Skin Bacteria: Friend or Foe?

Skin Bacteria: Friend or Foe?

Are the Germophobes right to avoid skin bacteria like the plague?

A few years ago, Tyra Banks had a show about the dangers of bacteria. In “Baby Got Bacteria” episode of Tyra Banks' talk show, she had someone measure the amount of bacteria that the average person had on their feet when barefoot. The results, if I recall correctly, weren’t pretty under a microscope. One teenager’s friends were so grossed out by her high level of bacteria that they “forced” her to get weekly pedicures.

But is bacteria really all that bad for us? Are all kinds of bacteria the same?

According to a recent study published in "Science Express," bacteria might actually be helpful to us. The study confirms that the immune cells and the bacteria on the skin are likely to help prevent inflammation.

In the study, the germ-free mice had abnormal immune responses in their T-cells; however, when the researchers added Staphylococcus epidermidis (the skin’s usual bacteria) back onto the skin, the mice had their normal immune system responses back.

Inflammation can lead to other skin problems, including excema and other conditions. That said, some inflammation is good in order to ward off illness and disease.

I’m not certain how this will affect the germophobes amongst us: will the germophobes stop sterilizing their environments in order to make themselves healthier?

I doubt it.

The germophobes, people who have a phobia of germs, I know aren’t just worried about germs spreading from coughing or sneezing; they are constantly using hand sanitizers and may even scrub their skin with metal wire brushes. While this may not sound like such an unhealthy behavior, studies such as the one recently published in “Science Express” indicate that the extreme germophobes are more likely to have weaker autoimmune systems than people who are not quite as addicted to the use of hand sanitizers and scouring brushes.

An article from CNN discusses the pros and cons of germophobia; one idea that the article discusses is that there has been a rapid rise in autoimmune diseases in the most developed countries due to an excessive concern about sterile environments. As the writer observes however, this correlation has not been confirmed as of yet. Instead, it is just an observation of the differences between developed nations and non-developed nations.

What does all of this mean for you? If you are a germophobe and are prone to skin problems and more illnesses, you might want to lay off of the hand sanitizer a bit to see if it makes any difference in your health.