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This Ingredient Is an Unlikely Skincare Superhero
We all want to live a healthy lifestyle, so when we hear about vitamins and supplements that could have multiple benefits, it piques our interest.
Although probiotics have been around for a while, they've been in the spotlight lately.
In 2015 alone, the probiotics market size was over $34 billion.
You may have heard about probiotics' gut-balancing properties, but did you know that they can be used externally?
We're finding out more and more about the benefits of probiotics when they're applied topically to the skin.
Beauty companies have taken notice and have incorporated them into their skincare formulas.
Keep on reading to find out what makes probiotics stand out from the crowd!
What are Probiotics?
Probiotics are good-for-you bacteria that live in your gut and keep it healthy.
They work together with your gut microflora (which is another word for the community of microorganisms that live in your intestines and keep them healthy).
Despite what you may have learned in elementary school, not all bacteria is bad!
For example, antibiotics kill off both bad and good bacteria.
Probiotics can help replace them.
Researchers are trying to figure out exactly how probiotics work.
You can find them in these foods due to fermentation:
You may have heard of them being described as "live and active cultures."
The two most common probiotic bacteria are Lactobacillus (with 18 different strains) and Bifidobacterium (with 8 different strains).
The Health Benefits of Probiotics
According to Harvard Health, probiotics may help:
- Boost your immune system (about 60-80% of it lives in the gut)
- Reduce the severity of allergies and eczema in kids
- Ease depression and anxiety
- Prevent UTIs and vaginal infections
- Ease symptoms of diarrhea, IBS, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn's disease
Should I Take Probiotic Supplements?
Many people take daily probiotic supplements, which can contain these friendly strains:
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus bulgarius
- Lactobacillus reuteri
- Streptococcus thermophilus
- Saccharomyces boulardii
- Bifidobacterium bifidum
- Bacillus subtilis
Supplements can be derived from dairy, egg, or soy, so people with allergies should be cautious.
There are plant based-options available, too.
Supplements are available in tablets, capsules, and powders that contain the bacteria in freeze-dried form.
Other probiotic bacteria are live and naturally sensitive to heat and moisture, so they need to be refrigerated.
Keep in mind that some probiotics can be destroyed by stomach acid before they reach your large intestine, which means that you don't get any of the intended benefits.
The label should list the number of live organisms contained, called CFUs (colony forming unit) - look for a number in the billions.
Probiotic supplements are classified as dietary supplements and therefore don't need FDA approval - makers of probiotic supplements don't have to prove that their products are safe or that they work.
Always read the label and do your research!
What Are Prebiotics?
You don't hear about these as often.
Probiotics work together with prebiotics.
Basically, prebiotics are a food source for the probiotics.
They're non-digestible fiber compound, known as oligosaccharides, and the human body can't fully break them down - they're fermented in the colon by your gut microflora.
Prebiotics can be found in:
- Legumes, beans, and peas
These foods are all good sources of fiber, which is great for our gut health, too.
Before incorporating probiotic supplements into your daily routine, ask your doctor about the kind (and the amount) that would work best for you.
Keep in mind that research is still being conducted on some of the benefits listed above, and again, probiotic supplements are not FDA-regulated.
What is the Skin Microbiome?
Our skin's job is to protect our internal organs from the outside world.
It's colonized by a diverse amount of microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, viruses, and mites (sounds gross, I know - but we need them all).
As dermatologist Joshua Zeichner explains, there's "a collection of natural bacteria that live on the skin and help promote healthy skin cell function."
This is called the skin microbiome.
Its purpose is to control the colonization of bad bacteria, balance your immune response, and help the skin barrier to function.
The skin microbiome can be affected by:
- Geographic location
- Use of cosmetics
It can also be influenced by skin factors, including pH balance, sebum content, and hydration.
Studies have shown that changes in skin microflora can play a role in conditions like atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, and acne.
So, to sum up: The bacteria and other little guys living on your face matter. If they're happy, your skin is happy!
When applied topically, probiotics help to keep your skin microbiome balanced.
Probiotic bacteria produce acidic compounds like lactic acid that discourages the growth of "the bad guys" and favors the growth of resident flora.
The Skincare Benefits of Probiotics
Probiotics can be found in just about any skincare product now: creams, masks, cleansers, moisturizers, and liquid foundation.
Generally, live cultures aren't used in cosmetics.
The good news: They're gentle and (usually) work well for all skin types.
Some people have even put plain Greek yogurt or fermented soy probiotics directly onto their face as a masque.
Killing "the Bad Guys"
Probiotics combat bad bacteria and they can produce antimicrobial properties.
For this reason, probiotics have shown to help with acne, rosacea, and eczema triggers.
Probiotics are also a good defense against everyday inflammation triggers, like the sun and pollution.
If you're a regular reader of my blog, you know that free radicals are lurking on our skin and can cause premature aging - but probiotics help fight this, too!
Probiotics reduce the inflammation and redness that are common with acne, rosacea, and eczema.
A recent study found that when probiotics were applied topically, they prevented skin cells from "seeing" bad bacteria that would normally provoke an immune reaction.
This is also called "bacterial interference."
What Ingredients Are Best?
Research has shown there is not a single best probiotic ingredient to use in skincare - rather, a mix of probiotics and prebiotics is best.
Examples are our friends Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Vitreoscilla, and various prebiotic sugars such as xylitol.
How Do Prebiotics Help Skin?
According to dermatologist Whitney P. Bowe, prebiotics help probiotics "thrive and proliferate" and "promote a more diverse array of bacteria, and diversity is key to healthy skin."
Remember the fruits and veggies with prebiotics that I listed earlier?
Some of their extracts are included in skincare products, like serums and moisturizers, so you can apply prebiotics to enhance your skin's microbiome.
If you combine prebiotics and probiotics in skincare, the two can help each other and give you great results.
They can improve the appearance of your skin's texture by keeping it smooth and protected from free radicals.
Diet and Your Skin
I believe this is where the "science-y" part of skincare comes in.
Probiotic supplements could improve acne and rosacea by affecting the "gut-brain-skin axis."
This essentially says stress + unhealthy food = slow digestion, which can increase the number of bad bacteria.
Again, these bad bacteria can trigger eczema, rosacea, or acne flare-ups.
We need a healthy microbiome in our intestines to break down food and absorb nutrients.
I believe that our diet does have an effect on the condition of our skin, and there's some truth to "you are what you eat."
Since the skin is our largest organ, it makes sense that potential problems within our internal organs could show up.
Follow a diet rich in fruit, veggies, and omega-3s, and stay hydrated!
Try to limit your intake of:
- Refined sugar and carbohydrates. Some research has suggested that insulin may play a role in acne. Refined sugar and carbs can cause a blood sugar and insulin spike that increases inflammation throughout the body. This releases enzymes that break down collagen, weaken your skin’s elasticity, and can result in more acne.
- Dairy. While there isn't a definite link between dairy intake and acne, many people have reported that their acne subsided when they stopped consuming dairy. This may be due to the fact that milk contains testosterone-like components that may stimulate oil glands in the skin, which can lead to acne. The exception is yogurt (it's full of probiotics).
Our skincare doesn't just include what we put on our face - it also includes what goes in our body.
How do probiotics help skin?
- Balance the skin microbiome
- Kill bad bacteria
- Calm inflammation and redness
- Decrease acne, rosacea, and eczema breakouts
And, when you keep the skin microbiome balanced, you can:
- Protect against environmental forces, like pollution
- Help your skin stay hydrated
- Improve dryness
- Restore skin's pH balance
What is the best way to get probiotics?
You can get your daily dose of probiotics through food or supplements.
For example, eating yogurt with breakfast, or putting pickles on your sandwich for lunch.
Apple cider vinegar and miso soup also have probiotic benefits.
Read food labels carefully and choose "raw," "unpasteurized" or "contains live cultures."
What do probiotics do?
Probiotics help our digestive tract happy and can help with the treatment and prevention of the following conditions:
- Ulcerative colitis
- Crohn's disease
- H. pylori (the cause of ulcers)
- UTIs and vaginal infections
- Recurrence of bladder cancer
- Eczema in kids
Do probiotics have any side effects?
People have reported an increase in gas and bloating, and sometimes constipation after beginning probiotics for the first time, but this should subside after a week.
People with dairy, egg, or soy allergies should read the label of their probiotic supplements to see where the bacteria is derived from.
Talk to your doctor before taking probiotic supplements daily.
My Favorite Skincare Products with Probiotics
While more research is needed about whether oral or topical probiotics are best for the skin, probiotics seem to have benefits for your body - both inside and out.
They may be the skin superhero you didn't know you needed.
(Remember to talk to your doctor to decide if daily probiotic supplements are right for you.)
Dermatologists agree that we can expect to see even more probiotic-based skincare products in the near future.
If you're interested in trying probiotic skincare products, especially if you're dealing with acne, rosacea, or eczema, I say go for it!
Have you noticed any changes since taking probiotics? Have you tried them in your skincare and seen results? Let us know in the comments!