Urbanization leads to a huge decrease in skin bacterial diversity

Urbanization leads to a vast decrease in bacterial diversity and an increase in chemical diversity on the skin, a keynote lecture on the skin microbiome will reveal today at the 29th EADV Congress, EADV Virtual.

Urbanization is associated with reduced outdoor exposure, increased contact with housing materials, antimicrobials and cleaning products, and increased exposure to synthetic chemical diversity. Through urbanization, the natural human and plant-based molecules on the hands and skin are largely replaced by synthetic and cosmetic ingredients with an increase in potentially pathogenic bacteria, stress-tolerant bacteria, potentially pathogenic fungi and fungal biomass. These can have a profound impact on skin health and can be associated with typical Western skin pathologies.

Urbanization represents a profound shift in human behavior, with significant cultural and health-associated consequences. It is really interesting the see that indigenous people, such as African hunter-gatherers and Amerindians, never suffer from acne, eczema, psoriasis, skin allergies, oily skin, dry skin or even skin cancer. There might be something in their microbiome that protects them. We found huge losses of bacterial diversity on skin with urbanization, and more potentially pathogenic bacteria and fungi on Western skin. These can have a direct impact on our skin health. We have many things to learn from indigenous people, and should go back to basics in order to restore a healthy skin microbial equilibrium.”  

Dr Chris Callewaert, a senior postdoctoral research fellow of the Research Foundation - Flanders at Ghent University, Belgium, and postdoctoral research associate in the Knight lab at University of California, San Diego, USA

This study was a collaborative investigation by Dr Dominguez-Bello, Dr Knight, Dr Dorrestein, Dr Paulino, and many other leading researchers. It represents the first systematic investigation into the effects of urbanization on the skin microbiome and metabolome.

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