The big world of tiny bacteria with Mariya II

What if I told you that skin microbes can help you at the beach?

It’s time to meet again for your monthly dose of microbiome and probiotic research, and since it is summer, long desired and awaited, our subject concerns the most essential part of our summer vacations: going to the beach or pool and getting your suntan.

What’s better than the feeling of summer? Packing all the bags, leaving the laptops behind, and cheerfully hitting the beach. I love this period, the sun, the sea, the cocktails, and the feeling of being free and flying with the seagulls. Of course, the one goal on the beach is getting a suntan, the proof that you have been enjoying your vacation. And while some people, like my sister, simply tan in a couple of hours, I have to go through the painful redness phase. You know what I mean, when you are as scarlet as a lobster, and even the slightest touch feels like somebody is skinning you. So this got me wondering why I’m so different from my sister? After all, we share some common genes, so why do I turn red, but she always just gets a nice bronze tan? Of course, there are many genetic factors that can lead to this different response, but I couldn’t help wondering if we have diverse skin microbiota? Can our skin microbiota play a role in how we respond to sun radiation? What if some bacteria are more protective than others?

The skin microbiota are an essential part of our skin’s homeostasis,  its immune response, and alterations, such as those caused by the UV radiation we can undergo at the beach, change the microbe balance, potentially interrupting the skin’s homeostasis. This in turn can lead to inflammation and even more severe skin disorders. Emerging research suggests that the skin microbiota play an important role in reducing the negative effects of sun overexposure. It even appears that skin microbes might be better suited to withstanding long exposure to sunlight than human cells are. Interestingly, research has even shown that some bacteria can help with the secretion of melanin. As you also know, melanin is one of the most essential substances we secrete when exposed to the sun’s damaging UV radiation. It is also melanin that gives us a nice bronze tan. Therefore the capacity of bacterial strains to produce melanin as their own protection against UV radiation could be highly relevant to skin health. Although not yet scientifically proven, this may explain why my sister gets tan, and I get annoyingly red J The future of sun care may lie in understanding the power of our skin microbes.

So what to do when you burn badly, and your skin is not only red but so terribly painful that you can’t bear even the touch of your clothes? Well, I know that feeling well: last year I burned so badly that I got sick and ended up in bed for a day. In my family, this misfortune of mine now serves as a funny cautionary tale, namely What not to do on the beach J. So what we often do for a bad burn is apply yogurt to it. Of the many products on the market to calm and cool sunburned skin, yogurt is perhaps the one used most commonly by Bulgarians; I’ve been doing it since I was a kid. Come to think of it, why not yogurt? It’s packed with the Lactobacillus species, which may have a beneficial effect on your skin health. With the skin industry slowly turning to probiotics for various skin conditions (such as acne, psoriasis, wound healing, aging), the Lactobacillus species can also act as agents to help you recover from sunburn. Some studies have already shown the potential of probiotics in attenuating UV radiation-induced skin damage, preventing  photoaging, and improving the recovery of the skin immune homeostasis. For example, oral administration of Bifidobacterium longum in mice has been shown to prevent UV-induced transepidermal water loss and suppressed UV-induced increase in hydrogen peroxide levels, oxidation of proteins, and xanthine oxidase activity in the skin. These preliminary studies provide a good indication that probiotics can indeed mitigate the damaging effects of the sun after a long day at the beach. Since it will take time to market such products, I plan to stock my fridge with some yogurt the next time I get sunburned

So my advice this month is to enjoy the summer break, enjoy the sun, stay healthy, and use sun protection. And if by chance you burn very badly, remember: some yogurt can actually work wonders.

Have a fun but healthy summer!