Call it a gut feeling, but in recent years we've started to realize that it might not just be our brains that are controlling our bodies. More and more studies have proven that our guts have a stronghold on our health, and that a thriving gut equals a healthy immune system and strong mind. But does our gut also have control over our complexions? Could our skin issues be a sign that our gut health is awry, and would a daily dose of the right pre-, pro- or post-biotics not only boost our overall health but give our complexion that much longed-after lit-from-within glow?
To help answer our questions, we called on two wellness experts—Carla Oates, gut health expert and founder of The Beauty Chef, and Kimberly Snyder, celebrity nutritionist, holistic wellness expert, New York Times best-selling author and founder of Solluna—to help us on the quest for better skin...via our guts. While we’re definitely not saying our skin serums will soon be redundant, it looks like adding some prebiotic foods and a daily dose of probiotics into the mix could make a bigger difference than we ever thought. Keep scrolling to get the scoop.
The Gut-Skin Axis
"The gut and skin enjoy a constant dialogue via what has become known as the gut-skin axis," says Oates. She explains that while symptoms of gut health issues can be incredibly varied, the skin is often a great barometer for what’s going on inside the gut. "While it might not sound very glamorous, the gut is where 70 percent of our immune system lies," she explains. "It’s where we make nutrients, metabolize hormones and detoxifying enzymes, neutralize pathogens and make neurotransmitters—so it’s super important to get your digestive health in check in order to feel well and of course, experience clear, glowing skin."
Both Oates and Snyder note that many of us don't really think about our guts on the daily. "Have you ever noticed that when your gut appears to be ticking along nicely, you don’t pay much attention to it?" asks Oates. "For most of us, until symptoms manifest, we don’t give our gut health as much TLC as we should."
The gut isn't just one thing—it's a complex colony. "The gut contains a collection of trillions of strains of bacteria and microbes, called the gut microbiome," explains Snyder. "This microbiome maintains homeostasis throughout the body, but can majorly affect our other organs, especially our skin, if it becomes unbalanced. If we experience any issues with our gut, like inflammation, leaky gut or digestion problems, our skin is usually the first place we notice problems."
If we experience any issues with our gut, like inflammation, leaky gut or digestion problems, our skin is usually the first place we notice problems.
When it comes to skin health, more and more studies are linking good skin to a healthy gut. Scientists have found links between gut health and skin issues such as eczema, rosacea, and acne. "That’s why I’m so passionate about educating people about the gut-skin connection," says Oates, who created The Beauty Chef as a way to offer bio-fermented whole foods that help the gut to customers everywhere.
"More and more studies are showing that where there is gut inflammation, there will be skin inflammation," she notes. A 2017 study reports that individuals with rosacea have a higher incidence of gastrointestinal disease, and a 2012 study found that patients with IBD may experience lesions and other skin disorders. "This why it’s so important to address gut health —because once you do, your skin will radiate a glow that no amount of topical treatments and cosmetics can replicate."
The Skin Symptoms to Look Out For
"The skin is a great barometer of what is going on inside the body. If your skin is irritated, inflamed or congested, chances are high that there may be an imbalance in your gut," notes Oates. "Our skin is our body’s largest organ; it is one of the major systems by which the body expels toxins and waste and is our first line of defense against harmful bacteria and pathogens." She explains that almost all skin conditions are linked to gut health, but diagnosing whether or not your skin condition is caused by digestive issues can be tricky. Sometimes the connection is obvious—for example, if drinking milk triggers indigestion, hives, a rash or eczema. Other times, the connection between our gut and our skin complaint can be more difficult to spot.
While it's not easy to link skin symptoms to the gut, Snyder says that typical issues that can signal an underlying gut imbalance include "rashes, breakouts, redness, dryness and inflammation, and/or skin that can look haggard and tends to age more quickly."
What are Probiotics?
When it comes to restoring an out of whack gut microbiome, one of the best ways is to bolster it with probiotics. "Probiotics are live bacteria that we consume, through foods and supplements, to support gut, immune health and overall wellbeing," explains Oates. "Studies focused on the prevention and treatment of gastrointestinal diseases (such as irritable bowel syndrome) and inflammatory skin conditions, including eczema and dermatitis, have shown encouraging results regarding the use of probiotics."
She goes on to explain that there are a multitude of probiotics that have been proven to have health benefits, and there are many we’re only just learning about. "Some of these include Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Saccharomyces, Enterococcus, Streptococcus, Bacillus, Akkermansia and their associated species and strains," she says.
Getting the Right Mix for Your Microbiome
Here's the thing: There’s no one-size-fits-all approach and no ‘perfect’ probiotic profile guaranteed to work for everyone. "The best thing you can do is eat a balanced diet and probiotic-rich fermented foods (as these contain many different species and strains)," explains Oates.
"Generally speaking, taking a probiotic supplement with high numbers of only one strain is arguably the opposite of taking care of our microbiome from your microbes' perspective—it is a forced immigration program that they didn’t get a say in," she says. "Generally speaking, the best thing you can do is eat a balanced whole-food diet and probiotic-rich fermented foods, as well as taking a supplement containing a broad-spectrum probiotic like The Beauty Chef Inner Beauty Powders." She recommends filling up on fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats and lacto-fermented wholefoods (like kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi) to promote microbial diversity and feed your microbiome.
"Having said that, at The Beauty Chef we supercharge organic and biodynamic wholefoods by bio-fermenting them with our exclusive Flora Cultura mother culture," she explains. "This increases their bioavailability, making nutrients easier to absorb while creating a natural, broad-spectrum probiotic. We also boost our fermented bases with medicinal herbs and nutrients for accelerated results."
Snyder believes in the power of SBO [soil-based organism] probiotics. "In our bodies, SBOs help create an environment that limits the growth of unfriendly bacteria, such as pathogens and candida, within our digestive systems," she explains. "Speeding up the elimination of waste, SBOs also help us digest and assimilate carbohydrates, fats and proteins. The ratio and harmony of strains is incredibly powerful in supporting our guts, skin, energy and immunity because they work synergistically and with our bodies. I created the Feel Good SBO probiotic formula with proper harmony and ratios between strains based on clinical research."
How to Take Probiotics
When it comes to taking probiotics, besides looking to a product that contains a good mix of different strains to help cultivate a well-rounded gut microbiome, you should aim to follow the instructions. Some are best taken first thing on an empty stomach, while others are better consumed with food. There are probiotics that have to live in the fridge to survive, while others get along just fine at room temperature. Make sure you're taking note of all of these things to ensure you're helping your probiotics work to their full potential.
What are Pre and Postbiotics?
"Prebiotics are a type of fiber that act as food for bacteria to support proliferation of our good gut bacteria," says Snyder. "Prebiotics can be found in many high-fiber foods and are essential for supporting a healthy gut, and therefore healthy skin."
You can find prebiotics in foods like onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, oats and apples. If you aim to get a varied intake of fiber-rich fruit and vegetables each day, then you're on the right track!
"By consuming fiber daily, your gut microbes ferment the fiber as they feed on it—this creates anti-inflammatory compounds called short chain fatty acids that are essential for skin health, metabolic health, brain health and immune health," adds Oates.
"Postbiotics is a relatively new term that refers to the bio-active compounds produced by probiotic cells that are able to deliver health benefits through their activity on our immune system," she explains. "These compounds are retained even after their parent cells (probiotics) are no longer alive. While this vein of research is new and evolving, we can experience these benefits by consuming fermented foods, where probiotics and postbiotics work in synergy to nourish our gut."
How Long Does It Take for Probiotics to Affect the Skin?
Just as probiotics aren't one size fits all, neither are the results. Snyder notes that there isn’t an exact formula or timeline for an improvement in skin health after you start taking a probiotic. "Some research shows it could take around four weeks to experience health improvements after starting a probiotic, but everybody is different, so this timeline could vary widely from person to person," she explains.
Snyder suggests that it's worth looking at the bigger picture in the quest for a clearer complexion because there are so many factors related to gut and skin health. "Incorporating a fiber-rich, nutrient-dense diet, and supporting your mental and emotional wellness can all help improve your gut and skin," she says. "I’m all about looking at wellness from a holistic level. My brand Solluna is based on the four cornerstones of wellness: food, body, emotional health and spiritual well-being—all of these play a role in how we feel and function!"
To heal the skin, it’s essential that you first heal the gut.
For those dealing with acne, rosacea, eczema, psoriasis and premature aging, nourishing and feeding the gut can make a huge impact. "Research shows that our gut health, as well as stress, can negatively impact the skin’s protective antimicrobial barrier and make skin conditions worse," says Oates. "To heal the skin, it’s essential that you first heal the gut, fertilizing it as you would a garden with essential nutrients and beneficial bacteria."
How About Topical Probiotics?
You will have most likely noticed a growing number of probiotic-rich skincare products, but can applying good bacteria topically really do anything? According to Oates, there is growing evidence to suggest that your skin's microbiome—that is, the ecosystem on the surface of your skin—plays an important role in both your inner and outer health. "It’s actually estimated that every square centimeter of your skin is home to at least a million bacteria along with an array of fungi, viruses and even mites," she says. "So, applying probiotics topically as part of your skincare routine will actually help to replenish, feed and fortify your skin’s ecosystem, which is your immune system’s first line of defense."The Beauty Chef’s Probiotic Skin Refiner ($75) is made from the bioactive liquid that is a by-product of its bio-fermentation process. For more probiotic skincare products, try Aurelia Probiotic, Tula, or Kinship.
You can read more about the skin microbiome and the best products to try here.
While Snyder is open to topical probiotics, she believes an inside-out approach is key. "The gut and skin are so strongly connected, we can fix many of our skin issues by taking good care of our gut and taking probiotics internally, which I believe is the most powerful approach." Snyder leans on ingredients like Vitamin C, algaes and argan oil in Solluna's skincare line-up.
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