What’s the deal with probiotic skincare?

Good question. I didn’t know either. And so I dove into research around why probiotics might be used externally as well as in our tummies, and here is what I discovered:

To backtrack a moment, probiotics are the healthy bacteria and yeasts that contribute to our very important microflora. Though we often think of bacteria as “bad” and illness-causing, reaching for antibiotics whenever we are a little too sick, an enormous number of healthy bacteria live on and in our body. In fact, the bacteria on and in us outnumber our own human cells. And this bacteria controls much of our functioning as humans – it turns on enzymes, turns off genes, produces nutrients, controls how we break down nutrients, and more. On her blog, founder of The Beauty Chef Carla Oates brings up the analogy of the gut being like soil in a garden – when it is healthy, the rest of the body, including the skin, blooms. 

Probiotics are made up of strains of bacteria that have specific functions and that can naturally be found on our skin. Prebiotics, often paired with them in supplements and topical probiotic skincare products, are foods (typically high-fiber foods) that serve as a food source to this bacteria so that it can perform its functions optimally and remain balanced.

Taking care of our skin is critically important, as the skin is our largest organ and is our first barrier against the outside world. It holds fluids in to keep us hydrated and keeps harmful microbes out. It helps keep our body temperature even, creates vitamin D when the sun is shining (which supports bone health and other bodily functions). It has all of the nerve endings in it that keep us out of danger by warning us when something is hot, cold, or painful.

Our skin, just like our gut system, is a complex ecosystem with its own microbiome, one which can be thrown out of balance by external factors like environmental pollution, synthetic chemicals, and preservatives, as well as oral antibiotics. Balancing our microbiome, first internally and then topically, can completely transform our skin. Using probiotic skincare products can replenish, feed and strengthen the skin’s microbiome. 

Topical probiotics can benefit our skin in the following ways:

  • They form a protective shield in a mechanism named “bacterial interference.” The body’s immune system becomes distracted by the healthy bacteria sitting on top of the skin, and therefore does not produce a reaction to it OR to any other irritants it might have noticed and responded to with inflammation. This means less acne and inflammation.
  • They produce an antimicrobial defense, aiding the immune system
  • They smooth and brighten the skin by encouraging cell turnover
  • They hydrate the skin
  • They restore the skin’s pH balance
  • They fight aging by helping to fade blemishes and aiding in collagen synthesis 
  • Just as there are probiotics that we can add to our skincare routine, there are also practices and products that we should avoid to keep our skin’s microbiome balanced, even if we aren’t adding topical probiotics to the mix:

    • Over-cleansing. This can be worse than not cleansing, according to the Marie Veronique blog. Antibacterial soaps can disrupt the skin’s microbiome, while exfoliants can break down the skin’s barrier layer, leaving it open to harm from pathogens.
    • Essential oils, also, can be harmful according to Marie Veronique. They have antiseptic qualities that can disrupt the microbiome and should be used in moderation. 
    • And if you’re curious about probiotic skincare but not quite ready to buy it off the shelf, you can start to experiment on your own with the following recipe, made up of ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen:

      Greek yogurt, apple cider vinegar, banana, and oat facemask:

      Ingredients

      • ¼-1/2 unripe banana
      • 3-4 tablespoons Greek yogurt
      • 2 tablespoons raw, organic apple cider vinegar
      • 3-4 teaspoons oatmeal
      • Mix ingredients together in a small bowl

        After washing the face, apply the mask and let it sit for 10 minutes

        Rinse with lukewarm water