Adding good bacteria to your daily diet is proven to work health and digestive wonders, all while fostering better skin from within. Now, skincare companies are adding the tiny microbes to beauty creams with the promise of a gorgeous glow. But what can you really expect from one of the latest innovations in skincare?
There’s little doubting the benefits of adding good bacteria to our daily diets, with friendly strains, such as lactobacillus and bifidobacterium, promoting healthy digestion and overall better health, while effectively treating skin ailments, diarrhoea, vaginal infections, irritable bowel syndrome and even tooth decay.
Often found in commercial supplements, good bacteria are also abundant in fermented foods such as tempeh, miso and yoghurt. Since 2007, they’ve also been found in an increasing number of beauty elixirs, from anti-ageing creams to all-over moisturisers, with manufacturers promising what’s good for your insides is also great for your outsides, aiding acne prevention and promoting cellular renewal.
Nutritionist and herbologist Elaine Linker says probiotic treatments work by “crowding out” organisms that depress the immune system, bolstering our tolerance to illness and disease. A similar principle applies when applied topically, she adds.
“With all of the exfoliation and cleansing we do, we often strip the skin of its protective mantle,” she says. “A complex of the right probiotics helps the skin support the external matrix as well as the moisture matrix of the skin.”
Just as antibiotics disrupt the natural functioning of the immune system by stripping the body of good and bad bacteria, chemical-based skin cleansers and treatments such as peels and lasers also rid the skin of its natural acid mantle, making way for colonisation of harmful bacteria, which can result in skin conditions such as acne, as well as chronic dehydration and rashes.
With all of the exfoliation and cleansing we do, we often strip the skin of its protective mantle.
Board certified dermatologist Marina Peredo, an associate clinical professor at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, stresses that while topical probiotic treatments combined with antioxidants and vitamins are highly beneficial, probiotics are “far more effective when you put them in your body and allow them to work from the inside out.”
Donna Gates, a nutritional consultant, author and lecturer, who wrote her bestselling book The Body Ecology Diet: Recovering Your Health and Rebuilding Your Immunity after years of research to find a cure for her candida-related health problems, agrees.
“The microbiota (from fermented foods) that set up shop in our intestines play a key role in keeping our intestines clean,” she says. “By keeping our intestines clean, our lymph, liver and cells are cleaner. This is the secret to glowing skin.”
“The microbiota in (these foods) have already formed complex colonies that work together with great intelligence and this wisdom or intelligence cannot be duplicated in a man-made probiotic product,” she says. “So first and foremost eat fermented foods. But probiotic skincare products are proving to have anti-aging properties too.”
The widely known go-to expert of friendly flora, Donna explains our skin is covered with trillions of invisible microorganisms—mostly beneficial and neutral—that help protect us from external pathogens that try to invade the body.
“There are many different species that live all over our body,” she says. “Recently scientists were surprised to learn that the bacteria under one armpit will be an entirely different species from the bacteria under the other armpit.”
According to Donna, more cosmetic companies are adding probiotics into their skincare and beauty products to aid moisturisation and exfoliation—and because of their reputed anti-ageing benefits. She recommends Australia’s Grainfields as one of the most effective ranges of probiotic skincare on the market.
“I love their toner because it contains lactic acid—also called alpha hydroxy acid (AHA),” Donna says. “AHA’s are known to help hydrate and exfoliate our skin… lactic acid is a better choice for more sensitive skins than glycolic acid.”
While there are no known contraindications, many skincare experts and some researchers suggest that the jury is still out on effectiveness of probiotic lotions thanks to their infancy. However, the British Journal of Dermatology has suggested eczema—and its associated itching—improved in patients who were treated with a probiotic cream. Meanwhile, the Journal of Dermatological Science conducted a study that hailed the benefits of probiotics in skincare, suggesting they inhibit the growth of bad bacteria that results in acne.
A Change of Thinking
Bacteria—at least the good bacteria—are not our enemy after all, says Donna Gates. “For decades we’ve been using antibacterial soaps and disinfectants to kill the pathogenic bacteria but we have also been killing the benefical bacteria that protect us. Disinfectants are now starting to be replaced with probiotic soaps and creams that add the good guys to protect us from the ones that are harmful.”
What to Look For
Just as digestible probiotics vary in viability, potency, cost and effectiveness, so do probiotic skincare products. Choosing the most expensive also doesn’t guarantee the best results. Look for probiotic creams that are manufactured by reputable companies with high standards. Ask, “Does your product have living, beneficial bacteria?” Some manufacturers may put bacteria in a product as a gimmick, rather than for potency and effectiveness. “Actually making your own, using live probiotics is best to really change the quality of your skin,” says Donna. “Having them colonizing inside your gut is key though.” Also, look for natural ingredients—and where possible, organic—as these will always be a better match for the skin in the long term, regardless of its type.
For decades we’ve been using antibacterial soaps and disinfectants to kill the pathogenic bacteria but we have also been killing the benefical bacteria that protect us. Disinfectants are now starting to be replaced with probiotic soaps and creams that add the good guys to protect us from the ones that are harmful.
A good probiotic skincare product may:
• Help diminish fine lines and wrinkles;
• Help reduce the appearance of age spots;
• Help reduce hyperpigmentation;
• Improve skin texture;
• Stimulate collagen production.
This article originally appeared in Australia’s leading health, wellness and lifestyle publication, WellBeing.