Probiotics in Your Skin Care: Is It the Next Best Thing or a Total Fad?

Probiotic skin care is the new buzzword on the block. Probiotic beauty products claim to calm and soothe the skin, but there's one lingering question: do they actually work? The short answer: it's complicated.

What Are Probiotics?

Before delving into the skincare side of things, we first quizzed the experts on what the primary function of a probiotic is. Dermatologist and author of The Skincare Bible, Dr. Anjali Mahto, MD, explained that probiotics are "micro-organisms" that harness a surge of good bacteria to help cells flourish. "Similar to how probiotics treat and prevent problems in the stomach, topical versions are known for their calming effects on the skin," he said. Mike Rogowski, a lead scientist at Plexus, added that healthy skin microbes play an important role in the maintenance of the skin's acid mantle, which protects the skin from bacteria and environmental factors and retains moisture.

Do They Work?

Now that we know what probiotics are, it's time to investigate whether they actually work when it comes to skin care. Rogowski noted that they can help when it comes to combating skin conditions linked to inflammation such as eczema, acne, and rosacea, which is linked to the overgrowth of staphylococcus aureus, but not so much as a cosmetic treatment. If skin conditions are a major concern, visiting a dermatologist is always the best solution to find an effective treatment. Both Rogowski and Dr. Mahto explained that live bacteria cultures have a very limited lifespan, meaning they won't work in cosmetic skin care as they're dead before they reach the skin.

Selling topical products that contain live bacteria is actually illegal (and sounds kind of gross), so any probiotic found in skin care has likely been killed before being put into the formula, and there's no clear research suggesting this has skin benefits. Dr. Mahto further clarified that lysate (an ingredient said to improve sensitive skin) is often used in its place, with an assumption that lysate has the same biological effects as the live cultures. There have been recent studies that found probiotics have antimicrobial properties and calming effects, however, this is based on early research.

Probiotic Supplements vs. Probiotic Skin Care

If you're looking to incorporate probiotics into your regimen to benefit your skin, supplements can help reduce inflammation. Rogowski suggested that though there are difficulties with stabilizing probiotic skin care, some research suggests that "oral probiotic treatment has shown benefits with skin transepidermal water loss." He suggests that ingestible probiotics are more effective. Dr. Mahto recommends fermented foods such as kefir, kombucha, and miso, however, she stresses that these alone aren't the answer. It's all about a balanced approach over time.

All in all, if you are looking to improve your skin and think probiotics might be the answer, look into your overall gut health first, and always visit a dermatologist for any serious skin concerns. Over-the-counter probiotics such as Symprove have gained momentum because they may allow live bacteria to reach the gut, but there haven't been extensive studies into how this affects the skin. Brands are offering this as a natural or holistic approach to improving the skin from within, and while there is promising evidence to suggest that digestible probiotics can be beneficial to the gut and your overall health, topical application is unlikely to give similar results, for a number of reasons. It certainly doesn't hurt to try, especially because when it comes to gut health and skin health, there really is no one right answer for everyone.