Anyone who’s picked up a magazine or visited a health food store recently should know that probiotics—a certain type of “good” bacteria—may aid your digestive health. But lest you dismiss these little microorganisms as just another vaguely-beneficial health supplement, know this: they’re actually quite the overachievers. And unlike your high school class president, you’ll actually want to hear about all that they can do—especially if you suffer from acne, eczema, or rosacea.
We spoke with Dr. Roshini Raj and asked her to school us on all the skin benefits of probiotics (including why we should consider smearing it on our faces).
Meet the Expert
- Dr. Roshini Raj is a gastroenterologist, doctor of internal medicine, and founder of the probiotic-based skincare line, Tula.
- Dr. Whitney P. Bowe is a renowned New York-based dermatologist. She is also Clinical Assistant Professor of Dermatology at Mt. Sinai Medical Center.
Are probiotics the next skincare breakthrough? Keep scrolling to find out.
Bacteria Vs. Your Skin
First things first—let’s establish the fact that bacteria already exists on your skin. If that was a bombshell, we apologize. Here’s the good news: most of the bacterial cells that live inside and on your body are harmless, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. In fact, many may even be beneficial. But as any acne or rosacea-sufferer knows, it’s not all sunshine and roses—sometimes, your body may think living microorganisms are a potential threat, and spring into action to counter it, resulting in inflammation, redness, bumpiness, and more. This is where probiotics come in.
Topical Probiotics: Protect
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, topical probiotics work via “bacterial interference”—they literally interfere with the ability of bad bacteria to provoke an immune reaction, by preventing your skin cells from seeing them in the first place.
Topical Probiotics: Calm
“Recent research suggests that when applied topically, probiotics secrete anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory substances that help with conditions like acne, eczema and rosacea,” Dr. Raj says. “By calming inflammation, probiotics are also effective in targeting wrinkles and preventing premature aging.” But they’re not all pacifists—some probiotics have antimicrobial properties, which means they can actually kill the bad bacteria before they trigger inflammation. Dr. Whitney P. Bowe told the American Academy of Dermatology that researchers are currently testing probiotics to determine exactly which strains make the substances that kill bad bacteria, so they can put them on the market.
Topical Probiotics: Equalize
One last benefit of applying probiotics topically? Creating equilibrium. “[Probiotics can] improve and strengthen your skin’s natural protective mechanisms and maintain an equilibrium of good bacteria on your skin’s surface,” Dr. Raj says. Dr. Bowe says that the healthy signals produced by these probiotics stop your skin cells from sending an “attack” message to your immune system, which keeps acne and rosacea flare-ups at bay.
You can ease into the probiotic trend by taking them orally—yes, there’s skin benefits from doing that, too. “Probiotics also work from the inside out,” Dr. Raj says. “By maintaining a healthy bacterial balance in the gut, probiotics can reduce overall body inflammation that may cause skin sensitivity, or even acne or rosacea.” (You can read more about what Dr. Bowe calls the “gut-brain-skin-axis” here). Still dubious? In one study, 56 acne patients drank a Lactobacillus-fermented dairy beverage over a 12-week period and found a significant improvement in acne and decreased oiliness. Another study showed that oral probiotics decreased skin sensitivity and increased the rate of barrier function recovery.
The evidence is there—probiotics can benefit your skin, just like they benefit your gut. Though experts agree that further research is needed in order to fully prove the benefits of probiotics for those suffering from acne, rosacea, and eczema, a quick perusal in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology and its website yields promising results from the studies that have already been conducted (such as those mentioned above). If you’re curious about probiotics and incorporating them into your skincare routine, we recommend talking with your derm and asking for their advice on how to do so based on your unique skin condition.
Below, find a few of our favorite skincare products with probiotics.
Aurelia Probiotic Skincare Refine and Polish Miracle Balm ($85)
Andalou Probiotic +C Renewal Cream ($27)
Chantecaille Vital Essence with Arbutin ($115)
RéVive Masques Des Yeux ($185)
Nude Skincare Miracle Mask ($48)
American Academy of Dermatology Association. Could probiotics be the next big thing in acne and rosacea treatments? Updated February 3, 2014.
Bowe WP, Logan AC. Acne vulgaris, probiotics and the gut-brain-skin axis - back to the future? Gut Pathog. 2011;3(1):1. doi:10.1186/1757-4749-3-1
Philippe D, Blum S, Benyacoub J. Oral Lactobacillus paracasei improves skin barrier function recovery and reduces local skin inflammation. Eur J Dermatol. 2011;21(2):279-280. doi:10.1684/ejd.2010.1242