If you’re familiar with sauerkraut and chug kombucha on the daily, chances are you’ll know all about how food containing good bacteria can benefit the health of your gut, giving your entire body a load of health benefits.
But did you know probiotics are also great applied topically to calm and restore balance and glow to your skin? Before you go fashioning a face mask out of kimchi, hold up. It’s easier (and less smelly), to source one of a host of new products designed to introduce microscopic beneficial bacteria to skin.
“Probiotics are live bacteria (good bacteria) and yeasts which not only help with digestion but are now being used in some topical skincare,” says Lauren Harding, skin expert at The Face Place. “Like the stomach, with the skin there are always ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria present (known as your microbiome), but if we allow the skin to become damaged and dysfunctional, this fine balance can be disrupted and allow the ‘bad’ bacteria to become prevalent.”
According to Harding, this ‘damage and dysfunction’ can be anything from illness to UV damage or even using cleansers that are too harsh and stripping for your skin type. Things can then go haywire, with acne, inflammation and the worsening of issues such as rosacea and eczema.
This imbalance of your microbiome — the combination of those trillions of bacteria — can play havoc with the appearance of your skin, lessening its barrier function. The barrier is the delicate top layer of your skin that’s made up of a naturally occurring mix of oils, fats and ceramides. It’s like a security guard that protects it from the external environment, sensitivity and infection, as well stopping the good stuff underneath, like hydration, getting out. A strong barrier function will help skin cope with any challenges; a weak one is irritated more easily.
Elizabeth Arden Superstart Probiotic Cleanser Whip to Clay, $59; Tailor Renew Morning and Night Probiotic Serum, $69; Essano Clear Complexion Oil Control Moisturiser, $20.
Introducing more of the good guys (minute bacteria) onto the skin’s surface via probiotic skincare can be a gentle way to recalibrate your microbiome and help settle things back into a normal mode of operation — skin not too dry, oily or sensitive, with barrier squarely intact. In other words, if you want perfect, glowing, healthy skin, probiotics are a good place to start, especially in winter when the weather takes a toll on your complexion.
Sara Quilter of Tailor Skincare is a proponent, having incorporated a unique vegan probiotic lysate into her Renew serum. She points to the fact that it’s been proven to help balance out the negative actions of bad bacteria (hello, acne!), and to stimulate the regeneration of healthy, happy new skin, keeping it looking youthful and fresh for longer.
“Probiotic lysates are stable cultures which are bioactive on the skin. They help to strengthen the skin and stimulate the skin’s natural renewal process,” she says.
“In addition to balancing the skin’s microbiome to help keep the pathogens in check, probiotics (specifically lactococcus lactis; the same probiotic used to make cheese and kefir) have been shown to help stimulate the skin’s renewal process at a cellular level.”
Freeman Beauty Infusion Charcoal+Probiotics Cleansing Sheet Mask, $8; The Beauty Chef Probiotic Skin Refiner, $80; Gallinée body milk, $71
While Sara rates their effectiveness — and she has some impressive images of customers’ success healing after painful acne breakouts — she also recommends taking a two-pronged approach and treating your gut right too.
“All of your body’s systems are connected. The skin acts as a blueprint for what’s going on inside the body. If your gut health is out of balance, it’s likely to show on your skin in some way. Gut probiotics aid your digestive system, helping to break down food so your body can absorb the nutrients. If this process isn’t working, then you’re not going to get the full benefit of the food you eat. Your body will take what nutrients you can absorb and dedicate them to more important processes like liver function over and above skin health. The skin is the last priority to the body, so if your gut health is out, it will show on the skin.”
Somebody pass the miso!