A few years back I read a book called Farmacology by Daphne Miller. Miller is a physician who travelled around the United States to study farm practices and connect what she learned to how our bodies work as well as how the farming practices affect our health.
From that book I was inspired to learn more about sustainable habits and understand the complicated relationship between us and our land/food. I thought more about dirt and how we as humans wash and bathe excessively nowadays to kill all the germs, when some are not germs at all, but friendly non-harmful bacteria.
In 2013 I had a bad flare of eczema, and also got a staph infection. From thinking about the book again I realized that all systems have ecosystems of their own, including our skin, and that maybe the reason I had gotten a skin infection may have been because my natural skin cultures were not balanced (or in other words I had more of the bad kind of bacterias than the good). Studies are saying now, when you have a healthy mix of bacteria, they balance one another out and keep the “bad” bacteria in check, and as a result you get a strong skin barrier. When you lack the bacterial diversity, that’s when things go bad, and usually you’ll have an excess of Staphyloccocus aureus, which makes you more likely to have a skin flare. A study in 2013 showed that Staph a. makes a toxin that cause a release of other molecules we know are involved in the dysfunction of the skin in people with atopic dermatitis. It has become clear that unbalanced skin microflora can have particularly devastating consequences.
I’m going to briefly go into a little bit more about the skin and the skin biome. My information is coming from various articles including this one by NIH.
The job of our skin is to keep foreign organisms, dirt, etc out of our bodies. It has its own ecology with millions of diverse micro-organisms, some of which help the immune system learn which similar organisms are detrimental. As I said before, in healthy skin there is a balance of micro-organisms but when that balance gets disrupted it can result in infections or other skin issues.
Healthy skin is usually acidic and dry, and a cool temperature. Areas like the arms and the legs tend to be drier than other skin areas (like the groin, armpits, etc) and so they experience more temperature fluctuations. The acidity prevents certain bacteria, like Staphylococcus aureus, from colonizing the skin. Other ways the skin fends off bacteria like Staph a. include using the hair follicles. The follicles have sebaceous glands that make sebum, a fatty substance that helps protect the skin by coating it with an acidic and antibacterial shield. Interestingly enough, in my experience, when my flares have gotten bad, I notice my hair (specifically on my arms and legs) falls out.
The skin is made up of multiple layers including the epidermis, which has a top layer called the stratum corneum that’s made of something called squames. Squames are the bits that are shed from the skin after about 4 weeks. I’d bet that the rate of squame shedding is what increases when someone has eczema, and the reason we shed so much when flaring/coming out of a flare.
Everything from clothing, antibiotic use, soaps, moisturizers, age, sex, exposure to environmental bacterias (like dirt and animals), and more can affect the micro biome.
A company that came up on my radar was Mother Dirt with their research partner AOBiome (I have no affiliation to either but I do think they are interesting!). AOBiome study chemicals in our modern skin/hair products and how they mess up our skin bacteria diversity. In particular, they look at a bacteria called Nitrosomonas that was on our skin before we used soap and detergents that messed up the bacteria’s ability to survive on us. AOBiome correlates that the decrease in this nonharmful bacteria is related to the increase in inflammatory skin issues.
Therefore, the goal of AOBiome is to create products that allow Nitrosomonas to live on our skin again, and at the same time help reduce skin inflammation. They are also researching eczema and how their products may be able to help (though according to their website they are still between phase I and phase II of 3 phases of product development). They are definitely a company to keep tabs on for the future.
“AOB, Inflammatory Conditions, and Systenic Effects.” AOBiomeTherapeutics, https://aobiome.com/aob-inflammatory-conditions-and-systemic-effects/. Accessed 27 Sept 2018.
Grice E & Segre J. The skin microbiome. Nat Rev Microbiol. 2011 Apr;9(4): 244-253.
Kong HH, Oh J, Deming C, Conlan S, Grice EA, Beatson MA, Nomicos E, Pollet EC, Komarow HD, Murray PR, Turner ML, Segre JA. Temporal shifts in the skin microbiome associated with disease flares and treatment in children with atopic dermatitis. Genome Res. 2012 May;22(5):850-890.
Nakamura Y, Oscherwitz J, Cease KB, Chan SM, Muñoz-Planillo R, Hasegawa M, Villaruz AE, Cheung GY, McGavin MJ, Travers JB, Otto M, Inohara N, Núñez G. Staphylococus delta-toxin induces allergic skin disease by activating mast cells. Nature. 2013 Nov 21;503(7476):397-401.