The complex interplay between your skin barrier, skin microbiome and sebum

As a dermatologist, it is important to help people keep their skin healthy and skin barrier intact. The skin is the largest organ in our body and has a number of important functions, including protecting us from disease and regulating our body temperature. But how does the skin actually work and what is the role of the skin barrier, sebum and the skin microbiome?

The skin barrier

The skin barrier is the outer layer of our skin that protects us from external aggressors such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and environmental pollutants. It consists of a lipid barrier and a stratum corneum. The lipid barrier consists of lipids, such as ceramides, cholesterol and free fatty acids, which fill the intercellular spaces between the skin cells. These lipids prevent water from evaporating from our skin and prevent harmful substances from entering our skin.

Skin Barrier

The horny layer is the top layer of the skin and consists of dead skin cells. It is the first line of defense against external aggressors. This layer is also important for retaining moisture in the skin. A healthy skin barrier is essential for maintaining healthy skin. A disruption of this layer can lead to a reduced barrier function of the skin, which can result in dryness, irritation and inflammation.


Sebum is a fatty substance produced by sebaceous glands in our skin. It is composed of triglycerides, fatty acids, wax esters and cholesterol. The composition of sebum can differ per person and can be influenced by factors such as hormonal fluctuations, medication, stress and diet. Sebum plays an important role in maintaining the skin barrier by helping prevent water from evaporating from our skin.

Sebum also contains antimicrobial peptides, such as cathelicidin and beta-defensin, which help fight infections caused by bacteria, viruses and fungi. It is important to note that excessive sebum production can lead to clogged pores and acne.

So it is important to keep sebum production in balance by regularly cleansing and exfoliating. Exfoliating helps remove dead skin cells and excess sebum, keeping pores clean and sebum production balanced.

While much research remains to be done on the relationship between diet and sebum, there is some evidence that certain nutrients may affect sebum and thereby promote or exacerbate the development of skin conditions. For example, eating foods high in saturated fats and sugars can change the composition of sebum and increase sebum production, which can lead to the development of acne.

Skin microbiome

The skin microbiome is the collection of microorganisms that live on and in our skin. This includes bacteria, fungi and viruses. While some of these microbes can cause disease, many of them play an important role in maintaining healthy skin.

The skin microbiome is essential for maintaining the skin barrier and preventing infections. Good bacteria such as Staphylococcus epidermidis and Propionibacterium acnes help maintain the pH balance of the skin and prevent harmful bacteria from multiplying on the skin. Disruption of the skin microbiome can lead to various skin conditions, including acne, rosacea and eczema.

Also important is a mild cleansing of the skin. Over-washing or using harsh cleansers can damage the skin barrier and disrupt sebum production, increasing the risk of an imbalance in the skin microbiome. Therefore choose a mild cleanser that does not dry out the skint.

Some examples of good and bad skin microbiome types:

Good varieties:

  • Staphylococcus epidermidis – produces antimicrobial peptides that protect against harmful bacteria
  • Propionibacterium acnes – is a normal part of the skin flora and can play a good role in maintaining healthy skin. For example, it helps regulate sebum production and it has antimicrobial properties that can help protect against harmful bacteria. However, if there is too much Propionibacterium acnes on the skin, it can lead to the development of acne.
  • Streptococcus salivarius – produces lactic acid that helps maintain a healthy pH balance
  • Corynebacterium accolens – produces lipids that prevent moisture loss and help keep the skin barrier healthy
  • Bifidobacterium bifidum – has anti-inflammatory properties and can help reduce redness and irritation

Eating foods rich in probiotics and prebiotics can help maintain a healthy balance of microbes on the skin, while avoiding certain foods such as sugar and processed foods can help reduce inflammation and reduce the risk of skin disease.

Bad variaties:

  • Staphylococcus aureus – can cause skin infections, impetigo, boils and aggravate eczema
  • Malassezia furfur – can cause dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa – can cause infections and worsen acne symptoms
  • Candida albicans – can cause yeast infections and skin irritations
  • Streptococcus pyogenes – can cause skin infections, such as erysipelas

It is important to remember that the presence of these microbes on the skin does not always mean that an infection or skin problem is present. A healthy skin microbiome is complex and consists of many types of microorganisms, which are in balance with each other and with the skin.

The interaction between skin barrier, sebum and skin microbiome

There is a complex interaction between the skin barrier, sebum and the skin microbiome. A healthy skin barrier is essential for maintaining a healthy skin microbiome and vice versa. Sebum production is an important factor in maintaining a healthy skin barrier, but excess production can lead to unwanted microbial growth and skin disease.

The skin microbiome is the entirety of microorganisms, such as bacteria and fungi, that live on and in the skin. The microbiome plays an important role in regulating the skin barrier and protecting the skin from disease. A healthy skin microbiome is diverse and balanced, while microbiome disruption can lead to inflammation, infection and other skin conditions.

A healthy microbiota is important for maintaining the skin barrier, as these microorganisms help to regulate the skin’s acidity (pH). Skin pH is vital for maintaining the skin barrier, as it helps prevent the growth of pathogenic microorganisms and promotes the maintenance of the healthy microbiota. More on skin acidity

Skin Barrier, Microbiome, Sebum, Sebum, Skin Barrier Formic Acid Acidity And Iconic Elements Products

In addition, the microorganisms on our skin also produce a range of bioactive compounds that contribute to the health of our skin. These compounds can help regulate sebum production and reduce inflammation, keeping skin healthy and radiant.

It is important to emphasize that all Iconic Elements skin care products have a pH value of approximately 5, which is optimal for your skin and contributes to maintaining your natural skin resistance. Discover our skin-friendly products today! Visit our webshop

But how can we support the health of the skin barrier, sebum and skin microbiome?

Good skin care is essential. Using mild cleansers that don’t dry out the skin and avoiding irritating substances, such as harsh soaps and long, hot showers, can help protect and repair the skin’s barrier.

Unfortunately, our skin barriers are often compromised by various factors, making the skin more prone to infection and inflammation. One of the main causes of skin barrier damage is the overuse of soaps and other cleansers, which can strip the skin of its natural fats and oils, disrupting its protective barrier. It can cause dryness, itching and irritation.

The health of your skin is influenced by both external skin care and the right nutrients. Certain nutrients, such as vitamin A, vitamin E, prebiotics, probiotics and omega-3 fatty acids, have positive effects on the skin barrier, sebum production and skin microbiome. They promote a healthy skin barrier, keep sebum production in balance and have anti-inflammatory properties for healthy skin. Adjusting your diet is also important. A diet rich in nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, supports the health of the skin and its normal functions.

On the other hand, a diet containing excessive sugars, salts and processed foods can increase sebum production and disrupt the balance of the skin microbiome, leading to skin problems such as acne, psoriasis and eczema. In short, make healthy food choices to care for your skin and include nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. Avoid excessive consumption of sugars, salts and processed foods to prevent skin problems.

Stress management is also important for healthy skin. Stress can increase sebum production and cause an imbalance in the skin microbiome. Practicing relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga can help reduce stress.

Ceramides are a type of lipid (fat) that play a crucial role in the skin barrier by filling the intercellular spaces between skin cells. They help prevent moisture loss and protect the skin against penetrating harmful substances. By forming a strong skin barrier, ceramides contribute to maintaining hydrated, supple and healthy skin. A deficiency of ceramides can lead to dryness, irritation and increased susceptibility to skin conditions.

Hormonal fluctuations, especially those caused by puberty, menstruation, pregnancy or menopause, can affect sebum production by increasing or decreasing the activity of the sebaceous glands. Increased sebum production can lead to oily skin, clogged pores and acne, while decreased sebum production can result in dry and flaky skin. It is important to adapt the skin care routine to these changes to keep the skin healthy.

Yes, the diet has an influence. Foods rich in prebiotics (such as fiber-rich fruits and vegetables) and probiotics (such as yogurt and kefir) can promote a healthy balance of microorganisms on the skin. On the other hand, a diet high in sugars and processed foods can promote inflammation and increase the risk of skin conditions like acne by disrupting the microbiome.

Excessive washing or the use of harsh cleansers can disrupt the skin barrier and skin microbiome by removing natural oils, lipids and good bacteria. This can lead to dryness, irritation, and an increase in skin problems by disrupting the skin’s natural protection and balance. It is therefore important to use mild cleansers and not to wash too often.

The skin microbiome, consisting of beneficial bacteria, fungi and viruses, plays an essential role in protecting the skin against infections. Good bacteria compete with pathogenic (disease-causing) microorganisms for space and nutrients, producing antimicrobials that can kill harmful bacteria. This helps protect the skin against infections and contributes to a healthy skin barrier. Disruption of this delicate balance can lead to skin conditions and infections.

In other words

A healthy skin barrier, properly functioning sebaceous glands and a balanced skin microbiome are all essential for healthy skin. To support these elements and promote interaction between them, there are several steps you can take. It is important to remember that healthy skin is not only supported from the inside, but also from the outside. Using the right skin care products can help strengthen the skin barrier and maintain a balanced skin microbiome. Therefore, choose products that are tailored to your skin type and that contain mild and caring ingredients.

While you are here

Have you ever heard of exposomes? Probably not, but you are exposed to it daily. Exposomes are the combination of all outside influences, such as the air you breathe, the food you eat, the cosmetics you use and the environment you live in. These factors have a huge impact on both your body and your skin. Our bodies and skin are constantly exposed to various environmental factors, such as pollution, UV radiation and changes in the weather, which can have a significant impact on our health and appearance. This exposure is called “exposome” and includes all external and internal factors that affect our body and skin. Want to know more about Exposomes

Picture of Dr. Francis Wu

Dr. Francis Wu

Dr. Francis Wu, een vooraanstaande dermatoloog, is de drijvende kracht achter Iconic Elements. Hij heeft sinds 2004 zijn expertise ingezet om een veilige en effectieve huidverzorgingslijn te creëren, geschikt voor zowel gezonde huid als huidproblemen. Iconic Elements, opgericht in 2016, is de eerste brede skincare lijn in Nederland ontwikkeld door een dermatoloog. Als medisch specialist streeft Dr. Wu naar het bevorderen van het welzijn van mensen door hoogwaardige en effectieve huidverzorgingsproducten te bieden. De proefdiervrije en vegan producten vermijden schadelijke chemicaliën en bevatten natuurlijke ingrediënten.
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