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Do we need good bacteria on our skin? Can we be TOO clean?

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What happens to the good bacteria on our skin when we disinfect ourselves to death?

Lately we’ve been told to clean, bleach, disinfect, and sanitize EVERYTHING. But, you also may have heard a lot about gut health and probiotics in recent years. While gut health is essential to keeping your immune system at its best, the biome on our skin is often overlooked. And you should be asking what happens to that biome when it’s under a constant deluge of harsh chemicals.

Your skin is colonized by millions and millions of bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Microbes on your skin, which is your largest organ, impact the way it looks and feels. It also impacts its ability to serve as a barrier between your body and the outside world.

Chicago-based dermatologist Toral Patel, M.D., explains how vital the skin microbiome is, not only for skin health but overall health as well. “A healthy microbiome can protect against skin infection by preventing the overgrowth of pathogenic organisms,” Patel says. And it turns out. the skin microbiome can also fight against external and environmental factors. It can also help keep inflammation in check and promote wound healing. Our microbiome acts as a barrier to some allergens and environmental toxins.” (1)

As of late, we’ve been inundating our skin with even more harsh soaps, cleaners, and sanitizers. These can annihilate not only the “bad” but also the good bacteria on our skin. Killing all the germs in guise of health is actually making us sicker.

image of virus

Can we be TOO clean?

Dr. Robynne Chutkan, founder of the Digestive Center for Women, suggests that while you may just want to be clean, you might be a little too clean. “I spent decades in my medical training learning how to eradicate people’s germs, learning that bacteria are bad. A couple of decades later, it’s turning out that bacteria are not strictly bad, they’re also good, and they’re essential for health. If you look at almost any major medical illness, from allergies, asthma, autoimmune diseases, cancer, obesity — it turns out that bacteria play a crucial role.

“The whole concept of the microbiome, which refers to the trillions of bacteria that live in and on our bodies – mostly in our guts – is essential for health.”

“There are clearly germs that are a problem, there are viruses and bacteria that can cause infection, but the vast majority of the germs that live in our bodies and in our home are actually helpful.” (2)

Basically, if we’re not exposed to enough germs, our immune system is not prepared when we get exposed to potential harmful ones. So lately with our disinfect/bleach/sanitize everything in sight mentality, we are weakening our immune system. It could be messing up the good bacteria on our skin, and opening ourselves up to a variety of concerns, not just the current virus but a plethora of illnesses, skin issues, and even allergies.

SO what do we do about that? 

Wash your hands with soap that is NOT antibacterial instead of using sanitizer whenever possible.

If you absolutely can’t avoid the sanitizer, try some that are better for you and the good bacteria on our skin, like our no-rinse hand wash.

Skip the harsh cleaners.

two spray cleaner bottles with homemade cleaners to help maintain good bacteria on the skin

Cleaners with these ingredients are much safer than other harsh products out there (3):

hydrogen peroxide

ethyl alcohol (ethanol)

citric acid

L-lactic acid

caprylic acid (naturally found in coconut oil)

thymol (found in thyme, oregano, marjoram, lemon, and cilantro)

Probiotics can help

Take probiotics and eat food rich in them naturally (Yogurt, fermented foods, kombucha, kefir)  Probiotics are a good idea to take just in general. There is a long list of benefits they provide, but since we are focused on immune health, that’s what we’ll look at. Making sure we have enough probiotics in our system promotes the production of natural antibodies in the body along with the immune cells known as natural killer cells. Probiotics have been known to rescue the likelihood and duration of respiratory infections. As an added plus, they’ll help restore the natural balance of bacteria in our gut that may be out of balance from our exposure to all the harsh cleaners. (4)(5)

glass of water kefir

4) This is something I’ve just started researching so watch for more info as I learn, but if using harsh hand sanitizers and cleaners is unavoidable. You may be able to replenish some of the good bacteria on our skin by topical use of probiotics.

I found a few articles that discussed the use of yogurt and kefir for face masks, as well as water kefir and kombucha for lotions, soaps, and rinses. I found this prebiotic soap on Amazon (full disclosure, I have not tried it yet). It looks like an interesting way to promote good bacteria on the skin. If you’ve tried it, let us hear what you think. Stay tuned for some reviews and recipes  if this proves to be something beneficial. 

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