Probiotics can benefit your overall skin health because they help you achieve an optimal balance of gut and skin microbiome. This microbiota balance has a positive impact on various health-related functions that lead to a healthy skin such as digestion, nutrient absorption, inflammation, and immune response. Consequently, regular probiotic intake can lead to a clear, younger-looking, nourished, acne-free and well moisturized skin.
If you are keen and you have been conducting research about probiotics on the internet, you might realise that here at My Probiotic Lifestyle, I often skip that “What are Probiotics” paragraph in my research. In 2022 unlike in 2014, it is not much about what probiotics are, rather What They Can Do? We pretty much know what they are, but we are still not sure if some of their supposed benefits are legit or they are just hype. Research on probiotics tends to be limited because the number of researchers with vested commercial interests simply outnumbers that of those with genuine scientific curiosity.
So how can probiotics benefit your overall skin health and appearance? I will try to answer that question as scientific and as succinct as possible. Basically, I want to concentrate mostly on the “how” element of this topic.
What Counts as a Healthy Skin?
When we talk about a healthy skin, we are talking about many things. However, at the bare minimum healthy skin glows and radiates in a manner that no cosmetic products can replicate. A healthy skin speaks for itself….no need for moisturizers, no sun spots, no flakes, no pimples, no sagging, no inflammations, no discolorations, and this organ is a well-oiled machine.
Therefore, the main characteristics of healthy skin are that it is well moisturized, it is soft to the touch, it has a clear and glowing complexion, and it has an even skin tone.
They say beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, but a beholder of beautiful skin wants to see an even tone and a smooth texture. An evenly toned skin is perhaps one of the most obvious things you notice when you first meet a person because this element of perfection is hard to achieve. We only take it for granted because modern makeup products have taken over this task. When it comes to texture, good looking skin is smooth and free of bumps and other elements of unevenness such as acne. The skin is also well moisturized and it is firm without sagging.
Nowadays people tend to get political about the standards of beauty, but skin perfection is one of the markers of beauty wherever you go. However, people also tend to push the envelop with these parameters of perfection. This situation has led to standards of beauty that do not relate to skin health. For instance, all the super models on Instagram have skin that is smooth like glass…no pores…no arm follicles (courtesy of camera filters). This glassy look on skin is not an indicator of skin health. In addition, healthy skin that is oily and naturally moisturized is not widely accepted as a standard of beauty, which is why people move around with powders in their carrier bags. Overall, the markers of healthy skin do not necessarily correlate with what passes for beauty in our current society.
Where Do the Probiotics Come in?
An interesting thing happened when I was conducting research for this article. There are four people in our household. Two of these are just under two years. Like I have mentioned in the past, three out of those four people are completely sold to the Probiotic Lifestyle and they are living “la vida probiotica loca”. One is still a wildcard and is probably waiting to see what the hype is all about. Even though there is a bottle with 90 adult probiotic capsules that gets filled like clockwork, that one wildcard human being can end up taking only one or two probiotics a week, sometimes none. This household is a democracy, so people are free to choose but lobbying is the order of the day. When I was compiling this research, someone crept behind me and saw me writing about the connection between acne and probiotics… Just like that, someone was very interested in this probiotic lifestyle.
Being the cunning probiotic lobbyist that I am, I casually played down this interest. In the past, I have tried to sell probiotics in this household using all manner of potential benefits, including their impact on mood, digestion, alertness, and memory. As it turns out, skin beauty is the selling point. So, from today those probiotic supplements in the cabinet are now acne-eradicating things. How things can change….
The connection between probiotics and skin health occurs in two major ways. First, there are thousands of bacteria that reside in your skin and they form part of your skin microbiome. The skin microbiome plays an important role in keeping your skin healthy. Second, probiotics have an impact on skin health because they directly or indirectly influence how your skin functions as an organ.
Skin Microbiome, Probiotics, And Skin Health
Skin microbiota is made up of millions of bacteria, fungi, and viruses. The diversity of skin microbiota is just like that of the gut and the functions of the two are quite similar. Skin bacteria protects this vital organ against potential invasion by pathogenic elements (Source). The skin microbiome also serves important immunity purposes. The other role of the skin microbiome is in breaking down of natural products that find their way into the skin’s surface (Source).
Skin microbiome can become compromised when its balance of probiotic bacteria shifts and one ends up having more pathogenic bacteria than the beneficial ones. The result of an imbalanced skin microbiome can range from skin breakouts, systemic skin diseases, or even body odor. Examples of skin diseases and conditions that are caused by skin microbiome imbalance include eczema and psoriasis.
This screenshot below is from a study that linked some of the more common skin disorders with different microbiota. The study also makes a connection between alterations of skin microbiota with the onset of various skin diseases.
Probiotics that you take orally can be effective in balancing the billions of gut bacteria that reside in your skin. On the other hand, there are various topical probiotic beauty products that can be applied directly to the skin. In the last few years, the beauty industry has leaned more towards this probiotic angle. For example, it is not unusual for some beauty products to be infused with a few strains of probiotics.
Like I promised when we were starting this article, claims are one thing, and scientific proof is another thing, and practical applications are yet another thing.
According to a leading Dermatologist, the marketing claims that accompany probiotic cosmetics are quite far from the scientific application. For instance, Dr. Jungman questions the viability of the probiotic bacteria in beauty products, especially their ability to stay alive and be delivered on to the skin for purposes of colonization. Notably, revitalizing your skin microbiome through applying probiotics is still a novel idea and there is no adequate research to support its effectiveness (Source).
Gut Microbiome, Probiotics, and Skin Health
There is enough research (Source 1, Source 2, Source 3) to demonstrate the link between gut microbiota and skin health. The gut microbiome plays an important role in determining the overall skin health, and it is an active defense against autoimmune skin diseases such as psoriasis and acne. An imbalance of the gut microbiome translates into various skin disorders. For instance, the gut microbiome is the main skin-health regulating factor because it maintains homeostasis between tissues and organs. This section of the article aims to show the connection between the gut microbiome and the functioning of the human skin.
First, there are various parallels between the lining of the gut and the skin as an organ, hence the researchers focus on the gut-skin axis (Source). For instance, both organs are covered by epithelial cells that offer contact between this organ and the outside environment. Nevertheless, the main role or these two organs is to distinguish between the beneficial and harmful elements within their respective environments.
The main connection between gut and skin microbiota is that the bacteria in the gut is responsible for immunity and metabolism functions. Gut bacteria is also responsible for the production of essential nutrients that are essential to skin integrity such as B12, Vitamin K, Propionate, and Butyrate (Source 1, Source 2).
People who suffer from leaky gut (like me) tend to bear the brunt of skin conditions that result from having a compromised gut lining. A compromised gut lining causes the proliferation of pathogenic elements to the blood stream leading to autoimmune reactions such as inflammation. These autoimmune conditions are manifested on the skin in the form of disorders such as psoriasis and eczema. According to the study by Pessemier, gut dysbiosis is closely linked to inflammatory diseases, which in turn leads to dermatoses. For example, the research points out that about 10% of the people who suffer from IBD due to an imbalance in gut microbiota also suffer from psoriasis.
Probiotics aim to introduce good bacteria into your system leading to a scenario where the pathogenic elements in both your gut and skin are suppressed. As covered in the research above, probiotics as a solution to gut microbiota imbalances are set to have a direct impact on skin health. So how does using probiotics specifically enhance your skin health?
Below are Four Main Ways in Which Probiotics Directly Impact Your Skin Health and Appearance.
1. Probiotics Help with Clear Acne-Free Skin
We have to start with Acne because it is the most common skin disorder in the West, and probably the world, and it affects more than 70% of the population at one point in their life. One thing that people like that one member of this household would be interested to know is that it is quite rare in hunter-gatherer communities, or people who lead a non-western lifestyle. Also uncommon for Probiotic Lifestyle members (do not quote or take me to task on that). In most cases, acne is treated by cleansing the skin with antibacterial compounds, comedolytic actives, and retinoids. This implies that acne is treated by affecting the skin microbiome.
Probiotics will help you achieve a clear skin that is acne-free primarily by reducing the rates of inflammation in both your gut and skin. In addition, studies have shown that the prevalence of certain bacteria in the skin is associated with higher rates of acne.
Both topical or ingested probiotics have the capacity to reduce the inflammatory response and help you achieve a clear skin. Probiotics will also reduce the amount of pathogenic bacteria in your skin and hence restore its optimal functionality. Nevertheless, in my personal experience, by the time you are starting to have a glowing skin after regular probiotic intake (that is where I am getting right now), acne is already a thing of the past. Note that, a low-fiber diet can cause your acne to resurge even when you are taking probiotics. My advice is you mix both probiotics and prebiotics in order to achieve better results in relation to an acne-free skin.
2. Probiotics Will Help You Deal with an Aging Skin
Aging is a natural process but no one wants to be run down like that. Probiotics can play a role in slowing down the rate of aging by ensuring the production of the right substances to support skin health. For instance, lactic acid when produced in your skin reduces the appearance of wrinkles, pores, and nourishes the skin naturally. Probiotics also help maintain the pH of the skin at a more acidic level thereby making your skin less vulnerable to oxidative stress.
According to a recent research study, aging can be due to both intrinsic and extrinsic factors. Probiotics have an impact on both of these manifestations of skin aging. The study concluded that probiotics have a positive impact on the intrinsic and extrinsic aspects of aging as they can help maintain optimum skin pH levels, improve skin barrier functions, and help the skin deal with burden of oxidative stress.
Probiotics also help reduce autoimmune responses, which are one of the main causes of intrinsic aging. More importantly, probiotics have been observed to boost the levels of collagen in the body and thereby create an anti-aging impact on the skin. Another impact of probiotics on skin aging is that they stimulate the production of ceramides, which adds to the vitality of this organ.
Overall, there is enough evidence to show that probiotics have a positive influence on the skin’s immunity, and they help reinforce its natural defenses thereby slowing the aging process. Probiotics will also slowdown the rate of aging by stimulating the production of free radical scavengers to neutralise the impact of free radicals that often lead to skin aging (Source 1, Source 2, Source 3).
3. Probiotics Will Nourish Your Skin
People with ashy skin say what?… Got you! Probiotics have the potential to nourish your skin by reducing the rate of its water loss and getting rid of related conditions such as eczema and dryness. When the skin microbiota is well-balanced, it becomes easier for the skin to absorb moisture and improve the functioning of pores. The result is that the skin will appear more nourished and also retain moisture in the right manner.
Researchers have also pointed out that certain strains of probiotics have the capacity to boost the skin’s ability to produce lipids or ceramides that play an important role in trapping moisture in the skin and preventing conditions such as dry skin and eczema (Source). In one study that focused on the treatment of eczema using probiotics, the researchers found that probiotics are effective against the onset of eczema on children (Source). In another study that focused on atopic dermatitis, researchers found probiotics to help with the management of this condition (Source).
4. Probiotics Will Help with Allergy-Related Skin Conditions
When it comes to the benefits of probiotics on the skin, their effectiveness on allergic conditions is often contested (Source 1, Source 2). However, probiotics have shown considerable promise in preventing the onset of allergic conditions and not treating them (Source 1, Source 2).
Use of probiotics against allergic skin conditions is mainly based on the fact that they help maintain a balance of gut microbiota. This ability to remedy intestinal dysbiosis and intestinal-lining permeability is likely to lead to fewer immune responses and cases of inflammatory cytokines. Most allergic reactions result from inflammatory responses in the body. For instance, when the intestinal lining is not able to digest certain foods, the resulting autoimmune function might be manifested in form of skin allergies.
Part of the reason why the impact of probiotics on allergic reactions is contested is because there is no enough scientific evidence to show the precise-action mechanisms that accomplish this mission. This is especially true for non-stomach related issues such as skin allergies. Therefore, the existing link between probiotics and skin allergies is often attributed to autoimmune functions.
There is enough research to show a direct link between intestinal dysbiosis and the prevalence of allergies (Source). Taking probiotics has an impact on microbial diversity in both the skin and gut. Consequently, supplementation of probiotics has been found to reduce instances of allergic skin conditions such as eczema and atopic dermatitis.
The benefits of probiotics on the skin are quite obvious to probiotic users but they are quite difficult to explain and proof in definite scientific terms mainly due to lack of enough research. This means that you either need to be too good at research to crack this one, or you are better of just trying them for a month or two and then observing the results. Both options mean you are taking the scientific approach that many people are hesitant to take when it comes to eating probiotics. If you choose the Probiotic Lifestyle method of learning by doing, you should bear in mind that all probiotics are not equal.
In the course of my experience with probiotics, I have come to realise that most people fail because they expect quick results. Hence, I do not urge people to take probiotic supplements, rather to “adopt a Probiotic Lifestyle”. This means that just changing one thing might not get you the results you need, but changing a whole bunch of things is almost guaranteed to work.
Currently, probiotics-for-beauty is one of the most commercialised ideas. No one should feel discouraged to try something that might improve their life. Nevertheless, it is still better to get to the root cause of the problem of your skin issues before jumping into the bandwagon of probiotic cosmetics.
My overall take on probiotics for skincare is if the gut is good, everything else might turn out to be okay. So in whatever case, all my probiotic battles start with me trying to achieve a good balance of gut microbiota. In my specific case, I will also aim to heal my leaky gut as an overall goal.
Your long history of skin problems is not likely to be solved by a single or two doses of probiotic supplements. For instance, I did research on the changes that happen to your body when you start taking probiotics, and in some cases it might take you years before you get the desired results. However, if your skin issues are just starting out then you have a better chance of turning probiotics into some form of magic skin elixir.