All About Probiotic Skincare
Microbiome-friendly skincare is big in clean beauty, but what is it and how does it work?
We all know about the benefits of probiotics in our diet, but more recently these beneficial bacteria have been proliferating in the world of skincare. Just like our gut, our skin is host to over one-thousand species of bacteria and other microbes, collectively called the skin microbiome. These friendly bacteria not only interact with our immune system to help fight infection and disease, but also play an important role in the normal maintenance of healthy skin, supporting barrier function and skin homeostasis.
As the largest organ of the body, however, our skin is constantly exposed to physical and chemical aggressors that adversely affect the microbiome and can lead to a host of issues ranging from dryness and eczema to breakouts and acne. “We’ve seen a major surge of inflammatory conditions like acne, rosacea, and dermatitis over the last few years and our working hypothesis has been that problems begin with disruptions in the skin microbiome and extend to epidermal barrier impairment,” says esthetician, chemist, and brand founder Marie-Veronique Nadeau. “Now, research is supporting this premise, with studies showing that the skin microbiome plays a critical role in maintaining skin health.”
So how can probiotic skincare help to restore and maintain a healthy skin microbiome and what strains should we be seeking out? Read on for our comprehensive guide to probiotic skincare.
What Is The Skin Microbiome?
The skin microbiome is the community of bacteria, fungi, and viruses that live both on and in our skin and is dynamic and changing over time. Everyone’s skin microbiome is unique and varies across different parts of the body depending on factors like temperature, moisture, and oil levels, along with diet, lifestyle, and pollution levels. The skin microbiome plays an essential role in the maintenance of skin homeostasis, protection against pathogens, and the regulation of the immune system, so when dysbiosis–or an imbalance–occurs, the skin can become vulnerable to conditions like dermatitis, psoriasis, and acne.
The causes of dysbiosis? These can be both extrinsic and intrinsic, says Nadeau. “Pollution, sun exposure (UV radiation is antimicrobial), and the use of alkaline cleansers that raise the skin’s pH are some of the environmental and physical factors that might result in a compromised skin microbiome, along with lifestyle factors such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption,” she says. But age and gender also play a role. “Depending on lifestyle, older women are more prone to microbial dysbiosis,” Nadeau says.”Probably due to drier skin, a thinner stratum corneum and more trans epidermal water loss.”
But is it really worth incorporating probiotics into your ever-expanding skin regime? Actually, there’s a lot of recent research that suggests there is.
What Are The Benefits Of Probiotic Skincare?
While there has been a lot of skepticism surrounding probiotic skincare, studies have shown that topical probiotic bacteriotherapy–applying bacteria to skin– can help to prevent and treat skin conditions including eczema, atopic dermatitis, and acne, along with allergic inflammation, skin hypersensitivity, and UV-induced skin damage. Nadeau agrees, citing improved barrier function and diminished susceptibility to pathogenic assault among the benefits she’s seen, adding that some species, like Streptococcus Thermophilus, can also increase skin’s ability to synthesize crucial barrier lipids like Ceramides.
So how do you know if you might benefit from adding a probiotic product to your skincare regime? “If you are prone to breakouts, or your skin starts reacting to products it could formerly tolerate. If your skin is sensitive and/or overly dry. If you have any kind of dermatitis issue like perioral dermatitis or eczema. Or if you have an inflammatory condition such as rosacea,” says Nadeau. “The common denominator in all of these is compromised barrier function, which creates microbial dysbiosis.”
Among things to avoid in order to maintain a healthy microbiome, Nadeau says, are essential oils, preservatives, and over-cleansing. “This can be worse than no cleansing. Antibacterial soaps disrupt microbial balance, and over-exfoliation weakens the barrier layer, leaving skin vulnerable to pathogenic assault. Essential oils are volatile organic compounds with antiseptic properties, so they can disrupt microbiome balance and should be used in moderation. Microcidal preservatives, even those regarded as ‘natural’ and ‘non-toxic’ like phenoxyethanol and phenethyl alcohol, kill indiscriminately, disrupting the microbial balance of the skin and are associated with a high incidence of skin irritation, probably because they create microbial dysbiosis. Look instead for products preserved with biopreservatives like Leucidal (Radish Root Ferment). These will, in addition to being microbiome friendly, provide moisturizing benefits.”
What Are The Best Probiotics For Skin?
Streptococcus Thermophilus: This strain has been found to increase skin Ceramide levels, which has important benefits for aging skin.
Lactobacilli, Lacticaseibacillus Rhamnosus GG, L. Plantarum WCFS, and Lactiplantibacillus Pentosus: Studies show that these strains are effective in combating acne. Note: any yogurt that contains live bacteria will contain an array of acne fighters in the Lactobacilli group.
Gram-positive bacteria including Streptococcus, Lactococcus and Streptomyces: These stimulate the growth of symbiotic bacteria in the skin, which restores microbiome balance and reduces inflammatory symptoms in atopic skin dermatitis such as eczema.
Lactic acid bacteria and Leuconostoc Spp: Lactic Acid bacteria have a moisturizing effect on the skin, which naturally contains Lactic Acid as part of its NMF (natural moisturizing factor). Leuconostoc species (also known as Radish Root Ferment Filtrate) are also used to make biopreservatives, as their postbiotics include a Peptide that combats pathogens like Staphylococcus Aureus.
How To Incorporate Probiotic Skincare Into Your Routine
Probiotics can be found in a range of skincare products including serums, masks, and cleansers, but to get the most bang for your buck, Nadeau recommends incorporating them into your night time routine. “Night time, especially when you are in deep sleep, is the time when your skin is doing clean-up and repair work,” she explains. “Symbiotic and commensal bacteria are all busy at night when you sleep, encouraging biosynthesis of collagen and glycosaminoglycans, which support the structural proteins of the skin, initiating wound healing and tissue repair.” That said, if you are struggling with an inflammatory condition such as acne or rosacea, or have very dry skin, Nadeau says using probiotics during the day can also be beneficial. “You can apply them when you feel uncomfortable, which is a sign of barrier dysfunction that may be improved by adding probiotics. I always tell people with rosacea suffering from a flushing episode to just add a thin layer of yogurt to bring down the redness. It works every time.”
But adding probiotics to your lineup is not a cure-all, she warns. To paraphrase Louis Pasteur, “Fix the terrain and you improve microbiome health,” says Nadeau. “The two are intertwined.” What that means is that in addition to adding probiotics to your product lineup, you must also keep overall skin health in mind via gentle cleansing, pH-adjusting and probiotic tonics, barrier supporting serums and oils, and protective sunscreen. “To keep the terrain in tip-top shape, make sure your skin has sufficient barrier lipids (which you can apply topically) and keep your acid mantle intact,” she says (think ingredients like Squalane and Ceramides) “Avoid alkaline products that increase the pH. Also avoid products preserved with microcidal preservatives. These precautions will ensure that your added probiotics are going to a good home–that is, a welcoming environment in which they can thrive."
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