what is the microbiome, acid mantle, and skin barrier?

Being educated on skincare is super important in figuring out how to develop the right routine for your skin. Following the launch of our prebiotic oil to milk cleanser, we thought we would provide some education around some key buzzwords: microbiome, acid mantle, and prebiotic ingredients - what they are, what they do, and how it can affect your skincare routine. Understanding the science behind these terms will help you understand how to treat your skin!


First and foremost, what is the microbiome?

You may have heard of the skin microbiome or gut microbiome! What is it? A microbiome is a community of micro-organisms living together in a particular habitat. 

The skin’s microbiome is a collection of living microbes (bacteria). Combined with the acid mantle and lipid barrier, the microbiome is a crucial component of our skin barrier. Think of our microbiome as the first line of defense against an army of invading bacteria! Right below the microbiome, the slightly acidic acid mantle (pH of around 5.0) helps inhibit the growth of external stressors like other bacteria, fungi, and pathogens in general. 

How do we maintain a healthy microbiome?

A healthy microbiome is about maintaining an ideal environment for both good and bad bacteria to coexist and work together. It needs proper maintenance and nourishment to thrive. This includes feeding the microbiome with good nutrients (like prebiotics!) that produce more bacteria. This helps to maintain the integrity of the microbiome.


What is a prebiotic ingredient?

Prebiotic ingredients feed probiotics, increasing and cultivating the amount of bacteria on our skin and in our body. Whereas probiotics are living microorganisms, prebiotics are stable ingredients that are more easily applied to skincare formulations and help improve the overall microflora of our skin. Prebiotics help to fortify and diversify our skin’s microbiome and acid mantle.

In our line, we most notably use prebiotic ingredients such as fermented oat in our new oil to milk cleanser, as well as raspberry vinegar in our toner


What is the acid mantle?

The mantle is comprised of secretions from our sweat glands and sebaceous glands. Our sweat delivers the amino acids and lactic acid, while our sebaceous glands secrete sebum (fatty acids or what people often term as “natural oils”). As indicated by its name, the ideal balance for our acid mantle is slightly acidic at a pH range of around 4.5-5.5.

If our skin falls out of this range due to environmental factors, topical products, or hydration levels, our acid mantle can weaken and leave us more vulnerable to a myriad of skin issues.

In practical terms, the acid mantle is the film that you feel on your skin. Right after you wash your face with soap or water, you’ll feel it being perfectly clean with no film. Shortly after, you’ll start to feel that film build back on your skin (this is what makes it soft feeling). THAT’s the acid mantle that has rebuilt itself. Using products that support this slight acidity is very important for the function of the acid mantle. We recommend products that either are non-disruptive (any of our oils), OR have a slightly acidic pH range (like our new oil to milk cleanser or toners). 


The microbiome is reliant on diverse bacteria and a balanced pH range

The microbiome is dependent on our acid mantle’s pH levels being slightly acidic to inhibit the growth of acne-related bacteria. Without this ideal acidity, the microbiome and underlying lipid barrier (which retains moisture) cannot thrive.

Therefore, our mission of nurturing the diverse microbiome ecosystem is twofold: we need to 1) feed bacteria with nutrients that allow it to metabolize and grow and 2) maintain an ideal pH level for our acid mantle.


Here is what a weakened skin barrier looks like vs. a strong skin barrier

Below, you'll notice a few key differences. In a weakened skin barrier, water loss happens more significantly, while the skin is also more susceptible to external pathogens infiltrating the deeper layers of our skin. Where there is a strong skin barrier, water loss is limited, and the skin's acid mantle and microbiome protect it against external stressors. 


How do I know if my acid mantle and skin barrier is damaged? 

Symptoms of a damaged acid mantle include an uncomfortable tightness after cleansing your face (with even just water!), premature aging, or persistent and consistent dryness or flakiness. If this is the case, you should take measures to protect your skin from sun damage, harsh winds or even drying air conditioners/heaters, and review your skincare products.

Overly treating your skin with harsh treatments or even powerful good antioxidants can be too harsh on your acid mantle. Take a breather from these products if you sense they may be creating some unwanted symptoms. 


Best way to treat your skin barrier

Although there are a number of factors that can affect skin health, some of the ways that we can build a healthy skin barrier include:

1) Using pH neutral or pH balanced products. All of our products in our line aim to create the ideal pH environment for your skin. You can't go wrong! If we had to choose two items to create the most pH balancing environment for your acid mantle, we'd choose the new prebiotic oil to milk cleanser and either one of our toners. Stay away from overly harsh cleansers that foam or are too "soapy" feeling.

2) Feed your skin with good prebiotics or probiotics. Since prebiotics are shelf stable (vs. living probiotics, which are not), we can add them into topical formulations. This is exactly what we did with our fermented oat in the oil to milk cleanser. Separately, you can also combine our chlorophyll mask with greek yogurt to do a probiotic detoxing DIY mask!

3) Use oils to help fortify the lipid barrier on your skin. As illustrated above, fatty acids help to protect transepidermal water loss. This keeps our skin feeling soft, looking hydrated, and glowy! Using an oil to lock in any previous skincare steps is so important.

A healthy skin microbiome and skin barrier will protect us from pathogens, damage, and dryness!

We hope this post was helpful, if you have any questions feel free to reach us at info@cocokind.com.