:
                  ‘The results of the present study strongly indicate a close relatedness of S. boulardii to S. cerevisiae and thereby support the recognition of S. boulardii as a member of S. cerevisiae and not as a separate species.’
                  The full name of Saccharomyces boulardii is Saccharomyces cerevisiae var boulardii – the term ‘var’ meaning variety or strain.

        • saccaromyces cerevisiae – I’ve looked online for it at the places listed, but I cannot find it. Please tell me where to buy it. It could be life changing for my sons in their 20s with chronic acne. Thank you so much!

            • Hi JT –
              Parenterol – the probiotic from Germany that I mentioned – CAN be found on the internet. I just looked it up and it was listed on – t
              There it also shows all the ingrediences it contains, as well as how to take it! (Forte just means, extra strong, which is ok!)
              Please note: in the US this strain of probiotic is often ref. to as “saccharomyces boulardii” as pointed out here by some readers.
              I don’t know where you live, but in New York City it can be found @ Whole Foods, Vit. Shop, and other Health Food stores.
              Even Parenterol can be purchased in the US – its not a pres. med. – from pharmacies that deal with international products. But I think this is not necessary, bec. its much more expensive!
              I wish your son my BEST!
              Be sure to also look at his DIET…he needs to make changes, if he eats “unhealthy” things, for his skin to improve! AND pay attention to what he puts “on it” & how he “treats it” – meaning: no harsh “chemical laden products” or “pimple popping & scrubbing,” etc.

              • I first took S. boulardii via a product called Florastor (very expensive) to avoid getting a yeast infection while taking prescribed antibiotics. It worked! Since it is a good yeast, the antibiotic does not kill it and it keeps the problematic yeasts under control.

                Some research has come up with more affordable options. Jarrow Formulas has a very good and affordable S. boulardii product. It’s such a great probiotic that it has now become a daily supplement for me.

                It has not remediated the rosacea :>(

    • Inde, I’m curious on your thoughts on eczema. My 2 yr old was a vaginal home birth, no vaxs, antibiotics, steroids. I’ve eliminated dairy and gluten. I’ve done everything possibly naturally that I know and read. She had been on various probiotics. It has cleared up considerably but not totally and is intensely itching. She cannot have her skin exposed for a second without wanting to scratch until she bleeds. We are on a primarily paleo/WAPF diet otherwise. Any advise?

  17. I’ll share the little “experiment” that my husband and I did, after reading a few articles some months ago about how soap and other products can skew skin microbes. We stopped using our bodywash, and wash only with hot/warm water and a clean washcloth. We do use a neutral, unscented bar soap for nether regions and feet only. We also use very mild, unscented organic shampoo. I did try the no-shampoo thing for a few weeks, but found it so disgusting I gave up and went back to my unscented organic product. The results: We were astounded at how we DON’T SMELL. I also think the acid test was when I realized how clean and fresh-smelling the bed linen stays. I have actually let it go for a few weeks, and then stuck my nose under the covers. Astoundingly, the bed smelled fresh as a daisy. I do use a natural clay-based deodorant stick, but I think that’s more due to old habits dying hard. No more dry skin for either of us, either. We are completely converted.

  18. In the winter I shower only a few times a week and only use soap once a week. Farming has me outside for most of the summer so I shower daily but I still only use soap once a week.
    The soap I use is an ancient recipe called black African soap. I buy it from a guy at our local farmers market whose family in Africa processes it by hand from the oil of the native shea nut and plantain ashes. I shampoo my hair with the same soap. He supports his family here and his family in Africa by selling this soap

  19. Hi Chris, I was wondering if the skin condition called Melasma is associated with this type of skin issue discussed in you article? If not, can you send me information on Melasma?

  20. I had rosacea for years and took antibiotics to keep it away. I stopped after developing GI issues which led to SIBO which led to multiple autoimmunity issues which led to aplastic anemia that I can’t find help for.
    The rosacea cleared up when I went on the SIBO diet. If I eat too much fruit I can get flare ups.

      • I say yes. I wrote above already, but please try taking LARGE amounts of probiotics for your condition. I had really bad, cystic acne until I was 35, after years of antibiotics….one day I thought real hard about why this was so, bought a bottle of Swanson’s acidophilus ($4 and change at the time) and took 5 pills, 3 times a day. Problem solved, under a week. I still consume large amounts of probiotics all the time, as I think I will have issues due to the abuse of antibiotics for so much of my life. I also give my son, now 5 large amounts as well, and he has never had an ear infection and just had his first bit of colds this winter when he started preschool, last fall. I’ll bet you a hundred bucks you will see an improvement if you try even half as much as I take!! Best to you!

  21. I’d also like to see comments on Alex’s pool question. My daughter, 10yr old, has been diagnosed with Crohns disease and while she is doing really well (and on SCD), she is on the swim team so is in the pool every week. What should we be putting on her skin after she showers? Should she avoid the pool altogether? I try to use straight almond oil on her skin.

  22. Hi Chris, I would love to know your opinion on swimming pools and chlorine exposure. I really enjoy taking my son swimming but I wonder if it cancels all our other efforts.

  23. Listened to a dermatologist on one of the educational summits. He advised not putting anything on your skin except olive oil or coconut oil and for only a short period. The reasoning was as per this article; don”the mess with the skin microbiome. Not bathing so often and only using soap on armpits, croch and feet is another suggestion to keep the skin bacterial community in tact.

    • Hello Eva

      My guess is that at present you will not be able to buy ammonia oxidising bacteria (AOB) products in Europe, unless they are produced locally.

      Mother Dirt products, produced in the USA are to be used within a month. You could try contacting the producers for advice. Their contact details are:

      AOBiome, LLC.
      One Broadway, 14th Floor
      Cambridge, MA 02142

      You can reach the company by phone at 00-1-617-401-3191 or by email at [email protected].

      There’s also an online contact form at the company’s official website:

  24. I’m interested to know if anyone has seen a relationship between skin microbiome and Granuloma annulare?

  25. Epigenetics, gut biome, and now skin biome? Science in general has been seeing a huge increase in the addition rate of new knowledge. It would appear that human biology is experiencing that trend.

    Now if the medical community would just pick up on this stuff!

    • I’m with you on that , Bill – thanks for your comment ! I was at the Wellcome Foundation in London UK last week (museum/forum of medical practice) and the discussion was about historical attitudes to and understanding of pathogens and levels of personal hygiene .. interesting that so few 21st century were aware of the protective value of unwashed/unscrubbed skin.

      • Rachel, and I thank you. Yes, do to some rather serious (for me at least) health issues a few years ago (not to mention that my wife died from the effects of chemotherapy), I set about eating better and avoiding many chemicals that I previously used almost without thought.

        For personal hygiene I have gone to strictly organic but found it interesting that even that is not enough but rather such use should be sparing.

        Though much of what we are learning (relearning?) our distant ancestors probably could have told us. Not with the science that we are learning but the general ‘to do’ sort of thing, yes.

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