In case you didn’t know…yes, you have bacteria living in your mouth and skin. But don’t be alarmed! It’s completely normal—and necessary. Just as bacteria in your gut help break down food and support your immune system, bacteria are also beneficial throughout other parts of your body, including your mouth and skin.
Here’s what to know about your oral and skin microbiomes (yep, they’re real), why they’re so important for your health and wellbeing, and how you can support them.
About Those Critters In Your Mouth And On Your Skin
“Your oral cavity is part of the long tubing that is your ‘gut’ and has a microbiome that functions similarly,” says Andrew Moore, M.D., a Chicago-based gastroenterologist. “Meanwhile, just as your gut functions as a semi-permeable barrier to ingested material, your skin functions to protect your body from the outside world, and the complex interactions of our skin flora are vital to this.”
When it comes to the oral and skin microbiomes, research is now discovering how our day-to-day actions—from our diets to our hygiene products—can play a role in maintaining balance and overall health, Moore explains.
Read More: 6 Things We Do That Mess With Our Gut Microbiome
On the oral microbiome front, one study published in the Journal of Oral Microbiology shows a clear connection between oral care and gut health. “When there are more disturbances of the microbiome in the mouth, more imbalance in the gut happens,” explains functional nutritional therapy practitioner Tansy Rodgers, F.N.T.P.
Meanwhile, the bacteria that reside on your skin help preserve the skin barrier. “If the microbiome becomes disrupted, it can impact the skin barrier and leave the skin susceptible to redness, dryness, irritation, and sensitivity, as well as infection,” says dermatologist Marisa Garshick, M.D., of MDCS Dermatology. “By strengthening the skin barrier, these healthy bacteria work to protect us from external stressors and infection, and also communicate with the immune system.”
So, whether you’re talking about your gut, your mouth, or your skin, having a healthy amount of bacteria (and the right conditions for them to thrive) is essential. “In favorable conditions, the healthy bacteria will grow and proliferate, essentially crowding out the bad bacteria,” explains Canada-based naturopathic doctor Sarah Connors, N.D. “When this occurs, it is easier to maintain the health of the mouth and skin, as well as the surrounding tissue. The risk of bad bacteria growing and thriving is reduced and thus the risk of later issues is also reduced.”
How You Can Support The Microbiomes In Your Skin And Mouth
Luckily, there are certain things we can do (and not do) to do good by the healthy bacteria in our skin and mouth. Here, experts share their best tips for improving your levels of healthy bacteria.
1. Don’t sleep on oral hygiene
Maintaining proper oral hygiene is critical to maintaining a healthy oral environment, according to Yale Cho, D.M.D., a Chicago-based prosthodontist. It’s important to brush and floss twice daily, and to see a dentist twice a year for a check-up and dental cleaning.
Throughout your oral-care routine, minimize your use of the ingredients peroxide, alcohol, sodium laurel sulfate, triclosan, and chlorhexidine, which can impact the balance of those good bacteria.
2. Be mindful of your mouthwash
Using mouthwash, especially an alcohol-based one, too often can be very disruptive to the health of the mouth, according to Connors. “This is similar to taking an antibiotic in the sense that it can be useful when there is an infection, but taking it too often can affect the immune system,” she explains. “Using mouthwash too often can disrupt the balance of good bacteria in the mouth.”
When using mouthwash, Rodgers recommends opting for one that’s alcohol-free, as alcohol-containing options often contain harsh chemicals that kill off the good bacteria and create a breeding ground for bad bacteria. Regardless of the product you choose, Cho recommends using it no more than twice a day.
3. Eat more fruit and vegetables
Research, including one study published in nutrients, has linked frequent consumption of fruits and vegetables to good oral health (and better quality of life, for that matter). Another study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, meanwhile found that eating foods high in fiber, especially fruit (apples, raspberries, and pears) helps reduce the progression of periodontal (gum) disease. “Fiber creates more saliva in the mouth, which helps get rid of excess food and offsets harmful acids,” explains Connors.
4. Simplify your skin-care routine
When it comes to skin-care, sometimes less is more. “Using too many products at once can throw off your pH balance, which may lead to noticeable issues or discomfort,” warns Dendy Engelman, M.D., cosmetic dermatologist at New York City’s Shafer Clinic.
Read More: 8 Things Your Skin Can Tell You About Your Health
If you’re experiencing inflammation, irritation, or other issues and can’t pinpoint a specific product or cause, Engelman recommends paring down your skin-care routine to the basics: a gentle cleansing oil or facial cleanser, a balancing toner or micellar water, and a lightweight but nourishing moisturizer with calming ingredients like ceramides, niacinamide, and hyaluronic acid. “Using too many topical actives can actually unbalance your microbiome,” she adds. If this doesn’t help, she suggests seeing your dermatologist for a proper evaluation.
5. Try a probiotic Supplement
According to Rodgers, taking a probiotic supplement not only benefits your gut microbiome but the bacterial balance in your mouth, too. This then supports healthy teeth, fresh breath, and other aspects of a thriving mouth environment, she says. While dosages vary based on the product, the typical range is from five to 10 billion CFUs for children and 10 to 20 billion CFUs for adults.
6. Consider probiotic skin-care
While more research needs to be done to better understand the role of using probiotics on the skin, some studies suggest that applying them directly can support an improvement in skin barrier function. “Many products used for acne treatment or anti-aging can be irritating or drying and probiotics can help balance out some of these potential side effects,” says Garshick. “Some probiotic strains, like Streptococcus thermophilus, can even help promote the production of ceramide, which is a naturally-occurring fat molecule that helps to strengthen the skin barrier and help with moisturizing the skin.” Not sure where to start with putting probiotics on your skin? Check out Shea Moisture Matcha Green Tea and Probiotic Soothing Eye Cream and Andalou Naturals Apricot Probiotic Cleansing Milk.