To answer this question, we asked Dr Milena Valentini, cosmetologist and graduate in chemistry and anti-ageing techniques, for her opinion.
Here is what she explained to us!
Our bodies contain a large number of micro-organisms that live in perfect synergy. There are more than 1,000 species of bacteria on our skin, which interact and work with it and influence its appearance and state of health. The collection of micro-organisms that cover our skin is known as the skin Microbiota. The balance of the latter is the first step towards healthy skin.
What is the Cutaneous Microbiota?
The claim "Microbiota friendly" is growing rapidly in cosmetic products for both the body and the scalp, but a few clarifications are needed to better understand the meaning and truthfulness of this claim.
First of all, it is necessary to define the following terms, which are often used indistinctly.
Cutaneous Microbiota refers to the bacterial community present on the skin. The Microbiome, on the other hand, is the genome of that bacterial community.
What is the function of the skin Microbiota?
The function of the skin microbiota is to protect against skin diseases by stimulating the immune system. Cell turnover and wound healing are examples of how the skin Microbiota "works" in favour of our skin.
The skin's Microbiota is therefore part of the skin's defensive barrier and protects against damage from aggression caused by external factors, but this happens when the ecosystem is in balance. When the skin's bacterial flora is altered, there is a possibility of imbalances arising that can lead to actual skin diseases.
Keeping the Microbiota in balance is not easy because it can be compromised by external factors such as the environment, lifestyle, diet, but also by the characteristics of the host (the individual) such as genetic makeup, age and physiology.
The different types of bacteria, therefore, that inhabit our skin can be important in protecting it, but it is good to be aware that a change in the composition of the system can cause sensitivity and reactivity, leading to skin problems such as eczema, psoriasis, acne and rosacea. In the case of the scalp, overly aggressive shampooing and styling can alter the microbiota and cause flaking, redness and excessive sebum production. As a result, hair is dull, brittle and gets dirty faster.
How to maintain a healthy microbiota
There are three basic steps to keep the skin's microbiota in balance:
- Protecting it so that it provides a defence against pathogenic bacteria
- Balancing its composition to improve skin appearance and modulate skin inflammation
- Activating it to enable the skin barrier to be strengthened and increase the function of the cosmetics used
What is the right beauty routine?
A complex beauty routine using aggressive products can damage the skin's microbiota. It is therefore necessary to choose a few, gentle products to respect this delicate ecosystem, whether it be face creams, shampoos, conditioners or sunscreens.
In both skin and hair routines, special attention should be paid to cleansing. The use of non-aggressive detergents is recommended to avoid depleting the hydrolipidic film and unbalancing the skin's bacterial flora.
As for the scalp, it is best to wash the hair at least three times a week to remove dirt, smog and dead cells that can cause itching and flaking. It is advisable to use gentle products which cleanse by affinity or products formulated with "mild" surfactants which respect the skin's PH.
In addition to shampoos with soothing and decongestant active ingredients, it is useful to opt for specific treatments with a rebalancing and anti-inflammatory action (lotions, shampoos, conditioners) at least once a week, while the use of specific active ingredients that promote the bacterial flora are essential for activating the microbiota. In this case we speak of cosmetics containing pre/probiotics.
What are Prebiotics and Probiotics?
To protect the Microbiota, functional ingredients capable of activating the ecosystem are often used in formulations. The most commonly used are Prebiotics and Probiotics.
Prebiotics are organic substances that have a beneficial effect on the health of the host, in this case stimulating the growth of good bacteria in the skin's microbiota.
Probiotics, on the other hand, are living micro-organisms whose task is to restore and maintain the balance of the bacterial flora. In order to live and proliferate, they need nourishment which is precisely the prebiotics themselves. In cosmetics, Probiotics cannot be used as functional ingredients in formulations due to contamination problems. They should be inactivated beforehand.
The latest cosmetological studies, however, have brought to light the effectiveness of using Postbiotics in formulations, i.e. molecules secreted by the Probiotics themselves which are released after bacterial lysis and which have a bacterial-modulating action reinforcing the skin's bacterial flora, especially for the scalp.
In conclusion, in order to maintain a healthy and balanced skin microbiota, it is necessary to use a specific "microbiota friendly" beauty routine that protects against aggression and inflammation and at the same time strengthens and balances the microbial flora of our skin and promotes the regeneration of skin cells.
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Written by Dr Milena Valentini
Cosmetologist and graduate in chemistry and anti-ageing techniques