All that soap, sunscreen, and lotion you slather on your body? That stuff sticks. For days.

All that chemical residue could have an impact on your health. So to better understand the effects of that molecular menagerie, researchers have made the first-ever map of the chemicals on the human body, tracking the tens of thousands of molecules that appear on each and every inch of skin.

Your skin is your body’s biggest organ, and it’s constantly exposed to the environment. So it makes sense that scientists want to understand exactly what sticks to it. But most of researcher’s epidermal maps so far are of the microbiome: the trillions of tiny bugs—comprising a couple hundred species—that live on your skin. It’s important to understand where each of those microbes live on your body, because the presence of certain bacteria could be an indication of allergies or even diseases like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.

But those microbiome maps still only tell you the bugs’ location. It’s this new kind of chemical map, created by Pieter Dorrestein, a chemist at the University of California, San Diego, that can reveal what those microbes are actually doing—for good and for bad. Your skin cells and microbes are always taking in and producing molecules, just through their normal metabolism. If a pathogenic microbe is an army attacking your body, then these kinds of molecules are the letters being passed among the army.



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