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February 1, 2024

Do You Know Your Garden?

Kylie Myatt

You….wonderful unique you. We are so complex, so instinctive, intelligent and sentient and yet we do not know very much about ourselves, how we operate, how we should ‘BE’.

It has always intrigued me that this biological machine we call home for many decades runs without our sentient influence and awareness. We can, with easy ignorance, impede or nurture it.

Not so long ago we knew nothing of how it ran and even the most educated of us could only take a guess as to how best look after this incredible machine. Since then we have learnt many things with the most recent been that we are most definitely not alone. We are in fact a very deeply complex ecosystem of our own. Covered, its looking likely, completely through with tiny independently living organisms. And they aren’t just there hitching a free ride, they are, in fact integral to who we are. What is existing with you is uniquely you, a biological record of your life’s travels, decisions, journeys, illnesses and even the clothing you wear.

Getting to know this micro biome has been like discovering a fundamental part of the universe we missed and we are only just discovering the magnitude of what makes “US” us. Realising that this business of being alive isn’t done just by us alone, it is in fact a team game involving many many species all working together to keep you, you.

So just who are you cohabiting with? Well there’s yeasts, funguses, bacteria, viruses, dermadexes, spiders, worms and more. They have their ideal neighbourhoods, wants and needs, they compete, have wars, they are even capable of mass genocide if provoked but really their most important asset is you and keeping you well. For this part they really do all need to work together and do their part. They help to modulate (and indeed your skin also adjusts to keep its garden alive and well) the skin activities that help them live. Keeping the local environment within narrow tolerances of pH, sebaceous activity, aridity, water content and the rate of desquamation (surface dead cell loss). Different species will inhabit different areas of the body depending on the above parameters that they like.

Take Cutibacterium acnes for example, happily living its life on your skin surface feeding on your oils continuously being produced amongst your skin cells, skin follicles and oil pores. But it’s not alone and other species also compete for this resource. In fact everyone that lives on your skin is quite happy for C acnes to not be allowed to get too much of a hold population wise.

You see C acnes can be rather spiteful and produce compounds deliberately to kill off other species and even to alert your own immune system to attack the competing species it doesn’t like. If its numbers get too (particularly a type C variety) high it also causes that nasty breakout we all dislike. Most of the time C acnes stays fairly constant in population but your actions can be favourable to it increasing greatly in numbers. Overuse of surfactants while unfavourable to C acnes initially will induce the skin to produce more oil quickly – therefore more food for C acnes and up its numbers will go. All the while it is producing compounds to ward off other species. “I’m not ready to share” being its predominant mantra.

Dermadex too likes to live in hair follicles, a plump caterpillar like animal that looks like it does indeed enjoy a good gorging on oils.

Staphylococcal aureus (S. aureus) poplulations on the skin are known to be double on areas of the skin suffering atopic dermatitis and S. aureus can evade immune system attack rather cleverly while at the same time increasing immune attack on other species to have more real estate for itself. This is a clear reason we have success treating skin suffering from this condition by looking at the microbiome population likely to be causing the skin inflammation and irritation with dermatitis.

The urge to shower and be clean is quite strong among us and this action is important to balancing out those microbiome numbers. Giving everyone some breathing room and a fair advantage to make a claim on your skin again, a clean slate, debris and waste gone, invaders removed and cosmetic remnants washed away.

Without cleansing our skin becomes a very busy place, built up not only with all species alive on you but their dead relatives as well, all their waste and all yours as well. It’s no wonder that itchy skin or tiny rashes and breakouts can develop.

We need to be mindful that while antibacterial products have their place we don’t necessarily want to be using them everyday and unknowingly killing off that garden we have. You see all these species guide your skin on how much oil to make, what possible invaders you have, which if any anti microbial peptides need to be made and a constant flow of signals from cell to cell monitoring and maintaining the desired homeostasis’ of the skin. Many of the species on your skin right now are producing the right kind of fatty acids and compounds that make up your healthy skin oils, the cement thta holds your skin surface cells together or the entry and existing of compounds into yourn deeper skin cells. The same is happening in your gut, your blood, your organs, you name it, they are there.

For my line of work I need to make sure my products do not kill the micro biome. Am I promoting or inhibiting favourable or unfavourable species. How can I dampen an unfavourable species growth? Rather than actually directly killing it and hence other species as well I look at what conditions in this skin have changed to enable this species to flourish? Can this be reversed?

Things like preservatives exist specifically to make sure no microorganisms can live or thrive at all and I need to make considerations in preservative choice that I do not want them also capable of killing the skin micro biome. Preservatives can be species specific and have key target areas they interrupt to halt that species growth. For many decades it was all about killing microorganisms as we all suffered, often fatally so, at their presence. Understandably, but mistakenly, we misunderstood at the time the full magnitude of their purpose and also just how astoundingly diverse their niche roles are. Increasingly over recent years you can choose niche behaviours for preservatives due to dedicated like minded people doing very exciting research.

We hear a lot about gut health and certainly this is where the lions share of modern knowledge is emerging from. It has spawned us to look elsewhere in the body to see if there is a micro biome there as well and now we are racing along to understand the huge possibilities this brings forward. So far for the gut we are learning we are indeed what we eat.

“This species does this…its behaviours are unfavourable to your health…you bring its numbers down by not eating the foods it needs to eat. To promote favourable species you consume the foods they need to eat to increase their numbers”

“What you nurture grows”

What are you growing right now? Are they helping you? Do you need different residents? How to encourage them to move in and multiply? For our skin inhabitants this comes down to how often you use antimicrobial products like cleansers with anti septics, antibiotics, heavily acidic products like AHA’s and salon peels. Treatments that heavily exfoliate the surface like dermabrasions and lasers, UV light exposure and heavily synthetic products containing lots of foreign compounds that cannot be utilized or broken down, that instead accumulate, block and inhibit. Keeping away from shimmery products that cover the skin in micro sized glitters. Products that have expiration dates years away knowing the preservative and synthetic loads have to be strong and high to allow such longevity.

A natural product isn’t just natural in how it’s made but it’s natural in how it interacts with the world around it, both large and visible and small and invisible.

I have written this today seated at a window that overlooks snow and fir trees. Everything is still and quiet, yet so beautiful and peaceful. This article has lived a long while in my head, asking periodically to come out and allow space for new ideas. Today it seems was the day. I am going now to pull on boots and a jacket and walk in that snow that has helped me write this last few hours.



Meet Kylie Myatt 

I keep skincare simple and enjoyable for this stage. Not too many steps but each step is immersive with smells and textures you can’t wait to try again. It’s to bring your mind in, make it still and take a breath before you exit that bathroom.

This is the first part of my work as your skincare maker complete. But really my work is about what your skincare is doing on your skin for the rest of the day. Making it grow healthy, undamaged and unhindered by harsh chemicals.