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Factors Influencing the Microbiome

Researchers have shown that our lives truly do determine our microbiome. Automatically, several key questions come to mind:

  • How much does our workplace influence our microbiome?
  • Do sterile conditions improve or diminish their potential for healthy skin?
  • What factors have the strongest impact on our skin’s microbiome?

Though the above questions can be extremely hard to answer, the key takeaway is that changing our circumstances can have a drastic effect on the composition of our skin microbiome. And this section presents some of the most prominent factors which shape our skin’s microbiome and the diversity of it’s inhabitants.


Even though the skin is colonized with bacteria from birth, the initial microbiome has very low diversity across the body and is mainly determined by microbes present at the delivery site [1]. As we age, this microbiome develops and becomes more diverse. By the time we become adults, this diversity is of staggering complexity and varies drastically among individuals.

Throughout our lives we also undergo various hormonal and physiological changes. This includes things such as puberty, pregnancy, illness, and various other events. And all of these changes also have a significant impact on our microbiomes.


Your gender also plays a large role in determining your skin’s unique composition. This includes key physiological and anatomical differences such as sweat levels, sebum secretion rates and hormone production. Additionally, there are also less pronounced differences such as clothing choices, physical activity levels and typical skin care routines.


Even though only a portion of our unique microbiome is provided directly by our mothers, it appears that genetics still play a significant role in determining our unique microbiome.

This seems to be the result of the composition of our gland secretions and cellular makeup, which play a role determining the development of our microbial communities [2].


Various environmental factors also make a significant contribution to the diversity of your skin’s microbiome. This includes things such as our living spaces, occupations, clothing, diets, activity choices, antibiotic usage and some of the factors already mentioned (skin care routine, clothing) [3].

For example, one study determined that the average similarity in bacterial make-up of the palms of two individuals was only 13%. Surprisingly, even the similarity between our own two palms was determined to be on average only 17% [4]. However, individuals residing in the same home, have been shown to exhibit much more similarity between residents [5].

Section Summary

This section discussed some of the most prominent factors that shape your skin’s unique microbiome. Key points include:

  1. At birth the composition of the microbiome lacks diversity and is mainly determined by the microbes present at the delivery site
  2. Age and certain physiological changes (puberty, illness, pregnancy) can cause major change in our skin’s microbiome
  3. Gender and genetics influence key characteristics (sweat levels, sebum secretion rates, hormone production) of our skin and providing optimal livings conditions for certain microbes
  4. Your environment (living space, occupation, clothing, diet, etc.) controls which microbes are most frequently encountered and cultivated


  1. I Sarkany, C C Gaylarde "Bacterial colonisation of the skin of the newborn." The Journal of pathology and bacteriology 95.1 (1968): 115-22. PubMed
  2. Mauro Picardo, Monica Ottaviani, Emanuela Camera, Arianna Mastrofrancesco "Sebaceous gland lipids." Dermato-endocrinology 1.2 (2010): 68-71. PubMed
  3. Nina N Schommer, Richard L Gallo "Structure and function of the human skin microbiome." Trends in microbiology 21.12 (2013): 660-8. PubMed
  4. Elizabeth A Grice, Julia A Segre "The skin microbiome." Nature reviews. Microbiology 9.4 (2011): 244-53. PubMed
  5. Simon Lax, Daniel P Smith, Jarrad Hampton-Marcell, Sarah M Owens, Kim M Handley, Nicole M Scott, Sean M Gibbons, Peter Larsen, Benjamin D Shogan, Sophie Weiss, Jessica L Metcalf, Luke K Ursell, Yoshiki Vuezquez-Baeza, Will Van Treuren, Nur A Hasan, Molly K Gibson, Rita Colwell, Gautam Dantas, Rob Knight, Jack A Gilbert "Longitudinal analysis of microbial interaction between humans and the indoor environment." Science (New York, N.Y.) 345.6200 (2014): 1048-52. PubMed
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About Michael Anders

After being affected by seborrheic dermatitis, I have made it my goal to gather and organize all the information that has helped me in my journey.

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