Are Probiotics Good for My Skin?
Probiotics are live microorganisms like good bacteria that we can take internally, or apply externally, for health benefits. Bacteria already form about 1-3% of your body mass, meaning you already have several pounds of bacteria living in and on you – primarily in your gut.
Good bacteria are essential for good health. They help digest our food, defend us against bad bacteria, yeasts, and viral infections and actually are considered an important part of our immune system.
Your Skin’s Microbiome
Up to 200 different varieties of bacteria live on your skin and many are part of your skin’s healthy defenses. There are approximately 1 million microorganisms on every square centimeter of skin. The types of bacteria found on the skin vary depending on the area of the body, with different strains of bacteria behind your ears, in your armpits, or on your face. The more moisture in an area of skin, the higher the concentration of bacteria that live there.
In a way, the skin is its own microbiome or ecosystem. All the niches and pores provide a safe haven for bacterial colonization no matter how much soap and water you use. But don’t fret, you want good bacteria on your skin. The good bacteria fill those small crevices, protecting against invasion by more pathogenic or harmful organisms. They also prime your skin’s immune cells to react to bad bacteria.
Probiotics and Chronic Skin Conditions
Internally, good bacteria in the gut decrease intestinal permeability – or “leaky gut” – thus preventing allergens and partially digested proteins from entering the bloodstream. This is one of the ways good bacteria decrease inflammation throughout the body, inflammation which may contribute to chronic skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, and rosacea. Good intestinal flora also promotes better elimination of toxins, reducing the load of toxins traveling to the skin for elimination through the pores.
Upping Your Good Bacteria
Many people take probiotic supplements, hoping to reap the health benefits of good bacteria. Supplements vary in quality. The worst are a waste of money, having no live bacterial cultures at all. For live cultures, look for supplements that are from a reputable source, and are preferably refrigerated to preserve the bacteria.
However, you don’t really need a pill to get good bacteria into your diet. Instead, start including a wider variety of cultured foods, such as kimchi, miso, tempeh, natural sauerkraut, kombucha, yogurt and kefir into your diet. The bacteria that preserves or “cultures” these healthy foods are the same good bacteria you’ll find in a probiotic supplement.
Eating a high fiber diet also creates the type of atmosphere in the intestine that favors good bacteria. So once again, you can’t go wrong with eating more fruits and vegetables.
Topical Probiotic Products
Many dermatologist and researchers are excited by the possibility of using probiotics topically to treat skin conditions. New skin products featuring probiotic additives are popping up online and over-the-counter. However, while there is some anecdotal incidence that these products might help, there is no hard research at this time that supports the efficacy of probiotic skin products.
Live probiotic cultures can be quite fragile, and combining them with other skin care ingredients, or storing them at high temperatures, may “kill” them. For the most part, such additives should be harmless, so go ahead and experiment. Take the same precautions as you would any new skin product, trying a small dab on a patch of skin and wait to see if you have any reactions or flare-up that would indicate a sensitivity to other ingredients.
Whole Body Health
The role of bacteria and our skin health is just another example of how our whole body’s health picture is important and why we need to bring the whole body back into balance –including our microbiome — to support skin healing. So dig into healthy high fiber and fermented foods, and discuss supplementing with probiotics with your health professional.
WANT TO LEARN MORE?
Click HERE to get the Amethyst Holistic Skin Solutions Newsletter. You’ll receive interesting information about skin health via articles, before/after pictures, case studies of Amethyst patients, videos, interviews and more. Feel free to share this article with someone who you think may benefit.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Olivia Hsu Friedman, LAc, Dipl.OM, DACM, Cert. TCMDerm, is the owner of Amethyst Holistic Skin Solutions and treats Acne, Eczema, Psoriasis, and TSW. Olivia treats patients via video conferencing using only herbal medicine. Olivia is Chair of the Board of Directors of the American Society of Acupuncturists, serves on the Advisory Board of LearnSkin, and is a faculty member of the Chicago Integrative Eczema Group sponsored by the National Eczema Association.