Probiotics good for skin?
By Dr. Jessica Wu, MD
Many patients ask me about probiotics, especially now that they’re showing up in skincare products. As with any ingredient, I review the original, published scientific research (not the fluffy marketing lingo on the package or random Google posts) before advising patients or sharing with my readers. Here’s my take on probiotics and skin:
What are probiotics vs. prebiotics?
Probiotics are live microorganisms (otherwise known as “good” bacteria) that have potential health benefits. They can be taken as a supplement or found in fermented foods such as yogurt with live cultures, kefir, miso, and nonpasteurized sauerkraut. Prebiotics are nondigestible carbohydrates that feed probiotic bacteria. One example of a prebiotic is fructan, found in asparagus, artichokes, leeks, and garlic.
Can taking probiotics or eating fermented foods help your skin?
Early research indicates that probiotics and prebiotics help regulate the immune system. Probiotics have been shown to alleviate atopic dermatitis (eczema rashes) and acne. The most-studied bacteria are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, which are thought to produce an anti-inflammatory effect. Probiotics also balance the bacteria in your gut, may fight the overgrowth of acne-causing bacteria. (54% of acne patients have abnormal gut bacteria.) Other studies suggest that probiotics may protect the skin from UV rays and speed wound healing. Taking probiotics may also help grow healthier, glossier hair. Some of these studies were done in animals, and the ones done in humans used various strains, so I can’t yet make specific recommendations regarding how much, which type of probiotic, or what kinds of fermented foods should be consumed. While probiotics are generally considered safe, it’s always best to discuss with your doctor before starting anything new.
What about skincare containing probiotics?
One study showed that that applying Lactobacillus to your skin could improve the skin barrier and help retain moisture. Other studies have shown that probiotic creams can reduce irritation and fight infection in burn wounds. But it’s hard to generalize, since these studies used different strains, and it’s a big leap to claim anti-aging benefits, as I’ve seen on some labels. Before I can recommend any probiotic creams, I’ll need to see published research on the specific formulas.
About the Expert Jessica Wu, MD is a board certified dermatologist practicing in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of Feed Your Face. Visit her site at www.drjessicawu.com and follow her on Twitter @drjessicawu