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Yesterday 150 Species Became Extinct

Skin microbiome and microbial extinction

More accurately, between 150 and 200 species of plant, insect, bird or mammal go extinct every day.

These species are ones that we can see. We have no idea what the global extinction rate is for microbes and very few people have even thought about it.

What is clear is that we have already lost a large percentage of the microbes that used to live in and on our skin. Many of our microbial partners are facing extinction as we apply selection pressures that are unprecedented in our long-standing relationships.

Recent estimates are that we have lost at least a third of the diversity of our skin microbiome (Clemente et al. Sci. Adv. 2015;17 April 2015).


How is this happening?
  • Every day, most of us bathe or shower in water that contains chlorine or fluorine. These additives do a great job of killing pathogenic microbes, but they are probably not helping our skin microbiomes.
  • Most people apply cosmetic products every day. These products contain preservatives that prevent microbial growth on shelf. These same chemicals may well kill microbes on the skin.
  • The daily use of high-pH soap probably won’t help microbial life that is adapted to living at the skin’s natural pH of 5.
  • The rise in the rate of C-section births from around 5% in 1970 to more than 30% today is likely to be a contributing factor. Our skins are seeded by vaginal microbes at birth and C-sections disrupt this process.
  • The overuse of broad-spectrum antibiotics has contributed to the loss of our microbial partners in all body sites and the skin is no exception.
Who cares?

It is now clear that skin is an ecosystem that is dependent on commensal microbes for optimal health. In general, a diverse ecosystem is a healthy ecosystem that is robust in the face of change. Low diversity ecosystems are more fragile and susceptible to dysbiosis.

Eczema and acne rates have increased rapidly over the last 50 years. These diseases are almost unknown in hunter-gatherer communities.

We’ve probably lost at least a few important species. Now we face two exciting challenges; finding out which species matter and how to get them back.



Trevor Steyn, CEO of ESSE Probiotic Skincare, is one of four industry leading panellists discussing smarter cosmetics and skincare at the Microbiome R&D and Business Collaboration Forum: USA.

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