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Interviews

What Dr. Elsa Jungman Wants You To Know About Your Microbiome

by theSKIN

• By theSKIN

We’ve all had days (or weeks or months) where our skin just feels…off. Whether its dryness, irritation, or breakouts, there are some obvious signs that our skin isn’t in it’s best shape. We’re always trying to find the underlying cause of skin distress — after all, we want to solve the problem. But what if we told you that the answer might lie in your skin’s microbiome? That’s what Dr. Elsa Jungman, skincare researcher and creator of Dr. Elsa Jungman skincare, believes. After learning more, we’re on board too. We talked with her all about what exactly your microbiome is, what happens when it’s disturbed, and how it can be healed. Read on for the full interview.

TS

How did you become interested in the link between skin health and the microbiome?

EJ

At 18, I suffered from toxic shock syndrome, which left my skin incredibly sensitive. Since then, I’ve devoted my career to studying the link between skin health and the microbiome. I have my Ph.D. in Skin Pharmacology and have spent time between Paris and San Francisco working with various businesses and startups in the skin health space. I recently became a mother for the first time and I am even more interested in understanding that important link to make sure my son won’t develop skin issues.

TS

What is the microbiome?

EJ

Just like in our gut, our skin is covered with billions of microorganisms that fight to keep us healthy. It is composed of bacteria, fungi and even viruses for example. Those microorganisms are just like the probiotics you take in your yogurts. However, the skin microorganisms are very specific to this organ and are organized as an ecosystem. A great diversity and balance of these microorganisms on your skin are key for your skin to be able to function properly. We still know very little about what makes a healthy skin microbiome, especially regarding women’s health as we are the one suffering the most from skin sensitivity.

TS

What happens when the microbiome is disrupted?

EJ

In certain skin issues, we have observed that when the microbiome is disrupted its diversity is lost — for example, one bacteria can take over. This unbalance causes an unhealthy ecosystem. This is the case for example in eczema where Staphylococcus aureus is too dominant versus other microorganisms and the microbiome can not function properly. Skin is not only smart and resilient, but it craves balance. No matter how much damage has been inflicted upon your skin’s microbiome, there is an opportunity for you to be able to repair and restore your skin’s health by adjusting your approach, paying attention to what your skin needs, and taking the proper steps to support it.

TS

What factors affect our microbiome, and what are your best tips for caring for our microbiome?

EJ

There’s more that affects our microbiome than we think. Aside from an overload of skincare and beauty products, external factors like the environment, hormonal changes, mental health, food intake, and more can throw our microbiome off-balance. 

My best tips are:

  • Recover your skin with a minimal & microbiome friendly skincare routine: focus on the essential, gently cleansing, moisturizing and SPF. Stick to skincare that has ten ingredients or less. Really try to use less skincare products, stay away from fragranced products and harsh soap and cleanse less often.

 

  • Look beyond skincare to what else could be impacting your skin: how is your cycle or hormonal change affecting your skin? Is your skin reacting to certain food? Listening to your skin can be incredibly beneficial.

 

  • Mental health is the number one cause of skin reaction, so find an activity that helps you relax. For me it is a combination of breathing exercises and facial yoga.

TS

How does overuse of skincare products affect skin health?

EJ

Data shows that on average, we use 126 unique ingredients per day on our skin, all which can impact the balance of our skin’s natural ecosystem and damage our skin barrier. Mainstream skincare negatively impacts the skin microbiome as it contains anti bacterial or harsh agents, for example preservatives, essential oils, fragrances, emulsifiers. This is the way cosmetics have traditionally been developed. The more products we use with a lot of ingredients, the more it can damage our skin barrier and microbiome. Fragrances, preservatives, and soaps are the most common causes of contact dermatitis from cosmetics and skin care products. Experts recommend avoiding cosmetics with preservatives and fragrances and to choose cosmetics with simple formulations, possibly with less than 10 ingredients. By removing those ingredients that can be harmful to the skin ecosystem and minimizing the total number of ingredients in a product, we could theoretically enhance our microbiome and skin health.

No matter how much damage has been inflicted upon your skin’s microbiome, there is an opportunity to repair and restore your skin’s health.

TS

How does your skincare line utilize what you’ve learned about the microbiome and its connection to skincare?

EJ

Today over 50% of the US population reports having sensitive skin. We started to understand that a minimal routine with minimal ingredients was the best to prevent skin reactions, but today we are making the same observations to also protect our skin microbiome. Mainstream skincare negatively impacts the skin microbiome as it contains anti bacterial or harsh agents, for example preservatives, essential oils, fragrances, emulsifiers. This is the way cosmetics have traditionally been developed. We need to use skincare that will support your skin’s inherent function, longevity and microbiome to let it thrive. Our entire skincare line is based on the synergies of our ingredients with the skin. We carefully formulated our skincare in our lab in San Francisco with 5 ingredients maximum that all have a positive impact on the skin microbiome. Each ingredients has been selected in its purest form from the most. Once we have a new product and that safety tests have passed, we test them with a third party lab in Europe that looks at how the product will affect the skin microbiome, using an in-vitro test developed by MyMicrobiome. All our skincare products  have good microbiome-friendly ratings, and we are the first US brand who got this certification.

TS

You’ve launched a pilot program that offers skin microbiome tests of your own, where participants can analyze their own unique microbiome and help research efforts. How does your microbiome test work, and how can it help improve skin health? 

EJ

Participants will swab their forehead, then use our microbiome-friendly, minimal skincare for a week. Once the week of using our skin care is complete, they will swab a second time, and send back their sample for analysis. Their skin microbiome will be analyzed and they will receive a personalized skin microbiome report. The point of this test is to prove the science behind simplicity, and how using minimal skincare can impact the skin’s ecosystem. The results from this study can help us determine better ways to navigate how to best care for our skin in the future. I hope to develop a substantial foundation of how simplicity can impact the skin so that we can use those findings to further advance the conversation of how so many of us view skincare today.

TS

Do you plan on making this test available to customers in the future? What else is on the horizon for your brand?

EJ

Absolutely. We want to one day be able to give everyone the chance to get to know their skin, and really translate what is it trying to tell us, so that they can learn how to best care for it. We are also working on an exciting product launch for the fall that will empower consumers to translate their skin needs in an innovative and hyper-personalized way.
Dr. Elsa Jungman