Probiotics (good bacteria) are a popular topic in nutrition, especially in discussions about how healthy digestion supports beauty. You may have even heard the expression: “Beauty begins in the gut.” Often this conversation revolves around the importance of consuming probiotic supplements and probiotic-rich fermented foods (like kombucha) to help us maintain a thriving gut microbiome, balance yeast, and efficiently digest food. Recently, however, probiotics are popping up in topical skincare products with the purpose of introducing beneficial bacteria to skin.
Although it may seem counterintuitive to put bacteria on skin, probiotics can improve the appearance of skin on several fronts. Not unlike our gastrointestinal tract, skin has its own beneficial microbiome; it helps maintain skin’s health, clarity, resilience, and suppleness. The good bacteria in skin’s microbiome also battles beauty busting bacteria—including P. acnes, the dreaded rascals behind breakouts—by producing their own anti-microbial peptides. As dermatology professor Dr. Whitney Bowe explains, probiotics help strengthen the skin’s barrier and offer protection from inflammation-causing allergens and environmental stressors.
Care for the skin microbiome is critical during times of stress, French dermatologist Brigitte Drèno urges. Elevated levels of cortisol (the “stress hormone”) can increase skin’s oil production, often leading to breakouts. On the flip side, stress may also cause skin to become drier. Again, we can thank cortisol, which can decrease skin’s natural production of hyaluronic acid, which, in the right amount, keeps skins hydrated. If that weren’t bad enough, insufficient hydration can reduce lipid lamellae, skin’s protective barrier of fatty cells. When the lipid lamellae is compromised, water can escape from skin, making it more vulnerable to allergens and bacteria. Fortunately, topical probiotics can come to the rescue and boost skin’s defenses.
The benefits of topical probiotics don’t stop at fighting acne. Those suffering from dermatitis may also find relief in probiotic treatment. Patches of atopic dermatitis tend to have less diverse microbes than unaffected skin. A 2008 study found that when probiotic infused topicals are applied to patches of dermatitis, the number of diverse (and beneficial) bacteria increases while the number of inflammation inducing bacteria decreases, resulting in healthier, clearer skin.
1. Consume probiotics orally.
Given that the field of probiotics as health and beauty supplements is relatively new, dermatologists and nutritionists alike recommend consuming probiotics internally as well to make sure you have your bases covered. Skin is the largest organ, which means it requires a good supply of nutrients to stay healthy and beautiful. The body prioritizes the vital organs, however, meaning that skin isn’t the first in line to receive the benefits of vitamins and minerals.
If we want to maximize the nutrition it does receive, we have to optimize our digestion. One way to do this is by taking a high-quality probiotic supplement. Try Bio-Kult or Garden of Life probiotic supplements, both of which are evaluated for quality by third-party groups. In addition to taking supplements, increase your consumption of probiotic rich foods, including kombucha, raw kimchi, and raw sauerkraut.
2. Avoid soap that is too alkaline.
If soap leaves your skin uncomfortably dry and tight, your cleanser may be too alkaline. The skin microbiome thrives in a slightly acidic environment (i.e. the skin’s acid mantle). Look for “pH-balanced” products that leave your skin feeling soft and well hydrated. Try Pai Lotus & Orange Blossom Bioaffinity Tonic, which has a pH matching to healthy skin.
3. Avoid putting antibacterial products on your face.
At the first sign of a breakout, it’s natural to reach for antibacterial wash or spot treatment, but these may be doing more harm than good in the long run. Although these products may help dry up acne on the spot, they can kill the beneficial bacteria in the process. In case of a breakout emergency, opt for a clay mask like this Cacao & Banana Face Glow by The Little Alchemist.
4. Incorporate probiotic infused topicals.
Investing in probiotic infused serums and emollients can make a big difference in skin’s health. Not all probiotic topicals are alike, however. Some merely contain probiotic derivatives, which may not be as beneficial as actual strains of bacteria. Founder of AOBiome Dr. Larry Weiss contends that ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOBs) are especially helpful in defending skin.
AOBs feed on ammonia, which can raise skin’s pH level, thereby dehydrating it and making it more vulnerable to harmful bacteria and environmental stress. Weiss claims that our over reliance on soaps and antibacterial chemicals zaps our AOBs. AOBiome’s Mother Dirt AO+ Mist can help rectify this, however.
5. Don’t forget about prebiotics.
Source: Pop Sugar
Prebiotics aren’t bacteria. Rather, they’re non-digestible plant matter on which probiotics feed. Fructooligosaccharides and inulin are two common varieties of prebiotics. The good news is that prebiotics are abundant in really common foods, including onions, garlic, bananas, and asparagus.