When it comes to personal hygiene, young children are often warned to wash thoroughly behind their ears, feet and belly button. This age-old advice, which many people already know from their grandmothers, makes perfect sense, according to a recent study. Because these areas of the body have the best conditions for harmful microorganisms.
A working group at George Washington University (USA) recently demonstrated in a study that the skin behind the ears and between the toes harbors particularly large numbers of microbes that are potentially harmful to health. The research results were recently presented in the journal “Frontiers in Microbiology”.
The skin microbiome is not the same throughout the body
Bacteria populate our skin. The entirety of microbes is called the microbiome. This skin microbiome could play an important role in the health of our skin. According to the current study, however, the bacteria present differ in the individual regions of the body. Above all, whether a skin region is dry, moist or oily has an influence on the types of bacteria.
The team led by Professor Marcos Pérez-Losada and Professor Keith Crandall investigated for the first time whether different bacteria colonize in areas of the body that are washed less often than in areas of the body that are washed frequently.
Show me your feet
The researchers took swabs from behind the ears, between the toes and in the navel area from 129 students and compared them with samples from frequently washed areas of the body such as calves and forearms.
Parts of the body that are not washed much are more susceptible to pathogens
Analysis of the samples showed that the microbiome on the forearms and calves had a greater diversity of different bacteria. A diverse microbiome is considered to be more balanced and less susceptible to pathogens. The samples taken from behind the ears, between the toes and from the belly button, on the other hand, contained fewer types of bacteria and were therefore more susceptible to pathogens.
“When certain microbes take control of the microbiome, they can tip the balance to the detriment of health,” explains Professor Crandall. This can cause skin diseases such as eczema or acne.
What role do skin bacteria play in our health?
The working group concludes that a person’s cleansing habits can change the skin’s microbiome and therefore the health of the skin.
According to the research team, the study is the first to examine the diversity of the skin microbiome in healthy adults. According to Professor Crandall, little is currently known about how the bacteria that live on the skin affect our health. (vb)