You have probably heard about the benefits of consuming probiotics to help maintain a healthy gut microbiome, but have you heard of applying probiotics to your face? While the skin microbiome has been a hot topic within the science world for a while now, it’s only just beginning to become mainstream in skincare.
What’s the big deal? In a nutshell, happy skin flora translates to healthy, glowing skin that is clear and healthy. Probiotic skincare helps skin flora to, well flourish, and this benefits the skin in many different ways.
If your skin is unhappy, the microbiome is considered out of balance. But just what does ''out of balance" mean? It translates to skin that is too oily, too dry, uneven, red, irritated or sensitive. At the more extreme end of the scale, you experience acne, ezcema or perioral dermatitis. This is what is known as "dysbiosis".
Acne is a complex skin issue, but one factor is the overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria on the skin. Cutibacterium acnes (c.acnes) is the culprit, although this bacteria can be both commensal (harmless) and pathogenic. The pathogenic strains trigger inflammation, which can lead to acne.
Just like gut probiotics, live probiotics in skincare fight bad bacteria by introducing good bacteria. They produce antimicrobial peptides, which are essentially natural antibiotics) to ward off bad bacteria and restore the balance.
The good fight
Balancing the microbiome has many knock-off benefits, it’s a bit like a domino effect. Because a healthy skin microbiome equates to a healthy and hydrated skin barrier, the skin immune system is more robust, creating a calming effect on the skin. When your skin barrier is fortified your skin is radiant, healthy and glowing.
Inflammation is dialled down, reducing flare-ups. If and when breakouts do occur, they are less severe as the skin system is able to fight them off more effectively.
Lastly, they boost the skin’s ability to deal with external factors such as free radicals, sun, and pollution, giving the added bonus of preventing premature aging.
Gently does it
Working with your skin’s natural intelligence, probiotic skincare is a gentle way to clear up and restore skin. The old-school way of dealing with acne was to wipe out all bacteria with antibiotics or harsh ingredients. Although the acne disappears, you are left with a weakened microbiome, its fortifying benefits and natural oils stripped away.
You can further harness the power of probiotic skincare products with the use of prebiotic skincare products. ‘Pre’ as in before the probiotics; prebiotic cleansers and serums create the ideal conditions on the skin for the probiotic bacteria to thrive. Research has identified some advanced probiotic strains that are effective in improving the health of the skin microbiome.
If you want to try probiotic skincare, it’s useful to understand the different types available, as often they are just generalized as ‘probiotics,’ when in fact, they are a byproduct of probiotics, more accurately known as postbiotics.
So, what’s the difference?
Useful for creating an optimal environment for probiotics, as they promote the growth of micro-organisms. Think of prebiotics as a fertilizer for feeding the micro-organisms.
Ingredient examples in skincare: chicory, beet, xylitol, rhamnose
These are the living micro-organisms that work to actively alter the microflora of the host. True probiotic skincare is rarer as keeping the micro-organisms stable and alive within skincare products is no easy task.
Ingredient examples in skincare: BLIS Q24.
More commonly found in skincare, postbiotics are the chemical byproducts of micro-organisms, they are no longer alive but still provide benefits to the skin.
The limitations of postbiotics are that they do not offer the same intensity of benefits of live, active probiotic strains. You can easily spot them in ingredient lists as they will have the bacteria name followed by lysate.
Ingredient examples in skincare: Lactobacillus lysate, bifidobacterium lysate, Lactococcus ferment lysate.