Your skin is alive with visitors. Each square inch hosts millions of microbes…and that’s a good thing. Like the “good bugs” in your gut, the skin’s microbiome protects your health in many ways.

Consider skin bacteria. Some hold in water, helping to moisturize. Others protect you from ultraviolet light. But the most amazing benefit is the ability to help protect skin from infection by communicating with immune cells. A microbiome imbalance has been linked with eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, acne, poor wound healing, fungal infections—even plain old dandruff. On the horizon: Topical live “probiotics” that treat eczema and other skin conditions.

But there’s something we all can do now—protect this beautiful, elegant system. A healthy diet (fruits and veggies, little sugar, few refined carbs) and staying hydrated are essential but only the start…

Shower less often. You’re stripping your skin of natural moisturizers, literally washing away beneficial bacteria. If you now shower or bathe daily, try doing so every other day, even every third day. Tip: If you’re not particularly dirty or stinky, skip washing ­areas exposed to light and air such as your arms and neck.

Swear off antimicrobial soap. The FDA has banned triclosan, an ­antimicrobial compound, from soaps and cleansers. It kills “good” bugs and may promote antibiotic-resistance in “bad” bugs. But now some soap manufacturers have switched to other antimicrobials, and there’s no evidence that they are safer. What to buy: Soap that doesn’t mention killing microbes/bacteria on the label.

Wash lightly. Regular soap often is alkaline and can interfere with the natural acidity of skin, which is key to preventing the growth of harmful organisms. Even gentle soap can wash away beneficial bacteria if you use it too frequently. One product that won’t disturb skin microflora is Face & Body Cleanser from ­MotherDirt, which costs $15 (disclosure: the company is a sponsor of my blog).

Do wash your hands. Here’s an exception to the “wash less” idea—to prevent the spread of infection, wash your hands with soap and water, especially if you’re sick, you sneezed, you used the bathroom or you are going to handle food. Tip: If you’re not near soap and water, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is a good idea. Still, don’t overdo it—do you really need to squeeze that bottle 10 times a day?

Lotion up. I like lotions that contain ceramides, fats that are a natural constituent of skin cells and help repair the skin’s protective barrier. They help treat eczema and psoriasis (ask your doctor if you have one of those conditions).

Work up a sweat. Perspiration is good for your skin microflora. It is believed to act as a prebiotic—food that these critters feed on. Working up a sweat two or three times a week should help keep your skin happy.

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