The human body is home to trillions of microorganisms, outnumbering even the human cells. And a host of these diverse bacteria ecosystems (over 1,000 species approx.) reside on your skin. Research shows that some of these microbes actually promote skin health. They reinforce your skin's natural barrier against bad bacteria, balance your skin's pH levels and may even protect against skin cancer.
But constant use of harsh facial cleansers and antibacterial soaps strip your skin of these healthy bacteria or the 'good bugs' — consequently damaging your skin's natural bacterial ecosystem. This, in turn, makes your skin stressed and dry, causing skin issues like breakouts, eczema, rosacea flares and psoriasis.
So, what can you do to build back your skin's natural defenses and healthy function? Enter probiotics.
Here, two skin care experts explain how probiotics work on your skin and why they deserve to be a part of your daily skin care routine.
First things first, what are probiotics?
"Probiotics are microorganisms that are similar to the naturally occurring bacteria in your gut," says Dr. Rhonda Klein, Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology and Partner at Modern Dermatology, Connecticut.
They facilitate numerous health functions, from serotonin production and digestion to increasing resistance to illness and infection, she explains.
"The more good bacteria we have in our body, the more likely we are to prevent the bad bacteria from taking over and causing issues like gastrointestinal symptoms, IBS and inflammation," says Dr. Klein. Foods like yogurt, kimchi, tempeh and kombucha are some of the best sources of this gut-friendly nutrient.
How do probiotics benefit your skin?
"Probiotics in skincare optimize the healing benefits of our skin’s good bugs," says Dr. Whitney Bowe, NYC-based dermatologist and author of The Beauty of Dirty Skin. "This includes acting as a protective shield against bad bacteria, dialing down inflammation, preventing premature aging in skin, among other things," explains the dermatologist.
For those who have acne-prone skin, using probiotics topically "creates an optimal environment for the good bugs, swinging the balance in your favor against zit-causing bacteria — the primary culprit being Propionibacterium acnes," says Dr. Klein.
And what's the deal with prebiotics and postbiotics?
Prebiotics are a non-digestible compound that supports the vitality of the good bacteria in your body. "They are found in foods like whole grains, bananas, greens, onions, garlic, and soybeans. Because we don't digest them, they go straight to our intestines where the healthy bacteria feast on them," Dr. Klein explains.
Some topical probiotic products contain prebiotics as they promote the growth of healthy bugs that live on your skin.
"To put it simply, probiotics contain the good guys, and prebiotics contain what the good guys like to consume to ensure their own survival and proliferation," says Dr. Bowe.
Meanwhile, postbiotics are "metabolic by-products of the natural bacteria function. These postbiotics — enzymes, organic acids, polysaccharides, peptides — are powerful molecules that further reinforce your skin’s healthy barrier," notes the skin care maven.
Beauty Bugs 101: Choosing the right probiotic skin care product for your skin
From face mists and cleansers to serums and moisturizers, there is a host of probiotics-infused beauty products available in the market today. But just as you want the right probiotics in your body, you also want the right ones on your face.
To help you get started, here's a roundup of the best probiotic skin care products for every skin type:
- For dry skin: For people who have dry skin, Dr. Bowe recommends La Roche-Posay’s Lipikar Baum AP+. "This hydrating cream contains Aqua Posae Filiformis, a postbiotic that helps balance your skin's microflora and improve hydration," she says. Aleavia’s Restore Soothing Mist is also highly recommended. "Made with organic coconut oil, Acadian sea kelp, citric acid and aloe vera, this hydrating mist soothes your skin and helps restore your skin’s balance," she tells. If your skin is extra dry, use a moisturizer on top for an added layer of hydration, suggests the dermatologist.
- For sensitive skin: If you have sensitive or irritated skin, Dr. Klein recommends using Columbia's Probiotic Concentrate. Infused with peptides, plant stem cells and probiotics like Lactococcus ferment lysate, the nourishing serum boosts skin rejuvenation and renewal. Glowbiotics' Probiotic HydraGlow Cream Oil is another great pick for this skin type. "It stimulates skin renewal and shields your skin from invaders while calming unnecessary inflammation," notes Dr. Bowe.
- For oily skin: For those who have oily skin, Dr. Klein recommends Tula's 3-Step Balanced Skin Kit. The skincare bundle includes a purifying cleanser, resurfacing gel and hydrating day and night cream. All three products contain a powerful blend of lactobacillus probiotics and glycolic acid that balances skin pH and strengthens its moisture barrier. Mother Dirt's AO+ Mist is also a great option for this skin type, suggests Dr. Bowe. It contains Nitrosomonas eutropha, a bacteria obtained from the soil. The mist boasts of antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that calm the skin and keep acne-causing bacteria at bay.
- For combination skin: Try OSEA's Vitamin C Probiotic Polish and Ren's Perfect Canvas Skin Enhancing Serum Primer, says Dr. Klein. Loaded with antioxidants and Lactobacillus, OSEA's Vitamin C Probiotic Polish replenishes skin's natural flora, reduces blemishes and brightens and evens the skin tone. While Ren's silicone-free serum packs the goodness of probiotics like Lactic acid and Lactococcus Ferment Lysate that strengthen your skin's natural defenses against free radicals and improve skin tone.
- For anti-aging benefits: Probiotics-powered skin care products help reduce the appearance of age spots, fine lines and other signs of aging by repairing stressed skin and stimulating skin renewal — leaving your skin youthful and radiant. Check out Aurelia Revitalise & Glow Serum or Elizabeth Arden's Superstart Skin Renewal Booster.
Pro tip: When buying a probiotics-packed beauty product, look for ingredients like Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Vitreoscilla and prebiotic sugars like xylitol, suggests Dr. Klein.
Also, keep in mind that probiotic skin care products are quite delicate. "Most of them have a six month expiration date after opening and need to be stored in a cool environment, some even in the fridge. So, read the packaging instructions carefully," says the award-winning dermatologist.
Other ways to fortify your skin's beneficial microflora
"We were raised with the germ theory, meaning that we were taught to eradicate germs using antibacterial soaps and gel until our skin was 'clean' or bacteria-free. However, healthy skin is anything but 'clean' by that definition," Dr. Bowe points out.
"Healing and nourishing your skin’s microbiome is critical to the health of your skin," she adds.
So, here are a few simple ways to protect your skin's microbiome:
- Avoid harsh scrubbing. "You don't need to exfoliate daily," says Dr. Bowe. Use a gentle, pH balanced cleanser and only exfoliate twice a week, she suggests.
- Eat more fiber. Fiber-rich foods like oats, barley, asparagus and leeks are an excellent source of prebiotics. These plant-based fibers improve immune function and boost the growth of good bacteria in your gut.
- Take care of your gut. "Your gut, brain, and skin speak to one another. What you put in your body has a direct impact on the health and radiance of your skin," notes Dr. Bowe. So, load up on gut-friendly, fermented foods and beverages such as kombucha, miso, kefir, yogurt and sauerkraut. I also encourage my patients to supplement their healthy diet with an oral probiotic to nourish their skin from the inside out.
In addition, "it's also critical that you limit the use of antibiotics, if possible, as they can wipe out the good bacteria living in your body," adds Dr. Klein.