Increasingly in recent years, both scientific and beauty research have been pushing the case for bacteria. Skin flora, as it’s known, and which refers to the microorganisms that reside on skin, could in fact help in the pursuit of the perfect complexion, it seems. It’s a thought bound to give germophobes goosebumps (or worse, a rash). I, for one, have largely been sceptical.
Anyone who knows me knows that cleanliness rules my life. I change my pillowcase every three days, clean my mobile phone with antibacterial wipes every night, and never touch my face without washing my hands with soap. Still, I told myself that there has to be something to all the research surrounding the benefits of skin flora.
According to Dr Georgia Lee, a GP with a special interest in aesthetics, there are three types: one derives benefits from – but isn’t harmful to – the host (aka us), the second can cause diseases, and the third kind has a mutually beneficial relationship with the host. Over at IDS clinic, Dr Ian Tan points out that we shouldn’t try to get rid of the bacteria and microorganisms living on our faces. “There is strong evidence to show that skin flora helps to control the organisms that can cause diseases to humans, modulates our immune response and skin barrier function, and is integral to skin health,” he tells me.
To better understand how, I turned to the academic Julian Marchesi, an expert in the area as professor of clinical microbe research and deputy director of the Centre for Digestive and Gut Health at Imperial College London. “Don’t just think about skin as a surface,” he says. “There’s actually a colony of microorganisms living on you that all have functions, many of which relate to health.
“It is very important to maintain the balance of skin flora because our body works in unison with it. The microorganisms act like a barrier to protect skin from invading organisms. Think of it as a symbiotic relationship. We provide them with somewhere to live, and they provide us with protection against organisms trying to get in.”
This explains the rise – and growing interest – in products that work to control or stabilise skin flora. (They include topical pharmaceuticals, points out Dr Tan.) But French luxury giant Dior is going one step further to not just balance, but also actively encourage “good” skin flora behaviour with its reformulated Dior Hydra Life range.