So, you’re the founder of MyMicrobiome. What exactly is a microbiome and where does it exist on the body?
The microbiome is the collection of all genomes of the bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live in and on our bodies. So, imagine your whole body is covered with a carpet, consisting of bacteria, fungi, and viruses. This layer of carpeting, so to speak, interacts with us and our immune system. The majority of microbes live in our gut, but our skin is also completely covered with them and without it we wouldn’t be able to survive.
Why is a healthy microbiome important?
A healthy microbiome starts from birth and is directly impacted by our environment. Microbes teach our immune system how to develop the right way and also support it when defending from harmful, pathogenic invaders. The microbiome also helps us to break down nutrients and to synthesize vitamins. In addition, it also actively defends us against pathogens with, for example, antimicrobial peptides. It helps to create a certain environment on our skin, for example a low pH, which won’t allow for bad bacteria to grow. It’s a very complex interaction between microbes and our bodies. We’re just beginning to understand the nuances, but we do know a lot about it already and it’s clear that in order to build a healthy immune system and not become allergic to everything, a healthy microbiome is crucial. It’s also connected to diseases like gut inflammation, autoimmune disorders and even psychological diseases like depression and anxiety.
Oh, that’s interesting. I wouldn’t have guessed that. When did you begin studying the microbiome?
It’s been seven years now. I was working within a company where we were developing antimicrobials. One project focused on wound care and we found that if we were able to selectively delete harmful, pathogenic bacteria in a wound, the wound would heal really quickly. We cured wounds that were chronic or had existed for months, even years prior within just a few weeks. This phenomenon is only explainable through the microbiome. After we removed the pathogenic bacteria, the body was able to heal itself together with the microbiome. So, the microbiome was always in my mind when developing those antibacterials.
About three years ago, I started to realize that scientists, even microbiologists like myself, did not fully understand the microbiome and its importance. So, I started our MyMicrobiome website to raise awareness around it. As I dug deeper into the subject I found that the cosmetics industry was actually already pushing microbiome claims.
Were the claims you saw correct?
Ah, good question. Unfortunately, most microbiome-friendly claims are put out for the sake of marketing and not science. Currently, there’s no one really controlling what these companies can and cannot claim. I mean there are a handful of companies, including large ones, that do research the microbiome, but still the products that they put out on the market are not necessarily microbiome-friendly. Especially if you look at probiotics and prebiotics within the cosmetics sector. It’s mostly marketing rather than verified by science.
What are a few everyday products that we use that contain substances that can potentially harm the microbiome?
A lot of creams and body lotions that you buy right off the shelf have a shelf life of over a year or more because of preservatives. So, the product is made to have a long shelf life sans-bacteria growth, but the antimicrobial activity in those products is also killing the bacteria and fungi on your skin. On top of that, surfactants, fragrances and also essential oils can be detrimental to your microbes.
What’s the difference between the microbiome on one’s face, body, and scalp?
They’re all completely different ecosystems. They can vary from your face, back, upper legs, inside your mouth, and so on. They all contain a specific colonization of key microbial species.
What kind of effects could poor microbiome scalp health have on your hair?
There’s a lot of diversity when it comes to the fungi that lives on your scalp and it’s all about keeping the levels of those fungi balanced. If a certain kind of fungus grows too much, even one that’s deemed to be good, it could have harmful effects, like dry or oily skin.
Can you detail the testing process that determined our scalp mask to be microbiome-friendly?
Yes, so in order to certify the Prose scalp mask as microbiome-friendly, we tested the effect it had on specific kinds of microbes. Since the mask is scalp-specific we tested it on bacteria and fungi that pertains to that area of skin. We wanted to see how the product would affect their growth. In the past we’ve tested scalp products, like certain shampoos, that have turned out to be way too harsh and actually kill off all the microbes, good and bad, on the scalp. We want to stay far away from that. However, if a product has a slight effect on bacteria growth due to the active ingredients it contains, that’s fine. In order for a product to fully work, some shift in growth is alright. That’s exactly what we found with the Prose scalp mask—it had a slight influence on the bacteria’s growth, but not too much. It’s all about striking a balance to keep the microbiome alive and healthy.
The Prose scalp mask is customized to each individual. Why is personalization important when it comes to the health and balance of one’s microbiome?
Everyone’s microbiome is different and has various complexities, that’s why personalization is key. However, I will note that the deeper into the layers of skin that you go, the more commonalities you will see from person to person via their microbiome. We all share a common set of bacteria that is apparent when you look deep into the layers of skin, but, when looking at the top layers of skin that are impacted directly by external factors, the difference from microbiome to microbiome becomes clear.
Environmental factors, such as pollution and weather, can directly affect the microbiome and change its makeup. For example, if one person rides the subway to work and touches a railing in the station and another person rides their bike to work and doesn’t come in contact with that railing, the bacteria that these two people have touched is different and therefore the makeup of their microbiome is different. A person’s genes also influence the microbial composition on one’s body.
Ensure your microbiome gets the personalized attention it deserves (and needs) with the Prose scalp mask. It’ll help you strike the perfect balance every time.