Gone are the days when we’d run from bacteria as if it were our ex in the grocery store.

Today, research on probiotics and the microbiome—the millions of bacteria and biomes found in and on the human body (see What you need to know about your microbiome)—supports the fact that certain bacteria types are actually good for us. Although we most often associate this concept with digestion and gut health, a newer body of science points to the fact that your skin has its very own microbiome, too.

“At the cellular level, skin represents a complex set of ecosystems composed of skin cells and their associated microbiome,” says William B. Miller Jr., MD, author of The Microcosm Within (Universal, 2013). This microbiome varies based on a range of factors, from genetics and gender right down to the clothing you wear. And although we have been trained to think we are “in combat” against bacteria, there’s actually a need to embrace it to support everything from digestion and immunity to mood and skin. “We are now learning that our existence as healthy organisms goes beyond fending off the microbial ‘bad boys’ and is instead firmly anchored in a complex and intimate interrelationship with microbes that grants us survival and well-being,” says Miller.

Balancing the skin’s microbiome

Your body’s immune system and the microbes on your skin work hand in hand to educate and support one another. So when the bacteria, viruses and fungi that inhabit your skin get out of whack, you’re more susceptible to dermatitis, acne and rosacea. And partly because of our germ-free lifestyle, these conditions are on the rise, according to Jasmina Aganovic, president of Mother Dirt, a skin care company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, focused on restoring good bacteria to the skin.

The good news is that you can support your skin’s microbiome. The better news? It doesn’t require drastic shifts in your beauty regime, says Aganovic. First up: Ditch the synthetic facial washes and antibacterial soaps, which can damage your skin’s microbiome. Research has shown that harsh antibacterial ingredients, such as triclosan can have many potential dangers, including contributing to antibiotic-resistant bacteria and destruction of all the bacteria, good and bad, in or on your body. Other ingredients can also strip the skin of its own healthy bacteria.

“Some surfactants are more abrasive than others,” says Aganovic. “Sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium dodecyl sulfate are two to keep an eye out for, as they’re quite harsh.”

Aganovic also abides by the “less is more” approach to skin care, pointing out that using fewer ingredients will interfere less with your skin’s natural oils and bacteria. “Using a multitude of products for our skin and hair is something that the generation before us didn’t do. Cutting down on product usage, even just a little bit, will not only save you time and money, it will help save your skin and the environment.”