Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth nutrition, fitness and adventure courses, and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+..
Bacteria—while the mere thought of it may make your skin crawl,
it just might be the hottest new ingredient in skin care
Your skin—in fact, your entire body—is teeming with bacteria that are vital for good health. While there’s growing evidence to confirm that these friendly flora support healthy immunity and digestion, recent studies also suggest that bacteria, in the form of probiotics, can fortify your skin.
This should come as no surprise, as probiotics have long been used to prevent eczema in infants. Research repeatedly shows that exposure to beneficial bugs both before birth and during the first two years of life stops eczema before it even starts. Probiotics may even ease symptoms in those who have developed the disease. The most recent trial, of 90 toddlers, found that those treated with probiotics twice a day for eight weeks experienced a 34 percent improvement in inflammation and itching compared with just 19 percent in those taking a placebo.
Although most of the studies linking probiotic supplements to eczema relief have been on children, some researchers speculate that topical probiotics may also reduce symptoms in adults by boosting the immune response. In a recent double-blind placebo-controlled trial, French researchers compared a probiotic cream with a placebo in 75 volunteers. The participants, who were as young as 6 and as old as 70, all suffered from eczema. After just 30 days, those who slathered on the probiotic cream had less itching and fewer harmful bacteria. They also had stronger barrier function to protect their skin from future problems.
From Acne to Antiaging: Bugs to the Rescue
Applying probiotics can also fortify your complexion’s defenses against chemicals and allergens that can disrupt the skin’s barrier function and cause swelling, dryness, breaks in the skin, and increased skin sensitivity. But topically applied probiotics may increase the skin’s resistance to physical and chemical attacks.
Because of probiotics’ ability to keep a healthy balance between good and bad bacteria on the skin, they are a natural in the battle against acne. Lab tests that pitted a variety of beneficial bacteria against Propionibacterium acne—the microbe responsible for that pimple on your chin—found that all of the probiotic strains stopped the harmful bacteria in its tracks.
But probiotics don’t just benefit the young or those with skin conditions such as eczema. Emerging evidence suggests
that these helpful critters might even keep premature aging at bay. Along with probiotics’ ability to strengthen the skin’s barrier function is their capacity also to help the skin hang on to moisture. The result? Soft, dewy skin. Preliminary studies also point to the possibility that some probiotic strains protect against the damaging rays of the sun.
These findings have piqued the interest of cosmetic companies, which are rushing to develop products packing skin-friendly probiotics. But you don’t need to wait to take advantage of beneficial bacteria. You can support healthy skin from the inside out with a daily probiotic supplement.
An effective way to fortify your army of beneficial bugs is with a multistrain probiotic supplement. Check the label to make sure your probiotic is guaranteed to contain live and active cultures at the time of consumption—and make sure to store your supplement properly. Some probiotics require refrigeration; others are shelf-stable. Both can be quite effective.
The minimum recommended dose is typically 1 billion live organisms per day. While that might sound like a lot, it’s about the amount you’d find in a cup of yogurt. But more may be even better. Most studies of probiotics’ impact on skin have used doses of 5 billion colony-forming units (CFUs).
aw good buys
NATREN HEALTHY TRINITY combines three probiotic super-strains, including Lactobacillus acidophilus Bifidobacterium bifidum, and Lactobacillus bulgaricus providing 30 billion CFUs.
DR. OHHIRA’S PROBIOTIC KAMPUKU BEAUTY BAR. This moisturizing bar is made with naturally-fermented raw plant extracts, including Japanese seaweed. Ideal for face and body—it even prevents razor burn.
NATROL PROBIOTIC ACIDOPHILUS BIOBEADS are tiny beads (especially easy for children to take) containing an acidophilus probiotic blend. A triple protective shell ensures viability.
ESSENTIAL FORMULAS DR. OHHIRA’S PROBIOTICS ORIGINAL FORMULA. Renowned microbiologist Iichiroh Ohhira, PhD, developed this unique probiotic blend featuring live probiotics and their prebiotic food supply.