How Cosmetic Use Changes the Microbiome

Almost everyone in developed countries uses cosmetics, from body washes to make-up. In the US, the cosmetics industry makes over $56 billion dollars in revenue. As a society, we use a lot of personal care products. And in order for those products to have a useful shelf-life, they contain antimicrobials – no one wants to open their hair gel and find a fuzzy patch in there.

But just like how antibiotics have had a huge impact on human microbiota, especially in terms of resistance, I wondered how antimicrobial use in cosmetics affect our skin microbiota. It has an effect, no doubt, but is it significant and can we say anything about positive or negative effects on human health? Should it be as huge a concern as antibiotic use? And how prevalent is antimicrobial use in everyday products or even food?

The most recent antimicrobial to get attention from the public was Triclosan, which is used in a variety of everyday products, including personal care items. Triclosan has been correlated with allergies and has raised worries of antibiotic resistance. However, there are other antimicrobials in products we regularly use on our skin. For instance, titanium dioxide is widely used in food and personal care items primarily as an anti-fungal. There are a few studies researching the effect of using products containing titanium dioxide, but even fewer of these examine the effect on the skin microbiome. In fact, a lot of skin microbiome research can be summarized as follows:

The human skin microbiota can be affected by many environmental factors, such as temperature, humidity, pH, exposure to air and light, and host factors, such as genetic background, body locations, gender, immune response, hygiene habit, use of antibiotics and antimicrobial detergent, and cosmetic use.

Unsurprisingly, fungi (like yeast), have started developing resistance to common anti-fungals used in cosmetics.

It shouldn’t be surprising by now that antimicrobial resistance is so prolific in our human environment. It is always surprising to become aware of where these antimicrobial compounds exist.

5 thoughts on “How Cosmetic Use Changes the Microbiome

  1. Great article addressing an important point. There seems to be triclosan in a very wide range of cosmetic products.

    Here is an older paper (2011) that does not specifically addresses the effect of triclosan, but looked at the effect of make-up on diversity of skin microbiota.

    Molecular analysis of the prevalent microbiota of human male and female forehead skin compared to forearm skin and the influence of make-up
    T. Staudinger, A. Pipal and B. Redl – Journal of Applied Microbiology 2011

  2. There seems to be a surprisingly low number of papers on this topic. Here are a couple of other ones:

    Quantitative effect of face washing on cutaneous resident microbiota in female subjects who wear make-up
    Shigeki Numata et al., Journal of Dermatology 2012

    Deodorants and antiperspirants affect the axillary bacterial community
    Chris Callewaert, Prawira Hutapea, Tom Van de Wiele, Nico Boon, Archives of Dermatological Research 2014

    Triclosan Promotes Staphylococcus aureus Nasal Colonization
    Adnan K. Syed et al., mBio 2014

    1. Thanks for the links! Actually, the Callewaert et al paper is what got me thinking about the topic. I’ll give these a read!

Leave a Reply

Alex Alexiev

Alex Alexiev is a recent UC Davis graduate with a BS in microbiology working in Jonathan Eisen’s lab on aquariums as part of the microbiology of the built environment.