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You've heard of the gut-brain connection, but what about the gut-skin connection? Here's what experts say.

The more we learn about the importance of gut health, the more we learn about its impact on other parts of our body. The connection between gut and brain health has gotten a lot of attention — but have you heard of the gut-skin connection?

Experts say our gut microbiome also plays a role in our skin health, from influencing certain conditions to aiding in wound healing.

"We have learned over the past few years that the gut-skin connection is actually stronger than we ever believed in the past," Renata Block, a physician assistant at Advanced Dermatology & Aesthetic Medicine in Chicago, told CBS News.

While the gut microbiome refers to the trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungi living in our intestines, our skin has its own microbiome that helps protect us.

"Skin is the largest organ of the human body, and ... is a first-line barrier from the outer environment," Block explains. "We have to have a balance between the two for them to regulate and connect."

"The microbiome within the skin and the gut keeps us healthy. It keeps our immune system in check, and if the immune system is out of check then it's kind of like a wreak-havoc kind of moment, if you will, and this inflammatory response ... it's just a response of the body just being out of balance."

How can our gut affect our skin?

The microbiome plays an important role in a "wide variety of skin disorders," from acne to dandruff and even skin cancer, according to a 2021 study.

"Not only is the skin microbiome altered, but also surprisingly many skin diseases are accompanied by an altered gut microbiome," the study authors note. "The microbiome is a key regulator for the immune system, as it aims to maintain homeostasis by communicating with tissues and organs."

So when a healthy balance is disrupted in the skin or gut microbiome, an imbalance called dysbiosis occurs which can alter the immune response and prompt the development of skin diseases like eczema, the most common of which is called atopic dermatitis.

"We're learning that eczema can be exacerbated if we do have a gut dysbiosis or leaky gut," Block says. "But we're also learning because of the inflammation that this dysbiosis causes there are other inflammatory diseases." 

These include:

  • Psoriasis, a disease that causes itchy, scaly patches on the skin
  • Seborrheic dermatitis, which Block describes as "a fancy word for dandruff on the skin"
  • Rosacea
  • Vitiligo
  • Hidradenitis suppurativa, or HS

"(HS) is a condition where you get these huge boils that are very, very painful... and they can be chronic and uncomfortable, but we're learning the microbiome may play a role in that as well," Block says.

She stresses the importance of the microbiome within the skin and the gut in keeping us healthy. 

"It keeps our immune system in check, and if the immune system is out of check then it wreaks havoc... (with) this inflammatory response, and it's just a response of the body being out of balance."

How to support your gut-skin connection

Luckily there are things you can do to support your gut and skin health individually, which can lead to a positive gut-skin connection.

In addition to eating a healthy, balanced diet — which experts agree is vital in supporting our gut microbiome — there are also ways to protect your skin's microbiome. 

"The skin is the barrier to the outside world, and keeping that barrier healthy is the most important thing," Block says, explaining when our skin barrier is broken down there's an increased risk of infections or pathogens entering the body through the skin.

How can you keep a healthy barrier? Block suggests:

  • Toning down hot showers — Go easy on your skin.
  • Using gentle cleansers — "Don't strip the skin too much of the barrier that we have on the outside," she says, adding not to over-exfoliate or use harsh exfoliating agents either. 
  • Post-shower recovery — After getting out of the shower, use a moisturizer rich in ceramides, a type of fat molecule naturally found in skin cells. "(It) is going to replace all the that moisture back into the body and keep that skin healthy," she says.  
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