As I explain in The Beauty of Dirty Skin (and now in Dirty Looks), the word “probiotic” literally means “for life.” Probiotics support the health of the good bugs that make up our microbiome, to keep our gut and skin healthy. The balance of bacteria in our gut has a profound role in the health of our skin. Inflamed gut leads to inflamed skin. If you restore the healthy balance, you calm inflammation in the gut and you will see that reflected in your skin.
Among their many health boosting jobs, probiotics:
- fight bad bacteria
- help regulate our immune system by working to control inflammation, and
- support the healthy barrier function in both our gut and skin, preventing “leaky gut” (and “leaky skin”)
What to look for: Not all probiotics are created equal. Different strains of probiotics serve different purposes and, certain probiotics are much more effective than others. I’ve broken down many of the most effective strains for you right here:
- Lactobacillus plantarum has been shown to help with wrinkles, elasticity and improve hydration in the skin. Some studies were done using oral supplementation and used a randomized, double blind, placebo controlled design which suggests it has an inside-out benefit (oral supplementation). These studies demonstrated a significant reduction in the depth of wrinkles, as well as improved elasticity and hydration. Furthermore, lab and animal studies show that it actually protects skin against damaging UVB rays by protecting collagen. It does so by dialing down the enzyme that breaks collagen down when UVB rays penetrate the skin (MMP). It might have topical benefits as well. In summary, I think this particular species shows promise for hydration AND photoaging and is particularly relevant for the summer as it might help to serve as an additional form of protection for your skin against damaging ultraviolet rays, preserving collagen!
- L rhamnosus also might protect the skin from UV damage from the inside out. In mouse studies, oral ingestion appears protective of UV damage in skin.
- L fermentum appears to have antioxidant properties, which is important for protecting the skin from free radical damage which can lead to signs of aging and skin cancer. It’s even shown promise in helping with severely dry skin. Antioxidant properties: L fermentum appears to help combat free radicals and oxidative stress in the body. Free radicals are like missiles that target and damage all parts of the skin, leading to inflammation and signs of aging. We’ve always thought of Vitamin C and Vitamin E as our first line of defense against free radical damage from UV rays, infrared heat, visible light or pollution. These studies, demonstrating that certain probiotics can actually have antioxidant properties, is groundbreaking. I can envision it being used to help slow down the development of fine lines, wrinkles, dilated pores, acne, and brown spots including melasma. We now know that free radical damage plays a role in all of those conditions so having antioxidants on board both topically and through diet or supplementation is one of the most proactive and protective things you can do for your skin. I’ve personally published on the link between oxidative stress and acne, and I recommend topical and oral antioxidants for all my acne patients. In laboratory studies, Lactobacillus fermentum showed antioxidant properties, and in human studies, it was shown to downregulate inflammatory markers (dec IL-6 and TNF alpha), as well as to improve the inflammatory skin condition atopic dermatitis (eczema).
- Bifidobacterium longum, when applied TOPICALLY, might help with sensitive skin or skin that easily reacts with stinging or burning. Reduces sensitive skin (chemical and physical stressors). In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, subjects who applied the probiotic twice a day for two months saw increased skin resistance against physical (heat, cold, wind) and chemical aggressors (skin-care products), and a decrease in dryness after 29 days. Some ex vivo lab studies suggest it can be good for rosacea, eczema, sensitive skin.
- One study on Lactococcus lactis showed that oral administration improves skin health including elasticity of skin and hydration. Lactococcus lactis might help with wound healing, skin hydration and elasticity and even shows promise in preventing hair loss from the inside out.
- Lactobacillus paracasei (topical) has been shown to inhibit Substance P (a pain-promoting neuropeptide) to regulate inflammation and oil production. Potential role in acne and rosacea patients.
- Enterococcus faecalis SL-5 (topical) reduced study participants’ acne by 50 percent in eight weeks compared to subjects who used a probiotic-free placebo lotion.
- Lactobacillus plantarum (topical) decreased the number and size of acne lesions as well as redness; may also help with rosacea flares.
- Streptococcus salivarius (topical) secretes a bacteriocin-like inhibitory substance (BLIS) that reigns in the acne-causing bacteria, acnes.
- Lactococcus sp. HY 449 (topical) produces an antimicrobial agent to control the growth of acnes and prevent inflammation and breakouts.
- Streptococcus thermophilus (topical) increases the production of ceramides in the skin to counter moisture loss and irritation. Potential benefit for eczema/sensitive skin, dry skin.
- Staphylococcus hominis and Staphylococcus epidermis (topical) can suppress the growth of Staphylococcus aureus, an infectious bacterial strain that drives the symptoms of eczema. So useful for atopic dermatitis/eczema/dry inflamed skin.
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (oral) was shown to reduce the odds of eczema in high-risk babies born to mothers who took the probiotic two to four weeks before giving birth, and then either continued taking it while breastfeeding, or added it to infant formula. So useful for eczema, dry skin, hydration.
- Bacillus coagulans (topical and oral) produces free radical-scavenging chemicals, and increases the skin’s synthesis of moisturizing ceramides, to arrest sagging and wrinkles. Useful for any skin conditions linked to free radicals and oxidative stress (lentigos/brown spots, acne, fine lines/loss of collagen) and the ceramide production makes it beneficial for dry skin/eczema/hydration.
- Lactobacillus paracasei (oral) has anti-inflammatory properties and helps strengthen the skin barrier to prevent moisture loss. Potential benefit in acne, rosacea, and eczema, sensitive skin and dry skin.
- Lactobacillus johnsonii (oral) when taken in combination with 7.2 mg of carotenoids (plant-derived antioxidants) for 10 weeks before sun exposure, it protected skin’s Langerhans cells from UV damage, enabling them to better inhibit inflammation. The probiotic also helped subjects’ immune systems rebound faster after intense UV exposure.
I receive so many questions about which specific products and which BRANDS I recommend — which topicals and which oral supplements. To get you started, I share some of my favorite topical probiotic products on my Picks page. Many more brands, both topical and oral (supplements) are currently in development and poised to launch in the near future. I am going to be releasing more information on these products very soon. I am currently personally testing and sampling a number of the newest products about to hit the market in this space and I am not going to prematurely make specific recommendations. Due diligence is very important to me! So, this information is coming very soon and check back frequently for more information on topical and oral probiotics with specific skin benefits!