Jessica Defino & Paul Schulick Talk Microbiome Health

Join industry great, Jessica DeFino, and our founder, Paul Schulick, as they explain everything you⁠ need to know about the skin microbiome, fermentation, and how the right skincare can help you combat the negative effects of modern life on your skin.

Get the full transcript below:

Jess: (02:11)
Hi, my name is Jessica DeFino. I am a reporter in the beauty industry and I focus on natural, holistic, sustainable skincare. I'm here with Paul Schulick, the founder of For The Biome. And we're going to have a little chat about the microbiome and all that it does for us and for our skin. Paul, to start, do you want to give, I know it's hard to do a brief overview of 1 trillion microorganisms, but can you give us a brief overview of what the skin microbiome is?

Paul: (02:45)
Yes. Thank you, Jessica. It's a real pleasure as always to be with you. Most of us, when we think about the microbiome, we think about what resides in our gut. And overall, there is obviously hundreds of billions of different beings residing in our gut. There are viruses, there are bacteria, there are fungi, all kinds of microscopic life. And what many people are unaware of is that's also on our skin.

Paul: (03:24)
And the health of our skin is correlated now to the term biodiversity. And what that means is that the more diverse your population is, the healthier your skin. So if you have many, many different species that are all living with each other, there's always just like in life, there's always competition for resources. But there's also cooperation for resources. Just like the reason for Homo sapiens' success, one of my favorite books is Sapiens by Harari, it is all about the  willingness and capability to cooperate with each other.

Paul: (04:26)
Well, the same happens on a microscopic level. The more we have cooperation versus competition that we utilize these different resources. So there's a few hundred species. In fact, there's more diverse populations apparently on the skin than there are in the gut. There's more total population in your gut, but it's a more uniform environment.

Paul: (04:58)
Whereas the environment on your skin, there's dry spots like deserts. And then there's rain forest areas like under your arms and other areas, your nose. We can all imagine the different potentials where microscopic life enjoys living. So, when these beings ... There's a term, another term besides biodiversity, that more people will not know. And that term is commensal, C-O-M-M-E-N-S-A-L. And commensals are the populations that we don't really know what they're doing or why they're doing it, but they're doing it. And the healthiest skin in the world are in populations where you have the greatest diversity. And many of these commensals are living in somewhat harmony with each other. And they're creating from our diet. We secrete oils in our skin. And in those oils or in that environment, the dead skin cells, all these different things that are going on, are feeding and nourishing.

Paul: (06:22)
However, interestingly, when we eat a diet, which is highly refined and highly processed, what happens is it favors a less biodiverse population. And not only that, but when we're living a modern lifestyle, which uses these things a lot. Have you ever seen one of these before?

Jess: (06:53)
A few times.

Paul: (06:54)
Yeah. For me, it's unfortunately like 20 times an hour. I do my best to reduce it. But the attention, the constant attending to this, what it does is it changes your mental state and makes you inherently more likely to not be able to focus. So our attention span over the past 10 years, even according to a Microsoft study, drops from 12 seconds average to about eight seconds. And what that's doing is creating a more chaotic mind. And what that means is you're going to have a more chaotic nervous system. And that also influences your commensal bacteria and other beings that are living on your skin.

Paul: (07:52)
So the keys are to work on the mind, work on the mind to be calmer. Look at your phone a little less frequently. Be mindful that every time you are looking at it, you are influencing your physiology. And then the other thing is to exercise.

Paul: (08:15)
And I just read a study yesterday actually about all the things that we're told are good for us, watch how you're stressing yourself, watch that you're eating well, make sure you're getting your exercise. All of those things have been recently affirmed.

Jess: (08:35)
Yeah. It's funny that we even need to affirm those things. I remember in our last conversation, you said so much of it is common sense.

Paul: (08:44)
That's it.

Jess: (08:45)
And I love that. I love that because thinking about the microbiome, it's a complicated topic, but it doesn't have to be. Especially with a lot of the terms that you just used in that description, like biodiversity. It's such a great metaphor. We can use the Earth and what we're seeing happening as a perfect indicator of how our microbiomes work and the intervention of our modern lifestyles. That's clearly not been doing great things for the planet. Same for our skin. Just like when there's less biodiversity in the soil, it's not good for the soil. Same for our skin.

Jess: (09:23)
And I think people are grasping that concept in terms of climate change and how the Earth operates a little bit more these days. And if we can kind of shift that consciousness to say the same thing is happening on your body, it's a turning point for understanding.

Paul: (09:39)
That's perfectly said, Jessica. Let me ask you a question.

Jess: (09:44)

Paul: (09:44)
Do you like science fiction?

Jess: (09:46)
Yeah, I do.

Paul: (09:48)
Okay. So I'm going to tell you something that almost sounds like it's science fiction, but it's real in that your skin is actually a communicating system with the rest of your body. And the microbiome that's on your skin is also communicating. And one of the scientists referred to, as I may have said this last time, that there's this term, that's now being recognized. It's called inter-kingdom signaling. Doesn't that sound kind of cool?

Jess: (10:27)

Paul: (10:28)
So we now know that many of these microscopic organisms, not only are they communicating with each other and determining friend from foe, but they're also communicating with our human cells. And there are cells like many, many people have heard about the strains of lactobacillus that for example, make yogurt, like acidophilus. Well, there are strains of lactobacillus like reuteri for example, which we use in our skin products. Reuteri has been shown to up-regulate oxytocin. So you can actually, through inter-kingdom signaling and being a wise farmer and living a good lifestyle, you can actually create a whole different host of neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, all those feel-good molecules. They can all be generated through the microbiome of your skin. And that's why we refer to our products as Sentient Skincare.

Jess: (11:55)
I love that. I was doing some research on the microbiome for an article that I wrote a little bit ago. And one of the books I was reading mentioned how the organisms on our skin are giving off these chemical signals all the time. Just like what you were talking about. And some of them, they're involved in all of our interactions. But even in how we respond to other human beings, your chemical signals interacting with somebody else's chemical signals and that can give you feelings of friendship or love, or maybe warn you like, "Okay, this is not somebody I really want to be interacting with."

Jess: (12:29)
And it got my wheels turning, and it just made me think of all that we don't know about how these organisms work too. And maybe it's connected to what we think of as intuition. Maybe this is another kind of gut-skin synergy that we just haven't really thought about yet. And it's really fascinating to see the research that you are talking about start to support some of those concepts. But you're right. It does sound like science fiction.

Paul: (12:56)
That's beautiful. Have you ever heard the expression, "He or she makes my skin crawl."

Jess: (13:03)
Yes. Oh, I love that. That's such a good example.

Paul: (13:06)
And how about this one, have you ever heard this expression? "He or she gives me goosebumps."

Jess: (13:13)

Paul: (13:13)
Right? And how long does that take?

Jess: (13:18)
It's like that. 

Paul: (13:18)
Thank you. It happens in a flash.

Jess: (13:22)
Before you even process it, and before you can process the thought and realize, "I have goosebumps," you already have goosebumps. It happens before you are aware of it.

Paul: (13:31)
It happens at the speed of light. That's how fast this whole thing is happening. And the amazing thing is that when you go through a period ... I don't know if you've ever been, have you ever been angry? Have you ever gotten angry at all?

Jess: (13:48)
Yeah, just a few times.

Paul: (13:52)
You haven't had that experience. Well, if you ever get angry or you ever get afraid, what happens is your body immediately feels it. And there's evidence that within hours, the microbiome has a shift. And so that's why it's so important that we mind what's going on in our mind. It's a really, really important feature.

Paul: (14:16)
And then the other piece, so many people, and again, forgive me if we've talked about this before, but so many people are putting stuff on their skin, which you would not want to eat. And just remember that whatever you're putting on your skin ... I don't know if you saw that study that was done on sunscreen. And people think of that whatever they put on their skin, "Oh, it's just going to be on my skin," but they don't realize how permeable this system is.

Jess: (14:55)
And we make it more permeable with modern skincare.

Paul: (14:59)

Jess: (14:59)
I'm amazed by what we put on our faces and our bodies. We're trying to exfoliate, we're trying to get rid of layers, we want things to sink into our pores. And that's not necessarily how it's supposed to work. 

Paul: (15:14)
Exactly. I was stunned, Jessica. When I started really studying the ingredients in popular topical products, how many of the ingredients were being used as what's referred to in the literature as penetration enhancers?

Jess: (15:35)
Yes. I knew you were going to say that. That is my pet peeve with skincare. If your skin wanted to be penetrated, it would have that natural function.

Paul: (15:45)
That's what is the epitome of human hubris. And again, our ancestors in many cases, not always, but in many cases had a lot more wisdom and common sense. We talked about this. Do you really want to put something that you would never want to put on your tongue or in your mouth, why would you want to put it on your skin?

Paul: (16:17)
So, yeah, I think the microbiome for me is a reminder. It's a humbling experience for me, more than anything I'd say. It's a reminder of one the most exciting and interesting themes that you can really just every time you look at your skin. You can zoom out, like in the movies, or you can zoom in like with an electron microscope and see this unbelievable stuff going on. But if you zoom out, you will see that the evolution of the human being is 100% interconnected and interdependent. You can't live without the microbiome or only for a short time. So, that's why it's so critical that we humble ourselves and appreciate. I concern myself more than anything, a farmer of my microbiome. I'm its servant.

Jess: (17:31)
I love that. I think appreciation is such a perfect word for it because the more that you know about the microbiome and you understand how it works and you understand all that it does for you, at least for me, the more reverence I have for it. And the less I want to mess with it. I understand, "Oh my gosh, there's so much intelligence happening on the surface of my skin that can't possibly outsmart. No product can possibly outsmart this. So why don't I just kind of let it do its thing."

Jess: (18:01)
But I think it brings us to an interesting point, which is modern lifestyle and modern skincare does not support the microbiome the way it needs to be supported. And that's where something like what you create with For The Biome can come in and help you counteract these lifestyle and skincare choices that have maybe degraded the microbiome and help build it back up.

Paul: (18:25)
Thank you. That was beautifully said, Jessica. There are some efforts and energy that are going to be aware of the microbiome of the skin. And particularly there'll be products that'll do that. But one of the areas that we have really focused on, which is really singular, I think to our intention is many people are unaware of ... they're aware of probiotics. And they're aware of prebiotics. But the awareness of what we refer to as postbiotics is just beginning. And to me, in many ways, that's the gift of herbal skincare or a more holistic or true holisim skincare, is that by fermenting aloe, for example, what you're doing is you're doing a lot ... Everybody knows aloe is great for your skin. And a lot of people know that oats are good for your skin.

Paul: (19:51)
But what really makes them good for the skin is that they feed the microbiome in a good way. And then the microbiome generates postbiotics after it's been fed. So what we have done is in some ways we're doing the work for you, in that what we're doing is we're taking the finest sprouted oats, and then we ferment them. We're taking the finest aloe, and then we ferment it. We're using six strains of the best researched strains in the whole microbial kingdom so that they generate the lipoteichoic acid. And that's a compound. Or they generate the anti-microbial compounds. Or they generate the MA-AMPS and all these different groups of compounds. Some people suggest there's hundreds of thousands of these. They produce the vitamins and those all nourish the skin.

Jess: (20:55)
So would you say postbiotics are what your own microbiome ideally should be producing on itself that probably is not producing on its own?

Paul: (21:06)
Yeah, and those postbiotics, Jessica, that keep the biodiverse environment so healthy because those compounds favor protection of the skin, the epithelial barrier of your skin. And that's what these commensals and the main goal, I guess, besides communication of this science fiction, like you're feeling connected, you're feeling love, you're feeling happy. Besides that, if that's not enough, the other thing is to protect the skin. And to keep the ones that don't like to play well in the sandbox. Some of those microbes don't play as well. And those are the ones that are kept in check by these anti-microbials that are secreted by the friendly commensals.

Jess: (22:12)
Yeah. I think one of my favorite examples of that is how we've traditionally treated acne, which we all know doesn't really work because so many of us still have acne no matter how many antibacterial topicals we put on. And what I find so fascinating is that instead of killing this acne causing bacteria with something that's super harsh, we can just add more of the good bacteria and the good postbiotics that will balance that out.

Paul: (22:42)
Exactly. And remember the beginning of our conversation, and you got to work up here because that all influences the secretions of the skin. And then there's always hormonal and other factors, which are at play. But there's no question, if you listen to some of the leading dermatologists, especially in our field, they do know. They see it frequently that in highly refined processed diets, those are the individuals who have the most acne or skin problems.

Jess: (23:20)
I think it's hard for a lot of people to grasp still because for so long, they were taught that they're completely separate. I even remember going to the dermatologist 15 years ago when I was a young teenager and being told like, "No, your diet has nothing to do with your skin." And I was told that over and over and over. And now I look back and I'm like, diet completely changed my skin.

Paul: (23:46)

Jess: (23:49)
It's fascinating to me to see how science evolves and advances and how these somewhat fringe concepts become more mainstream. And I do think that that's really what's happening with pre, pro, and postbiotics right now.

Paul: (24:04)
Beautiful. And you're reminding me, Jessica, that not only is it the anti-microbials and creating a good food environment for the friendly flora to grow and to flourish, they also are producing anti-inflammatory compounds. So that's what's so critical for conditions like rosacea and also the inflammation. Again, the skin reflects what's going on in our internal world. It's just a mirror basically.

Paul: (24:37)
So again, the microbiome also plays a role, not only in keeping the less friendly players at bay, but it also reduces inflammation and signals to our human cells that there's love, there's connection. And one of my favorite expressions is where there's connection ... it's an old Chinese proverb. Where there's connection, there is no pain. And when there's pain, there is no connection. And that's, again, a major value of the microbiome is it facilitates inter-kingdom signaling. And the more you become aware of it, and the more you're aware that your skin is a third brain. And then to use the ancient herbals that are the most revered, then you have the healthiest skin.

Jess: (25:34)
I couldn't agree more. I have a question about fermenting.

Paul: (25:41)

Jess: (25:41)
Is anything that's fermented creating postbiotics? Or does it have to be specific things? Because I'm thinking of like vinegar, sauerkraut. Is that postbiotics, too?

Paul: (25:47)
Great question.

Paul: (25:53)
That's all postbiotics. But some, depending upon what's called the substrate, whatever it is, so you mentioned sauerkraut. So sauerkraut, when you ferment sauerkraut, you're going to create things like lactic acid, which is an anti-microbial. You're also, this is really interesting, when you ferment sauerkraut, there are compounds. Again, there are big words like glucosinolates. It's not really important to know that, but the glucosinolates convert into highly bioavailable compounds called isocyothianates. And those are the compounds that have the most biological activity. So it depends on the substrate.

Paul: (26:53)
So if you're trying to ferment something using a processed sugar, for example, and you could grow bacteria on a refined sugar media. Or you could grow bacteria on blackstrap molasses, which is complex in nutrients and minerals. You can have a whole different output of postbiotics. You're going to create some probably beneficial postbiotics. But just keep in mind, even if you take a so-called healthy bacteria, if you started exposing that to say some red meat, for example, there might be some compounds that are created, E. coli for example, might start to flourish in an environment like that. You have to be careful. Our ancestors didn't know how and what strains to ferment meat with. But if you're just fermenting highly refined sugars and so forth, then the postbiotic output will be nowhere near as desirable.

Paul: (28:17)
And if I was to say, there's anything that we have learned over 40 years of doing this is that you want to make sure that your substrate or your media is the best it can possibly be. And then you use the best strains. So you use the best strains and the best media. And you know something we're also researching right now is, this is where science fiction comes in. But it becomes a little bit of science, is we're actually, there's evidence that if you play music ... How do you feel when you listen to beautiful music? It's a rhetorical question, right? You just feel better. Well, you know what? The bacteria feel the same way.

Jess: (29:03)
That's so cool.

Paul: (29:04)
Yeah. Well, they do.

Jess: (29:06)
Our skincare products, I think ... not that I am a fan of La Mer. I'm not a huge fan of their ingredient lists, but they play music to their signature broth when it's playing.

Paul: (29:19)
Oh, I didn't hear that. That's a great story.

Jess: (29:29)
That is exciting.

Paul: (29:31)
And that is something that we are working with. So we're playing music to our friends in the microbial kingdom.

Jess: (29:37)
Oh, that's so cool.

Paul: (29:40)
But again, take it out of context. It would sound like I'm completely crazy, but there is science to support it, as if that's just the way it is.

Jess: (29:54)
It's funny to me, because so much of what we're talking about, playing music and fermenting and herbal remedies, they're all ancient practices. And now we are finally able to confirm and affirm some of these ancient practices with modern science. And to me, that's what's so exciting. Because I'm not a skeptic by any means. You tell me that playing music to bacteria makes it feel good, and I'm like, "Yes, I believe that a hundred percent." But there are so many skeptics out there that it's amazing to start to have this science to back up some of these kinds of bone deep truths that humans have always known and practiced.

Paul: (30:40)
Yes. And I think that's another reason why I meditate every day, so I can listen better and I can hear better. And that's a major part of understanding what it is we need to do, especially in times like we're living in today, where there's so much chaos and there's so much fear. It's so important to be able to close your eyes, take a deep breath, and listen. And maybe, just maybe you'll hear what your skin is trying to communicate with you.

Jess: (31:18)
That's so beautiful.

Paul: (31:21)
Sweet. Well, a real pleasure to be with you, Jessica.

Jess: (31:24)
So great to you too, as always. 

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