Our skin is the body's first line of defense, it protects us physically and it protects our immune system. There are trillions of skin microbes living on our bodies, and they serve a very important function in keeping us healthy.
Let's examine how swimming in the sea affects the skin's microbes and elements.
Marissa Chattman Nielson, a PHD student at the University of California, Irvine, led a study along with her colleagues, to investigate how sea water can affect the microbes on human skin. This study was prompted by previous research, examining marine life and infections, and looking at how poor water quality at many beaches was affecting aquatic life - the unsanitary seawater conditions were mainly due to the run-off from sewage and rainwater.
Nine beach-goers from Huntington beach, volunteered themselves for this research. Skin microbe samples were taken before and after the volunteers swam in the Pacific Ocean. The criteria needed from everyone, was that each participant was - not to use sunscreen, not to be on antibiotics and was not a regular ocean swimmer.
Prior to swimming, Marissa Nielson's analysis of the skin samples, found that each individual had skin bacteria, unique to them and different from everyone else, yet afterwards, everyone had generally the same bacterial composition on their skin.
After swimming in the ocean for ten minutes and being air-dried, samples taken, showed how the sea completely washed off their skin's natural microbes and had replaced it with its own bacteria and even potential pathogens belonging to the Vibrio family.
Vibrio bacteria seems to increase on human skin more so than in the ocean. In some cases, the amount of Vibrio bacteria growing, under observation, was ten times greater on human skin than in seawater samples.
The Changes To The Skin Are Temporary
Six hours after the swim, the skin microbes, started to go back to their original composition and after twenty- four hours, the process was completed, although some bacteria stayed on the skin for longer periods.
While any exposure to water, (this includes a bath or a shower) can disrupt our skin's natural microbe composition, the findings indicate, how swimming in the sea, completely alters the composition and diversity of the skin's microbiota , albeit temporarily, and these alterations can pose a serious risk to a person's health, due to the large volume of bacterial pathogens present in seawater, leaving the individual susceptible to disease. Many studies have shown the correlation between swimming in the ocean and infections.
While the finding's from this study are beneficial to us, in improving our understanding of how our skin's bacterial ecosystem affects our health, this does not mean that we should abandon ocean swimming, for fear of these changes. Swimming in open water has so many other advantages to our health, it would be remiss to stop it altogether as part of our fitness workout.
It is vital to have a hot shower immediately after a swim to wash away any harmful bacteria from the sea and to restore the skin's natural microbes and elements.
When on the beach always avoid long exposure in the sun which can cause skin damage, and may lead to skin cancer. Wearing sun protective swimwear and applying sunscreen will help your skin maintain its healthy elements.