I Slathered Bacteria on My Face, and This Is What Happened
Probiotics, also known as “good” bacteria, are living microorganisms that are naturally found in our bodies. In fact, about 90% of your body is made up of bacteria. Bizarre, right? Probiotics help you maintain a healthy balance of intestinal microbes and aid in general digestion, which is one of the top areas of ailment for a majority of Americans. (I learned a lot about gut health during my weeklong stint with Bella Hadid’s diet.) In addition to the fact that it staves off stomach aches, new research is exploring the link between intestinal bacteria and general immunity, mental health, and even cancer risk.
Surprisingly enough, probiotics are also really great for your skin. Of course, I was hesitant to believe it, as slathering bacteria on my face sounds unpleasant and generally dangerous. But after chatting with Dr. Roshini Raj (she’s a gastroenterologist as well as the founder of skincare company Tula), I was singing a different tune.
“I noticed the skin changes that come with aging, and I wanted to do something about it,” Raj explained of her decision to start the brand. “As someone who wears heavy makeup for TV several times a week, I knew that protecting my skin needed to be a priority, and I suspected many other women felt the same way. I looked at the multitude of products out there and (being a bit of a control freak!) thought I could do better. I tackled the issue as a scientist and researcher, and I started with ingredients that I knew were good for our bodies internally to see how they affect our skin when applied topically. In my GI practice, I saw firsthand how internal well-being and skin health go hand in hand. And thus, Tula was born.”
During our conversation, Raj explained the top five reasons probiotics should be part of your skincare routine.
“Probiotics help strengthen the skin’s natural defense mechanisms, making it more resistant to damage from environmental stressors. By forming a protective shield on the skin’s surface, they also stop your cells from reacting to bad bacteria and pollutants like fumes, smoke, and metals, which can cause redness, discoloration, and premature wrinkles. In fact, two hours of exposure to today’s pollution levels can cause your skin’s antioxidant levels to drop by 25%. Tula’s Urban Defense Hydrating Mist ($28) is especially made for anyone concerned about the impact of urban pollution, including cigarette smoke and fuel exhaust, on your skin.” Raj adds, “In the summer months, exposure to the sun and heat can make skin red and irritated. Topical probiotics have a calming effect on the skin to help combat irritation and even out the complexion. The combination of coconut and rose water in the mist soothes skin and feels like a burst of hydration, whether post-workout or in the summer heat.”
“Topical probiotics can help protect skin against damaging UV rays that can cause premature skin aging and wrinkles. One of the key ingredients in Tula products is chicory extract,” says Raj. “It’s rich in oligofructoses, which help restore the function of vitamin D receptors and allow the skin to better synthesize vitamin D. Sunscreen protects skin by diminishing exposure to UVB/UVA rays, but it does not allow the body to produce the necessary amount of vitamin D, which can create a deficiency. Applying chicory extract to the skin promotes vitamin D synthesis, similar to ingesting vitamin D orally.”
“Sometimes, our bodies think living microorganisms are a potential threat and spring into action to fight it—resulting in redness, bumpiness, and other annoying irritations,” Raj says. “Recent research suggests that when applied topically, probiotics secrete antibacterial and anti-inflammatory substances that help with conditions like acne, eczema, and rosacea.”
“Tula’s Volume Defense Deep Wrinkle Serum ($98) is something we’ve been working on for over two years,” says Raj. “It contains the highest percentage of our probiotic complex to date. This weightless, milky serum feels like a burst of hydration on your skin. Packed with vitamin C and retinol, this anti-aging powerhouse will leave your skin plumper and bring back its youthful bounce.”
“The good bacteria found in topical probiotics fight against stress by strengthening the skin’s immune system and speeding up repair,” says Raj. “With a stronger immune system, the skin is able to stay healthy, giving you a natural glow and an even complexion. We like to call Tula products a ‘smoothie for your skin,’ feeding your skin nutrients in the same way as a healthy diet nourishes your body.”
It’s true that exercise, sleep, and diet all play crucial roles in giving ourselves the balanced life we deserve. Raj asserts, “I truly believe that healthy skincare doesn’t stop at just topical probiotics. If you’re a healthy eater, you’re probably already getting regular doses of probiotics from foods like yogurt, kefir, or kimchi. Fermented foods such as such as yogurt or sauerkraut are good sources of probiotics. You can also find them in veggies like kimchi, kombucha, or miso. My personal favorite source is tempeh.”
So, next time you’re about to sit down to a meal, wash your face, or pass out on the couch, think about the healthiest, most balanced way to do so. And if you can incorporate probiotics, you’re on the right track.
Now that you’re all caught up on probiotics, get the lowdown about all the skin-saving benefits of retinol.