This post is sponsored by Mother Dirt as a collaborative partner of Skinterrupt.com. We are incredibly grateful to their support!

Have you noticed a shift happening in the skincare industry?

There’s a NEW cleanliness culture… that includes bacteria!

Seems almost strange since we’ve long been told that it’s actually good to destroy 99.999% of the bacteria in our homes!

Yet everyone is finally realizing the benefits of having good bacteria in their homes as well as on their skin.

There’s a distinct trend that you’ve probably followed: ditch the antibacterial soaps and cleansers for natural soaps. Find products that include health-promoting bacteria, like probiotics for your skin.

And thankfully the demand for these products is building (which I personally find to be incredibly exciting)!

All because we’re recalibrating what “clean” means through a new obsession that includes bacteria.

In the age of “superbugs,” you might be wondering why this is happening now. Much of this about-face comes from the realization that being too clean can be more detrimental to your health, including your skin.

 

Woman cleaning with lots of cleaning products

How did we get to be too clean?

Before the idea that bacteria (also called “germs” or “microbes”) were bad, humans lived close to the earth (and “dirt”) in caves. Days were filled eating freshly picked produce and bathing without soap in lakes, ponds, and rivers.

As a result, our ancestors naturally had good bacteria on their skin.

Over the last century or two, many factors shifted that caused us to turn our backs on this important microbiome relationship.

“It is hard to pinpoint a specific year, but we generally believe that the prevalence of modern plumbing, increased use of antibiotics, the shift to urban living, and the growth of the personal care industry are what triggered this drop [in bacterial diversity],” points out Jasmina Aganovic, president of Mother Dirt. “All those took place in the last 100 years, so relatively speaking fairly recently as far as human evolution goes.”

Things worsened when we discovered that a few bacteria were to blame for some serious diseases. (The operative words here are “a few” bacteria.)

Scared woman looking in broken mirror

This realization fueled a fire that’s led to a near-obsessive fear of bacteria — ALL of them.

We became bacteria-phobic… believing that it was necessary to kill as many bacteria in our environment as well as on our skin as humanly possible.

The consequences have rippled well beyond antibacterial soaps!

It became commonplace to stop touching dirt or being exposed to mother nature.

And we’ve spent billions of dollars on disinfecting chemical cleaning supplies, hand sanitizers, and antibacterial soaps and cleansers.(1)

One of the main problems with these type of antibacterial products is that they don’t just kill the bad bacteria– they eliminate your good bacteria too.

But the reality is that you need bacteria in your environment as well as living on your skin and in your gut that are health-supportive! Especially since they can act to control the microbiome makeup, support a strong immune system and keep your health in check.

This underscores the need for diversity within your microbiome since low diversity (in and of itself) is also a problem.(2)

Combine bacteria-phobia, antimicrobial cleaning products, and low microbiome diversity — and you’ve got the perfect recipe that has likely led to unexpected and unfortunate health consequences.

 

Mother and daughter washing hands

Dangers of being overly clean

Yes… there are health concerns in being overly clean and disinfecting everything around you on a regular basis.

Hygiene and cleanliness are certainly important. No one is going to debate you on whether it’s wise to wash your hands before preparing or eating food.

But basic hygiene and food safety aren’t the same as being too clean.

The concept of cleanliness is truly more of a moving pendulum that can (and does) shift depending on how alarmed we are as a society about germs. At this point, it’s fair to say that the pendulum has swung too far in favor of “all bacteria are bad” and “be as clean as possible.”

The results have been not just troubling, but to some degree, incredibly damaging to your health. And scientists are now acknowledging just how problematic excessive sanitization has become.

One simple example can be seen in the rate of allergies and asthma in kids.

Children who tend to be very clean tend to have higher rates of asthma. While children who had dogs in their homes or grew up on farms (with more microbial diversity) tend towards lower rates of allergies.(2,3)

And research is also demonstrating how excessive cleanliness is disrupting your skin.

“Though we tend to think of cleanliness as healthier, being too clean can actually play a role in triggering allergic skin conditions. The immune system needs to be social to be healthy; it likes to meet and greet all different kinds of organisms and compounds. When it doesn’t, it starts to treat everything—even normal foods or pollens—as potential enemies. And this reactivity can manifest as skin issues,” shares Maya Shetreat, MD.

What Dr. Shetreat points out isn’t breaking news either. We knew these problems were brewing back in the 1980s which ultimately led to the “Hygiene Hypothesis.

In a nutshell, the “Hygiene Hypothesis” points out that an overemphasis or excessive cleanliness (or hygiene) is, in fact, harmful to your health.(4)

 

Scientists working in lab

The Hygiene Hypothesis

Scientists started putting all of these pieces together by looking at the incidence of hay fever and having fewer older siblings.(4)

It was commonly believed that if you had fewer older siblings, your environment would likely be dirtier and therefore result in more hay fever. Except when researchers looked at the data, that’s not what they found.

They found that while having fewer siblings tended to equal a more hygienic environment, it also correlated to higher levels of hay fever!(4)

Fewer exposures to bacteria and germs created an “antisocial” immune system that likely has resulted in the alarming increase in kids developing immune issues, like allergies and hayfever.

Many studies have since corroborated the hygiene hypothesis. What’s even more troubling is that the negative health consequences of being too clean are much greater than originally thought.(5)

From what we’ve learned so far, these are some of the issues associated with being too clean:

  • Increased rates of allergies, like hay fever and food allergies(2,5)
  • Asthma (one of the most common chronic diseases in the world)(6)
  • Increase in autoimmune diseases(5)
  • Doubling the rate of atopic dermatitis (over the past thirty years)(5)
  • Increase in inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn's and ulcerative colitis(5)
  • Skin barrier dysfunction (leaky skin)
  • Development of “superbugs” like antibiotic-resistant bacteria

Woman with allergies

As Jasmina pointed out, more antibiotics have played a role in decreasing bacterial diversity. And it’s also reduced the number of beneficial bacteria that help stabilize the microbiome.

But it’s also played a clear role in setting the stage for pathogenic bacteria that now are much more difficult to treat since the antibiotics used are no longer effective.

While everyone is concerned with the state of infectious germs, it’s worth pointing out that we’ve been asking ourselves if excessive cleanliness is healthy for nearly 2 decades. Even the American Council on Science and Health asked the same question back in 2002 – Antimicrobial/Antibacterial Products: Is Cleaner Really Safer?(7)

Only recently have we seen a sizable shift in attitude for antibacterial products.

The FDA ruled that companies can no longer use antibacterial ingredients such as triclosan (the most common antibacterial agent) in over-the-counter consumer products like soaps and body washes.(8)

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that it’s not just man-made agents that play a role in upsetting the bacterial diversity of our skin.

Though it’s constantly recommended and praised online, coconut oil messes up your skin’s microbiome.

[Here’s why we don’t recommend using coconut oil on your skin!]

“Coconut has long-chain fatty acids and they’re pretty strong antimicrobials. Lauric acid, which is found in coconut oil kills everything. It kills good bacteria, bad bacteria—everything,” says Kiran Krishnan.

“Be careful with coconut oil… even if you’re just using it on its own on your skin, because there has to be a microbiome on your skin. And if you’re using too much of an antimicrobial for too long, you could decimate that microbiome and leave room for less favorable bacteria to take hold.”

This serves as a reminder that everything, even natural substances, can be a problem too!

 

Woman washing skin in bath

Your Skin Needs Good Bacteria

We’ve talked a lot about how your health in general needs a healthy, diverse microbiome and bacterial exposures to thrive. So does your skin!

It desperately needs a healthy balance of microbes to support appropriate barrier function and keeping skin woes at bay.

Excessive sanitization of your skin can lead to disruptions in its microbiome. And some of these “disruptive” bacteria (like Staphylococcus aureus) can be more commonly found in skin conditions like eczema. And this can lead to more flares and infections that increase inflammation, dryness, irritation, and “leaky skin”.(9,10)

Keep in mind that it’s not only antibacterial products — also harsh chemical skincare and body care products, excessive showering and over-soaping your body, unmanaged stress, and even chemicals in your environment play a role in reducing healthy bacterial diversity.

If you’re serious about improving your microbiome diversity, then it’s critical to replace and support very specific strains that “keep the peace” (and balance).

One type of bacteria that’s got a lot of great research on it is called “Ammonia-Oxidizing Bacteria” (AOB).

These bacteria are considered “peacekeepers” in that they help to stabilize the “bug community” which can prevent unfriendly bacteria from taking over.

Woman sweating after exercise

AOB get their name from their ability to convert irritating components found in your sweat (e.g., ammonia) into beneficial compounds for the skin. These beneficial compounds help to calm the skin and restore the skin’s healthy microbiome.

Though these beneficial AOB are no longer naturally found on the skin (victims to being too clean), you can find them added to skincare products that can restore them.

My favorite products that I’ve incorporated into my routine include AO+ Mist and the Moisturizer from Mother Dirt. Using them has helped my skin avoid getting dried out this past winter and improves the quality of my skin.

And don’t forget, these are just one piece of the puzzle!

The solution to rebalancing the microbiome is multi-faceted since rarely does one thing ever solve complex issues. Jasmina echos this final thought sharing that “…not spending enough time outdoors impacts our health and using too many things on our skin disrupts its ability to take care of itself.”

Want to give them a try? CLICK HERE and use HEALTHYSKIN25 at check out to get 25% off your first order!

 

REFERENCES

  1. https://www.freedoniagroup.com/industry-study/disinfectant-antimicrobial-chemicals-3043.htm
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4966430/
  3. https://www.health.com/cold-flu-sinus/hygiene-hypothesis
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1838109/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2841828/
  6. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1398-9995.2004.00526.x
  7. https://www.acsh.org/news/2002/02/26/antimicrobialantibacterial-products-is-cleaner-really-safer
  8. https://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm205999.htm
  9. https://www.allergologyinternational.com/article/S1323-8930(17)30115-6/fulltext
  10. https://www.mdpi.com/2077-0383/8/4/444/htm

 

Why Being Too Clean Is Actually Bad For Your Skin


Jennifer Fugo

Jennifer Fugo, MS, CNS is an integrative Clinical Nutritionist and the founder of Skinterrupt. She works with women who are fed up with chronic gut and skin rash issues discover the root causes and create a plan to get them back to a fuller, richer life.


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