Incorporating a cup of kombucha with your lunchtime cereal, you’ve embraced the benefits of probiotics for your gut. With fermented cabbage making its way into your diet, you’ve broadened your intake of beneficial microbes. While the intricate connection between your gut and skin has been widely acknowledged, the spotlight now turns to the microbial landscape on your skin.
The Gut-Skin Axis
The robust link between the gut and skin, known as the gut-skin axis, reveals that an imbalanced microbiome often leads to skin conditions such as psoriasis, acne, and dermatitis. Much like the growing interest in the past decade regarding the connection between gut health and immunity, the relationship between gut and skin health is now being explored more than ever, captivating researchers and consumers alike.
Through extensive research, insights into how a healthy microbiome interacts with various organ systems, including the skin, have deepened. Recognizing this interplay, many beauty brands have started incorporating probiotics into their formulations to harness their benefits.
Our skin, constituting 15% of our body weight, acts as a superhero cape, creating a protective barrier against potential external threats. The microbial community on our skin – a collection of bacteria, fungi, and viruses – requires delicate balance to maintain this protective barrier.
Alterations in this microbial community, such as the death of certain microbes or a lack of diversity, can lead to skin issues. Similarly, an overgrowth of certain bacteria on the skin surface can result in various skin problems.
Imagine the gut-skin-brain axis as one of those giant puzzle blocks. If you push the fragments representing the gut too far, the fragments representing the skin and brain are likely to go out of sync. In a study examining the relationship between gut microbiota (also known as the microbiome) and psoriasis development, a skin condition affecting 3% of the adult population in the United States, researchers found a significantly higher incidence of gastrointestinal symptoms in psoriasis patients compared to healthy individuals. Treating the skin condition led to an improvement in their gut health.
Our modern sedentary lifestyle and high stress levels may contribute to an altered mixture of microbes on the skin, potentially leading to more skin conditions and immune system disruptions.
The Science Behind Oral Probiotics
Every stroll through the pharmacy aisle or scroll through social media ads presents bottles of probiotics, but do you really know what probiotics are? Probiotics are beneficial live microorganisms for the host. The most common bacteria sold as probiotics are lactobacilli and bifidobacteria.
Scientific research on probiotics and their effects is still relatively new, but the overall understanding of their benefits suggests they improve immune function by strengthening the intestinal mucosal barrier and eliminating harmful bacteria. Since 70% to 80% of immune cells reside in the gut, maintaining gut balance is crucial for overall health.
For years, dermatologists have speculated on the connection between the gut, skin, and mental health. Recent studies over the past two decades have substantiated this theory. Acne patients often suffer from depression, anxiety, and other psychological issues. Teens with acne are more likely to experience gastrointestinal symptoms, including constipation, acid reflux, and bloating. Another study found a correlation between rosacea patients and various gastrointestinal issues, including inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, gastroesophageal reflux disease, Helicobacter pylori infection, and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).
Improving gut health, often coupled with probiotics and medications, can also lead to improvements in skin conditions like eczema, dermatitis, and acne. Does this mean everyone should add probiotics to their skincare routine? Both topical probiotic extracts and oral probiotics can offer various benefits to the skin. As probiotics help reduce systemic inflammation, they also have a soothing effect on the skin, aiding in redness reduction, hydration, and the production of collagen and elastin.
What the Research Says
When it comes to skin aging, UV radiation from the sun is the major culprit. While the sun indeed helps us produce vitamin D, overall, it can lead us on a short trip to Wrinkle City. However, with the assistance of certain beneficial bacteria, we might be able to combat these harmful rays.
A specific probiotic strain, L. johnsonii, has been proven to enhance the balance of skin immune health. Other strains, including Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, Bifidobacterium breve, and Bifidobacterium longum, show promise in preventing UV-induced skin tumor formation, but these results need replication in humans.
Choosing the Right Probiotic
If you decide to incorporate probiotics into your skincare regimen, it’s essential to know what to look for before shopping.
Look for Specific Strains: Strains beneficial to the gut also benefit the skin, as a balanced microbiome contributes to skin health. Specific strains usually belong to the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium families. Skincare companies like Turā focus on probiotic strains proven to have specific skin benefits.
Check CFU: In addition to identifying the strains in supplements, you’ll come across something called CFU on the back of the bottle, representing Colony Forming Units, indicating the cell quantity per dose. The typical CFU for probiotics ranges from 1 to 100 billion, often written as 1 x 10 to the power of 9. However, a higher number doesn’t always mean better, as it includes both live and dead organisms. Some manufacturers voluntarily list the count of live bacteria at the end of the product’s shelf life, which is helpful, as you need those living bugs to do any good.
Examine Dosage, Storage Recommendations, and Ingredients: Probiotic dosages can range from one capsule per day to two capsules twice daily or more. Follow the product’s instructions for optimal results, and note that some probiotics need refrigeration. In addition to probiotic strains, some skin-centric products also include prebiotics, which are indigestible fibers aiding the flourishing of probiotics. You might find prebiotics like inulin or konjac root in products such as Hum Nutrition’s Skin Squad Pre+ Probiotic.
Incorporating Probiotics into Your Daily Life:
Once you’ve found a product you like, you may wonder when to take it. Most products recommend daily intake, much like taking multiple vitamins. However, some products suggest a 5-day on, 2-day off pattern, such as Cymbiotika’s Healthy Glow. Most products can be taken at any time of the day, but some are designed to be taken with meals or even sprinkled on food, like Dermala’s Meant to Be. Regardless of the approach, consistency is key to see if it provides benefits.
In addition to the probiotics you ingest in pill form, you’ve probably been inundated with ads promoting probiotics you can apply to your skin. This concept mirrors oral probiotics—improving the skin’s natural protective barrier by adding beneficial bacteria. However, does one type (oral or topical) fare better than the other? If you suffer from inflammatory skin conditions like rosacea, acne, or eczema, probiotic skincare products might be beneficial. Just as probiotic supplement