You know when you learn a new word and you suddenly start hearing it everywhere? That’s how I feel about probiotics. The wellness world has been buzzing about the benefits of probiotics — which, basically, are strains of good bacteria — for a while now, especially in terms of gut health. We take probiotic supplements, use probiotic-spiked spices, and eat probiotic-rich fermented foods in the name of cultivating a healthy gut microbiome. But lately, probiotics are popping up in topical skincare products, as well; begging the question, “Do I really need to put probiotics on my face now, too?” Simply put, the answer is yes.
Let’s start at the beginning: The body is teeming with trillions of living microflora, sometimes referred to as “healthy bacteria” or “good bacteria.” They help counter the effects of harmful bacteria by boosting the immune system, reducing inflammation, and fighting oxidative stress. Things like alcohol, sugar, antibiotics, and cigarettes can kill these essential microorganisms; but we can add more to our system by taking probiotic supplements.
The Benefits of Probiotic Skincare
Recent studies have shown that our gut microbiome isn’t the only one that needs attention, though. “Our skin has a natural bacterial flora, a microbiome that plays a role in skin’s defense against infection, foreign agents, and general skin health,” Dr. Neil Sadick of Sadick Dermatology explains to The Zoe Report via email. “Supplying our skin with probiotics, (the bacteria itself) and prebiotics (food for those bacteria) can benefit the skin, particularly in conditions such as rosacea, psoriasis, eczema, and acne.”
Besides reducing inflammation, skin-specific probiotics have been shown to help with dryness and signs of aging. Dr. Sadick tells us, “The [topical] metabolism of these organisms leads to the production of hyaluronic acid, peptides, and vitamins that support hydration and skin elasticity. ” When applied to the scalp, probiotics can hydrate and strengthen hair follicles, too.
Cosmetic chemist Ron Robinson, founder of BeautyStat.com, agrees. “Probiotics may help improve skin function by hydrating and moisturizing the skin,” he tells us, adding that both prebiotics and probiotics are essential for fostering a healthy skin microbiome.
The Difference Between Gut Probiotics and Skin Probiotics
When I asked Dr. Sadick what makes topical probiotics different from ingestible probiotics, his answer surprised me: “They're not different, aside from the fact that you don’t really want to eat your skincare. Otherwise, skincare with prebiotics such as coconut oil and sugar molecules, or probiotics such as lactobacillus [a type of bacteria commonly found in yogurt] are the same ingredients we find in food products, only formulated to be in a form that’s compatible with topical application on human skin.”
This explains why DIY probiotic masks have been on the rise. Yogurt — a natural source of probiotics — is a particularly popular at-home face mask for one major reason: It works. In the scientific article Acne Vulgaris and Probiotics, researchers discovered that a type of bacteria found in most yogurts can actually help heal acne “when applied to the skin for seven days as a cream.”
Some natural skincare enthusiasts will even pop open a probiotic pill, mix the powdered contents with water, and apply the mixture to the skin for a quick-fix of the good stuff, but there’s not enough data to support this method. “It might work,” speculates Robinson, “but the bacteria used for the gut may not be right for the skin. I recommend using skincare with probiotics that has been tested.”
What To Look For
To be on the safe side, it’s best to use products that are specifically formulated for the skin or scalp. Dr. Sadick warns, “Probiotics are fragile and can deteriorate; an ideal formulation should be packaged correctly.” Look for opaque glass packaging, which extends the shelf life of natural ingredients and prevents light degradation. For extra protection, store your prebiotic and probiotic skincare in the fridge — these are living organisms, after all.
Ready to boost your skin’s microbiome? These prebiotic and probiotic products bring beauty and bacteria together in the best way.