The benefits of probiotics for skin health: Evidence and insights

Probiotics consist of live bacteria that can support the healthy bacteria in the body. As emphasized by many health experts, there are certain bacteria that are good for the body. In fact, putting good bacteria on patients can make the bad bacteria die off.

There is an increasing body of research evidence suggesting the use of probiotics in both pill and topical form for the purpose of preventing and treating skin conditions. Some examples are eczema, acne, dry skin and UV-induced skin damage [1]. 

Probiotics in skincare

The live microorganisms and components of dead bacteria are what probiotics consist of. It’s safe and vector-free. When administered in specific doses, probiotics can provide health benefits by strengthening innate immunity in the gut and, interestingly, through the skin. 

There’s good evidence that probiotics can prevent and treat skin disorders, including acne, allergic skin inflammation, eczema, atopic dermatitis, hypersensitivity to UV rays and wound healing.

Numerous clinical studies have indicated that probiotics can potentially have effects on cutaneous apparatus directly or indirectly, considerable from versatile aspects. 

In addition to improving skin’s natural defense barriers, probiotics can produce antimicrobial peptides that are beneficial to cutaneous immune responses and to removing pathogens as commensal strains through the direct effect at the site of application.

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Probiotics in cosmetics

It’s possible to use probiotics directly on skin microbiota in the cosmetics industry. As a result, probiotics may selectively boost the activity and growth of good and ‘normal’ skin microbiota. 

Probiotics are added as an ingredient for cosmetics targeting scalp disorders. This includes dandruff, skin care (particularly acne) and body care products for hygiene, and they are already widely available on the market.

The benefits of probiotics for skin health: Evidence and insights

According to research, probiotics may promote the production of ceramides or fats, in the skin. These ceramides help trap moisture in the skin and ensure acne-causing bacteria levels are in check [2].

Individuals with eczema are found to have decreased levels of ceramides; hence, replacing them can help maintain balanced. Numerous studies suggest that using probiotic skin care products may lower acne outbreak. In addition, they may also help manage dry skin and eczema [3]. 

According to a 2016 study, researchers suggested that the use of probiotics can help with the following: 

  • Store skin’s pH
  • Lower oxidative stress
  • Minimize the effects of sun damage caused by UV light
  • Enhance the skin’s moisture barrier
  • Improve hair quality [4]

In another study review conducted in 2009, health experts found that probiotics may also further help reduce the risk of skin cancer [5].

Your skin pH increases as you age, making the skin drier every year. Some changes in the moisture of your skin barrier can make it easier for an imbalance in bacteria to occur. Research also added that some probiotics could feed healthy bacteria to balance the skin’s pH. As a result, they help protect your skin against free radical damage.

How can gut health affect your skin, and why?

It is known that the more diverse the gut microbiome (consisting of good and bad microbes), the healthier the gut. In short, a healthy gut is significantly influenced by the health of the collection of microbes that live in the gut. 

Moreover, the gut microbiome does not only affect gut health locally but also has far-reaching effects around the body, including the skin. Gut health has been linked to various common skin disorders, namely acne, eczema and psoriasis [6]. 

Your gut health can affect skin health through the gut-skin axis. As widely known, over 70 percent of the body’s immune cells are located in the gut, and gut microbes can affect the function of immune cells. 

The skin microbiome

Similar to the concept of the gut microbiome, the skin is also colonized by its own collection of microbes called the skin microbiome. Some common bacteria found on the skin are: 

  • Staphylococci
  • Corynebacteria
  • Propionibacterium
  • Brevibacterium
  • Micrococci

The makeup of the skin microbiome is different from one person to another, depending on various factors, including age, gender and environment.

Colonization of the skin with the bacteria Propionibacterium acnes is linked to acne and may potentially trigger an inflammatory reaction. When this happens, the first line of treatment for acne vulgaris is known to be  antibiotics. 

On the negative side, there has been an increase in antibiotic-resistant strains of Propionibacterium acnes over the years. Plus, antibiotics may cause unpleasant side effects. 

Consequently, people who suffer from acne may need to find more alternative options, like probiotics, in order to help manage their acne or to ameliorate the side effects of antibiotic medication. 

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Benefits of skincare

Enhance inflammatory skin conditions

Probiotics have shown a stabilizing effect in inflammatory conditions, particularly in acne and rosacea. 

Research has shown that probiotics provide a calming effect on the skin and prevent the immune system from attacking other living microorganisms, therefore, reducing flare-ups [7]. 

Strengthen the skin barrier

Moreover, probiotics are found to be helpful in reducing the threat of infection and reinforcing the skin’s natural defenses against several factors:

  • Bad bacteria
  • Pollution
  • Free radical damage

With the production of antimicrobials and compounds that lower the skin’s pH, probiotics may also protect the skin from transient pathogens that could potentially disrupt normal skin function. 

Having an increased intestinal permeability, commonly known as the leaky gut, can contribute to acne development. Meanwhile, probiotics can help reinforce the lining of the gut wall and prevent the growth of pathogens that damage the delicate gut lining.

Slow down aging and for longevity

Topical probiotics are found to boost better moisture absorption and help delay the signs of aging. Also, lactic acid aids in reducing the appearance of wrinkles, tightening pores and providing exfoliating properties that enhance dry and dull skin. Probiotics also have nourishing properties that soothe sun-damaged skin.

The benefits of probiotics for skin health: Evidence and insights

Promote healthy scalp

When applied to the scalp, probiotics are known to help soothe irritations and even indirectly restore hair growth. Research has shown that feeding mice with probiotic yogurt makes their fur thicker, shinier and more lustrous [8]. 

Reduce oxidative stress

Your body can naturally produce damaging and harmful free radicals as a result of metabolic processes in the body. Luckily, consuming antioxidants counteract these free radicals. You can find antioxidants in a usual diet, such as brightly colored fruit and vegetables. 

Nonetheless, imbalance often occurs when there are too many free radicals roaming around the body, and there are not enough antioxidants to counteract their effects – the phenomenon is called oxidative stress. The excess of free radicals can trigger inflammation more. 

Rebalance gut dysbiosis

Probiotic supplementation is found to help in rebalancing the gut microbiome by promoting the levels of beneficial bacteria and stopping the growth of more harmful bacteria.

Inhibit pathogenic bacteria on the skin

The common and natural bacterial inhabitants of the skin can be identified as Staphylococcus epidermidis and Streptococcus salivarius, which both can inhibit the growth of Propionibacterium acnes. 

Promote gut health and regulate bowel movements

People with acne are more likely to experience regularity and digestive issues. Dysbiosis and leaky gut are seen more often in people suffering from bowel irregularity compared with healthy individuals, both of which may add to the development of acne. 

Help manage the effects of stress

Research has shown that there is a relationship between mental health, the gut and skin health, medically known as the gut-skin-brain axis. 

Mental health issues like anxiety and depression often occur alongside chronic skin conditions, primarily acne and stress–these two are importantly related to one another. 

In the stress response, cortisol (considered the main stress hormone) is released into the bloodstream. Cortisol can bind to receptors in the skin, which may cause increased sebum production and inflammation. 

Stress can cause acne indirectly by causing dysbiosis in the gut. The upset feeling in the gut microbiome can increase intestinal permeability, causing a leaky gut and may lead to inflammation.

Both dysbiosis and leaky gut syndrome can contribute to acne development, and probiotics may help improve them. 

The bottom line

There are numerous research studies proving that probiotics can help in preventing and treating skin disorders, including acne, allergic skin inflammation, eczema, atopic dermatitis, skin hypersensitivity, UV-induced skin damage and wound healing.

In fact, there are skincare brands in the market that have been using probiotics in their formula. This includes products in different forms, such as serums, supplements and creams. 

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[1] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10408398.2012.680078?journalCode=bfsn20 
[2] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352647515000155 
[3] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/exd.14032 
[4] https://jddonline.com/articles/anti-aging-effects-of-probiotics-S1545961616P0009X/ 
[5] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/bjd.18088 
[6] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30042740/ 
[7] https://www.aad.org/media/news-releases/could-probiotics-be-the-next-big-thing-in-acne-and-rosacea-treatments 
[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3547054/ 

Photograph: valeriygoncharukphoto/Envato
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