Probiotics for skin care? You’ve probably never really given it a thought. That’s because the word itself conjures up images of yogurt commercials and bacteria. Not necessarily things you want to put on your face or body. But surprisingly, probiotics can help your skin from both inside and out. Let’s take a look at exactly how these helpful microorganisms work.
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are live microorganisms that you can consume through fermented foods or take in supplement form (pills or powders). They help promote a healthy balance of gut bacteria, which numerous studies have shown can have a direct influence on various health concerns.
You can also find probiotics in foods like kefir, yogurt, raw cheese and vegetables like sauerkraut and pickles. Probiotics exist in various strains, but the two best known ones are Lactobacillus (lactic acid) and Bifidobacterium. Both these strains are beneficial, albeit in different ways. Lactic acid has shown a tendency to benefit aging concerns and even acne problems. Bifidobacterium, meanwhile, can help strengthen immunity, guarding the body against a variety of illnesses as a result.
Probiotics Health Benefits
Probiotics help balance the bacteria in your gut. In the case of an imbalance, bad bacteria overpower the good bacteria. This can lead to inflammation that can cause digestive problems and acne, rosacea or eczema flare-ups. An imbalance of gut bacteria can even lead to such problems as depression and anxiety, obesity and allergies. Bacteria in the gut can become imbalanced due to illness, the use of antibiotics or a generally bad diet (like one very high in carbs).
Promote Gut Wellness
Probiotics can help reduce the severity of diarrhea or prevent it entirely, particularly if it’s associated or caused by antibiotic use. Other types of diarrhea, not related to antibiotic use, have also shown to be alleviated by probiotics.
Improve Mental Health
Though it may seem odd, your gut and your mental health share a link, as numerous studies have found. In one study, 70 chemical workers were monitored for six weeks. Those who either ate a probiotic yogurt or took a probiotic supplement experienced benefits relating to mental health. In another study, patients with major depressive disorder who took probiotics experienced better mood and a decrease in C-reactive protein, an inflammation marker in the body.
Strengthen The Immune System
Promising studies show that probiotics may help bolster the immune system (about two-thirds of the immune system lives in the gut, actually) and fight certain infections. For example, some probiotics have shown a tendency to boost certain antibodies, as well as natural killer cells (a type of white blood cell) and T lymphocytes (cells that can kill cancerous cells). As far as infections are concerned, probiotics can help reduce urinary tract infections by 50 percent.
Probiotics and Acne
Researchers have long explored the connection between the gut and skin. It is generally believed that an imbalance in the “microflora” of the gut can lead to inflammation, thus causing acne flare-ups.
The brain-gut-skin theory connects mental health issues like depression to an imbalance of bacteria in the gut, essentially proposing that a low mood or anxious thoughts can alter the condition of the microorganisms that exist inside us. Increased “intestinal permeability” (this essentially means toxins from the gut can be absorbed into the bloodstream) due to an imbalance in microflora is also associated with skin inflammation.
Furthermore, toxins that enter the bloodstream through the gut prevent certain vital vitamins and nutrients from becoming absorbed. Thus, probiotics, by restoring this crucial balance, can potentially help treat acne by reducing the occurrence of lesions or by preventing them. Probiotics can also help to calm redness and reduce sensitivity triggers. Whether you choose to drink kefir or a supplement, there is much promise that you can, in this way, improve the appearance of your skin.
Probiotics and Aging Skin
In addition to helping prevent or reduce acne flare-ups, probiotics can also provide anti-aging benefits. In this case, you can rely on topical probiotics, which work with the bacteria on your skin (there are about a trillion bacteria living on our skin, helping to regulate pH levels and promote hydration).
Lactic acid, for example, is known for its exfoliating benefits. It can help unclog pores by gently but surely removing the sebum and proteins that hold dead skin cells together, causing them to cluster deep into hair follicles where they harden into blackheads or become inflamed and turn into lesions. This same exfoliating effect of lactic acid can help to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines. Finally, rough texture and overall dullness can be alleviated with a topical probiotic. This is important as it can help skin regain its previous radiance.
Probiotics and the Skin Barrier
Topical probiotics can also help strengthen the skin barrier. The skin barrier is composed of lipids and skin cells that create a type of brick-and-mortar barrier to prevent outside irritants from entering the skin and damaging it. If the skin barrier is compromised, it can lead to flakiness, redness, dryness and other problems that can make skin look less than its best.
Topical probiotics can help boost the performance of certain products like moisturizers. Well-hydrated skin is less likely to experience adverse reactions and more likely to stand strong against invaders.
Probiotics also protect against pollution and free radicals, which are unstable atoms that damage cells and degrade collagen and elastin in the skin. The less collagen and elastin you have (and these proteins degrade naturally as we age, as well) the more wrinkles your skin will develop. Sagging and fine line formation can also result.
Finally, probiotics help restore skin’s natural pH balance. This is crucial in maintaining equilibrium in the skin, making it less likely to experience acne or eczema flare-ups.
Types of Topical Probiotics
Topical probiotics can be found in the forms of creams, lotions and cleansers. It’s a delicate job to put probiotics into skin care products. They can deteriorate rather quickly, and putting them in jars will accelerate this breakdown. Always buy topical probiotics that are packaged in bottles to make sure the probiotics last as long as possible.
Many topical probiotics contain more than just probiotics. Some will include prebiotics (compounds that feed the existing bacteria), postbiotics (the extracts that come from bacteria) and lysates (non-living parts of bacteria). All of these work together to ensure that skin is well-balanced, hydrated and essentially pampered to look as good as it can.
The skin microbiome can be as important as the gut microbiome. Eczema sufferers, for example, have an imbalanced skin microbiome – it is usually characterized by an excess of Staphylococcus aureus (staph) bacteria. If staph is allowed to multiply and breed, it can overtake all the good bacteria and overwhelm it. This will ultimately lead to an eczema flare-up. With a topical probiotic, this can be prevented. When it comes to acne, topical probiotics in the forms of lotions and cleansers can also help curb the bacteria that lead to an infection and inflammation.
If you suffer particularly from acne and rosacea, consider adding a probiotic to your diet and a topical probiotic to your skin care routine. With all this evidence supporting probiotics, you know you’ll be making a good decision.
Sources: “Topical 8% glycolic acid and 8% L-lactic acid creams for the treatment of photodamaged skin. A double-blind vehicle-controlled clinical trial.” Arch Dermatol.; “Long term topical application of lactic acid/lactate lotion as a preventive treatment for acne vulgaris.” Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol.; “Bifidobacterium microbiota and parameters of immune function in elderly subjects” FEMS Immunology & Medical Microbiology; “The Gut Microbiome as a Major Regulator of the Gut-Skin Axis.” Front Microbiol; “Gut Bacteria in Health and Disease.” Gastroenterol Hepatol; “Probiotics for the prevention and treatment of antibiotic-associated diarrhea: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” JAMA; “Efficacy of probiotics in prevention of acute diarrhoea: a meta-analysis of masked, randomised, placebo-controlled trials.” Lancet Infect Dis.; “A randomized controlled trial to test the effect of multispecies probiotics on cognitive reactivity to sad mood.” Brain Behav Immun.; “The effects of probiotics on mental health and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in petrochemical workers.” Nutr Neurosci.; “Clinical and metabolic response to probiotic administration in patients with major depressive disorder: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.” Nutrition.; “Potential uses of probiotics in clinical practice.”
Clin Microbiol Rev.; “Randomized, placebo-controlled phase 2 trial of a Lactobacillus crispatus probiotic given intravaginally for prevention of recurrent urinary tract infection.” Clin Infect Dis.; “Acne vulgaris, probiotics and the gut-brain-skin axis – back to the future?” Gut Pathog.; “Revised Estimates for the Number of Human and Bacteria Cells in the Body.” PLoS Biol.; “Antioxidant and free radical scavenging activities of an exopolysaccharide from a probiotic bacterium.” Biotechnol J.