We’ve Been Taught the Outdoors Is Skin-Care Enemy Number One—Here’s Why That’s Not Quite True

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Have you ever wondered why a day at the beach leaves you with glowing skin not even an expensive facial could replicate? And no, we're not talking about getting a tan (which is really a sign of damage)—that time spent beachside is doing undercover work toward actually boosting your skin's health.

The secret to keeping your new-found radiance year round (without moving to a tropical island) is simple: All you have to do is go outside more. *Cue shocked faces.*

We know, we know—the cardinal rule of healthy skin is to avoid exposure to UV rays, pollution, and other outdoor elements that can accelerate aging, dark spots, and all that other skin stuff we stress over. But by staying indoors we're missing out on a major portion of the skin-health equation: bacteria.

By staying indoors we're missing out on a major portion of the skin-health equation: bacteria.

"Culturally, we have seen so many habits built around fear tactics," says Jasmina Aganovic, president at Mother Dirt—a skin-care line that promotes balance on the skin by integrating live bacteria into its products. "While an excess of sun and polluted air certainly is not great for us, the manifestation of this rhetoric into products that are sold to us is often disproportionate to the reality." 

In short, the outdoors isn't as bad for our skin as we've been made to think. Aganovic credits our fear of harmful bacteria with motivating us to eradicate all bacteria, which has ultimately caused us to lose out on the benefits of exposure to the good stuff.

"We became sterilization obsessed, putting antibacterial actives in basic daily products," Aganovic adds. In favor of your skin, Mother Dirt is doing the opposite and is bottling up that good-for-you bacteria (that you were naturally once exposed to—more on that below) so you don't have to wait for your next vacay for a flawless complexion. 

Keep scrolling to learn how the outdoors can actually help you achieve healthy skin.

healthy skin
Photo: Getty Images/Westend61

How do the outdoors benefit your skin?

Slathering on sunblock before you head out for the day earns you gold stars across the board, but limiting your outdoor exposure altogether can do a disservice to your skin. "Indoor and predominantly urban environments have been associated with less diverse microbiomes," Aganovic says. "The more diverse and thriving the environment we are in is, the better that is for us."

Case in point: Indigenous tribes that have no contact with modern chemistry and more intense contact with the outdoors don't have any of the skin sensitivities modern people deal with, Aganovic says. And while that anecdote doesn't prove the link between bacteria and skin entirely, other studies have pointed to the connection. 

"An outdoor environment, like a farm, is teeming with many different types of microbes, and there are studies indicating that children raised in these types of environments have fewer health issues," Aganovic says.

How do you reap the outdoor skin-boosting benefits without overdoing it?

While it's hard to recreate exactly what our ancestors did because modern living has changed our environment so much (hello, city living), there are several ways to increase time spent outdoors that are gaining traction in some cultures. The most fascinating concept, Aganovic says, is forest bathing.

Forest bathing sounds intense, but its official definition is simply "making contact with and taking in the atmosphere of the forest." Basically, going for a walk in the woods or the nearest park totally counts, and it can make a difference after just 20 minutes a day, Aganovic says.

And science agrees. A forest bathing study, in which 280 people spent time in natural, forest environments to see how it affected their overall wellbeing, found that these environments bolster lower concentrations of cortisol (the stress hormone), pulse rate, and sympathetic nerve activity than city environments.

"Based on these findings, scientists believe that the mechanisms for the benefits come from the beneficial substances that we breathe in: among them negatively charged ions, plant derived components, and beneficial bacteria," Aganovic adds. Now we get why Tarzan preferred the jungle.

How does bacteria affect your skin health?

In addition to spending more time outside, you can bring the outdoors into your bathroom by adopting a skin-care regimen that supports good bacteria instead of suppressing it.

Mother Dirt helps people achieve this dirt-level glow while using, well, dirt. "Our AO+ Mist contains a live culture of beneficial bacteria that comes from the dirt," Aganovic says. "It's called Ammonia-Oxidizing Bacteria, and it's a 'peacekeeper' bacteria, meaning it's critical in promoting balance in ecosystems. It also once used to exist on our skin until we cleaned it away." 

This is pretty much the only time "rub some dirt on it" is actually good advice—and in this case, we really mean it. So, go ahead and embrace the bacteria (whether that's through more park walks or slathering it on your face), and get ready for some pretty fire selfies on your camera roll.

In partnership with Mother Dirt

Top photo: Getty Images/Rawpixel

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