Environmental Toxins: How to Reduce Exposure + Support a Healthy Skin Microbiome
Do you know what your microbiome is exposed to on a daily basis?
While there are still a lot of unknowns about the microbiome, we do know this: your environment matters. And exposure to environmental toxins can create a domino of negative effects. What you expose your skin microbiome to will innately affect the gut microbiome, and vice versa.
You might think we're referring to car emissions, stuffy subways, or smog, but most of the environmental toxins you're exposed to are concentrated inside your home.
That’s why it’s vital to swap out products you surround yourself with. So you can avoid an excess of environmental toxins from congregating in your home + the air you breathe.
Especially as seasons shift and you’re spending more time indoors, it’s time to be extra mindful of what you’re bringing into your home. Surrounding yourself with the right environment can support a healthy skin microbiome + happy gut.
What Is the Microbiome?
To understand the importance of taking care of your microbiome, you’ll want to understand exactly what it is + the role it plays.
This quote from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences sums it up perfectly:1
“The microbiome is the collection of all microbes, such as bacteria, fungi, viruses, and their genes, that naturally live on our bodies and inside us.”
You basically have a mini ecosystem present in your body.
Pretty cool, huh? In fact, you have as much bacteria in your body as you do cells. How’s that for mind-blowing?!2
Your microbiome plays an important role by directly communicating with tissues and organs to:3,1
- Protect you against pathogens
- Assist your immune system
- Enable you to digest food + produce energy
There are different microbiomes in your body, each with its own “community”:
→ Oral cavity
→ Nasal cavity
A key thing to be aware of: there are both good and bad microbes. But you want more good microbes to maintain homeostasis (+ a healthy skin microbiome). It’s similar to the gut – balance keeps it happy.
→ So what do environmental toxins have to do with your skin microbiome?
Studies show environmental toxins have a direct connection to your microbiome. So too much exposure to toxins can throw off the balance of your microbiome. In the first years of life, your “core” microbiome forms. But over time, it’s altered by lifestyle factors like:1
- Environmental exposures
While all the microbiome communities within your body are impacted by environmental toxins, in this post we’re going to focus on the gut + skin microbiome. Let’s unpack why (+ how) environmental toxins can affect a whole lot more than just your skin.
Your Environment + the Impact on Your Skin (And Body)
There are a host of environmental toxins that can affect your body on a microbial level (aka disrupting your skin microbiome). Here’s what you should know when it comes to environmental toxins, your microbiome, and your gut.
Your exposure depends on the type of environment you’re surrounded by. This is essential to consider.
Your environment includes:
- The physical space around you
→ All the people or things you interact with regularly
- What you breathe in from the air
→ Products sprayed or released into the air
→ How air is filtered + humidity levels
→ Any potential mold growth
- What gets absorbed through your skin
→ Personal products you use daily
- What you consume
→ The foods + drinks you choose
- How much time you spend inside vs. outside
→ There are vastly different microbiomes outside vs. inside
- Environmental exposures
→ Pollutants + free radicals present in the environment around you
All of these things added together = the environment your microbiome is exposed to every day. You may not be able to pinpoint all of these environmental toxins – like pollutants and free radicals. But painting a clearer picture can go a long way in supporting healthy choices + a cleaner environment.
How Environmental Toxins Affect Your Microbiome
As you might guess, toxins from the environment aren’t good for your skin microbiome – or your body. They can even alter the makeup and metabolism of your gut bacteria.4 So what you surround yourself with matters.
The bad news: exposure to environmental toxins is linked to a variety of health problems like:4
The good news: exposure to healthy outdoor environments can counteract the impact of environmental toxins on your skin microbiome + gut. A study in Finland found the skin microbiome in children differed greatly depending on if they lived in an urban or rural environment.5
Thankfully, nature impacts our skin microbiome in a very tangible + helpful way. Multiple studies have confirmed that a rural environment exposes you to a higher microbial diversity – leading to a healthier and more balanced microbiome.4 Your skin microbiome is even affected by environmental conditions like temperature, humidity, and sunlight.
So if these toxins affect your skin microbiome (and your body) negatively, what can you do about it?
Here are the best ways to protect your microbiome + avoid environmental toxins.
How to Protect Your Skin Microbiome From Environmental Toxins
Though environmental toxins are rampant in today’s culture, there are still many ways to lessen their impact. Here’s how to create a safer environment for you and your loved ones – especially indoors.
We’ll focus on the main categories you should prioritize to protect your skin microbiome.
Swap Out Products That Contain Toxins
You’ll want to consider products that will live in your air, on the surfaces of your home, and make their way onto (or in) your body. Are they safe enough to live in your environment?
→ HOME PRODUCTS
When it comes to environmental toxins, the products you use in your home are a critical starting place. If you do nothing else, this is a powerful way to begin to eliminate exposure to environmental toxins.
The air inside your home is far more concentrated than the outdoors – so the effects are amplified.6 Not to mention, most people spend about 90% of their time indoors.
Environmental toxins are hidden in products like:
Swapping all these products can feel overwhelming – start with one or two and change the others as you use them up.
But how do you know exactly which ones are pumping environmental toxins into your home? Here are some products and ingredients to look out for:
- Triclosan – studies show it directly affects your gut microbiome’s ability to function against stress, antibiotics, and heavy metals.7
- Aerosols – this chemical propellant usually carries carcinogenic ingredients like butane, propane, and isobutane.
- Fragrances – a proprietary term that companies use in their ingredient list to hide harmful chemicals.
- Bleach – can cause damage to the GI tract and immune system – even with “passive exposure.”8
- Flame retardants – early exposure can have a lifelong impact on your disease risk. (Most often found in furniture and fabrics – especially baby products.)9
→ SKIN CARE PRODUCTS
This is a common topic at Primally Pure, but for good reason. What you put on your skin – the largest organ of your body – can be absorbed into your bloodstream. Opt for clean, natural skincare products, avoiding toxins + harmful chemicals at all costs. These are some of the biggest hitters when it comes to minimizing environmental toxins:
- Heavy metals
Protect your delicate skin microbiome from these environmental toxins – many of which are known endocrine disruptors and carcinogens.
Now that we’ve covered what goes on your skin + in the air you breathe, let’s talk about hygiene.
Don’t Obsess Over Hygiene
Proper hygiene is a balance. American culture has become too “scared” of the natural bacteria we’re supposed to have on our skin! Studies have shown that harsh urban hygiene habits + Western lifestyles lessen the diversity in your skin microbiome.3
These are our best tips for balanced hygiene:
- Hot baths – instead of washing the skin too often, baths are a great alternative. You can still soak in the soothing effects of an Epsom salt soak, without stripping the skin.
- Gentle + Nourishing Soaps – too much cleansing with harsh surfactants or abrasive exfoliation harms your skin’s microbiome. A gentle soap is all you need to get clean.
- Dry Shampoo – it’s okay to skip hair washing day. ;) Just like your skin, your scalp doesn’t need constant cleansing. It’s naturally balancing if you support it with gentle products.
- Wash your face 1x/day – there’s really no need to wash your face multiple times per day. A cleanse at the end of the day is great, but when you wake up, a rinse with water is perfect.
Plus, letting your skin balance itself saves you time + energy. It’s a win-win. Another simple way to protect your skin microbiome from environmental toxins: spend time outside.
Get Outside More
Knowing that an urban environment can lessen the diversity of our microbiome, it makes sense that getting outside in nature positively increases your microbiome.
Here are the best ways to get outside more – or bring the outside in. ;)
- Grounding/Earthing – a powerful way to reset your body’s electrical charge to work more efficiently against toxins.
- Forest Bathing – the practice of spending meditative, intentional time outside to soak up nature’s calming + healing powers.
- Essential Oils – bring outside in with a non-toxic candle or diffuse an organic essential oil blend.
This is the beauty of nature – it’s made to heal us. Not only do you get the mental + emotional benefits of time spent in nature, you also lessen your exposure to concentrated environmental toxins that live indoors. But let’s not overlook the role of your gut in protecting against toxins.
Clean Up Your Gut
Science has shown there’s a direct gut and skin connection. An imbalance in the gut can lead to impaired function of both the gut and skin barriers.3
Here are the best ways to clean up your gut + equip it to handle environmental toxins:
- Reduce stress – stress has a direct impact on the health of your body + gut. The more you can focus on calming thoughts + activities, your gut will thrive.
- Focus on whole foods and superfoods – prioritize foods packed with nutrients, probiotics, and healthy fats – like raw milk.
- Eliminate (or reduce) inflammatory items – avoid seed oil, gluten, sugar, and alcohol to give your gut a break.
- Hydrate to help move waste out of the body through your kidneys + digestive system.
Practice Regular Detoxes
Your body is built to detox from environmental toxins – you have a lot of built-in detox pathways. But with how prevalent environmental toxins are in our modern world, your body can't always keep up.
Here are some ways to boost your body’s natural ability to detox:
- Autophagy – a natural process that allows the body to get rid of damaged cell parts and replace them with new cell parts. Autophagy is triggered during sleep or exercise, and especially when we’re in a fasted state.
- Lymphatic drainage – an excellent way to help your body kickstart detox from environmental toxins.
- Sweat more – sweat encourages the release of toxins from your body + gives you a boost of feel-good energy.
With a little help, your body will continue to detox + learn to regulate, even with environmental toxins. Truthfully, a world without environmental toxins doesn’t exist. But supporting your body’s ability to detox is the next best option.
PS – By reducing the environmental toxins you're exposed to, you'll be rewarded with a healthy skin microbiome. The biggest bonus side effect? It encourages clear, radiant, and hydrated skin. ;)
Bonus: Resource Section
We get it. Reducing toxins in any form can feel all-encompassing and impossible to know where to start. So we wanted to provide some resources to help you clean up environmental toxins + strengthen your microbiome.
Here are a few in-depth resources to guide your journey:
1. Toss the Toxins Course by Branch Basics – this guided online course gives you step-by-step instructions on how to assess + cleanse your life of environmental toxins. We love and trust Branch Basics’ stance on detoxing your life.
2. 4 Chemicals to Look Out For On Your Skincare Labels – find more details on the most common chemicals you’ll want to avoid in your skincare products.
3. 10 Ways to Strengthen Your Microbiome – this post is written by the founder of our friends, Branch Basics. She’s a fountain of knowledge when it comes to strengthening your microbiome to better protect you + your family’s health.
4. How to Spot Greenwashing – dive deep into all the behind-the-scenes info you need for reading labels to avoid being tricked into buying not-so-clean products.
5. Hidden Toxins In Your Home – explore toxic home products on a deeper level to know exactly what to look out for. You’ll gain a better understanding of why ingredients matter – especially in your home products.
6. Q&A with Expert Toxicologist – a professional toxicologist provides the real, unbiased truth on the effects of toxic chemicals + your health.
Use these resources as additional support in your journey to clean up your environmental exposures. Little by little, these changes add up.
Start Your Journey to Live a Little Lighter With Less Toxic Burden
Admittedly, it’d be hard to address every single environmental toxin that exists in your life. But remind yourself that your body IS naturally equipped to fight toxins. It’s all about how you support it + eliminate exposure where you can.
So while addressing environmental toxins can feel like an overwhelming to-do list, don’t get discouraged. Every single swap you make is an important one, bringing you and your family one step closer to a cleaner, safer environment. You’re boosting a healthier microbiome + better quality of life.
Start with your home products – what can you swap today that would help reduce environmental toxins? And if you're wondering what home products you should use instead, you know we've got you covered. Shop our collection of non-toxic products here.
You deserve it,
- National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences | Microbiome
- PLOS Biology | Revised Estimates for the Number of Human and Bacteria Cells in the Body
- National Library of Medicine | Human Skin Microbiome: Impact of Intrinsic and Extrinsic Factors on Skin Microbiota
- National Library of Medicine | The Gut Microbiota: A Major Player in the Toxicity of Environmental Pollutants?
- National Library of Medicine | Patterns in the Skin Microbiota Differ in Children and Teenagers Between Rural and Urban Environments
- United States Environmental Protection Agency | The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality
- National Library of Medicine | Profound Perturbation Induced by Triclosan Exposure in Mouse Gut Microbiome: A Less Resilient Microbial Community With Elevated Antibiotic and Metal Resistomes
- National Library of Medicine | Domestic Use of Bleach and Infections in Children: A Multicentre Cross-Sectional Study
- National Library of Medicine | Neonatal Exposure to BPA, BDE-99, and PCB Produces Persistent Changes in Hepatic Transcriptome Associated With Gut Dysbiosis in Adult Mouse Livers
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