In expanding the understanding of this invisible, microbial ecosystem—we better understand ourselves. In the episode, we get into more of the details of how this research is done, what the microbiome could have looked like, and ultimately, what it means for modern-day folks. 

But as a sneak peek, let’s talk about the curious case of essential amino acids and essential fatty acids. “There are what we call essential amino acids and essential fatty acids. What this means is that we need them, but we don’t make them ourselves,” he tells me. 

The essential fatty acids omega-6 and omega-31 are vital for skin barrier function and overall health. Without them, we may experience inflammation, transepidermal water loss, and all the skin concerns that come with those—sensitivities, fine lines, dullness, discoloration, and redness. 

“And that was always very puzzling for researchers: Like, if they’re so badly needed, why aren’t we making them?” he explains. “And the reason was we never had to. We emerged into a world where microbes made those for us. So our bodies never had to have those metabolic pathways.”

Essentially, many of the nutrients we prioritize in skin care, are the very things that the microbiome used to create for us. (Sometimes we call these postbiotics, or the byproducts of the living organisms on the skin.) We’re coming closer to understanding how we can best care for this microbial world and replicate what has been lost, but we are by no means even close to done.

“This microbial world is the connective tissue for us biologically,” he says. “And we need to rebuild our relationship with it.”