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Topical Probiotics, Next Big Thing in Skin Care?

If you've been following me for any amount of time, you know that I strongly advocate against using antibiotics for acne. Not because antibiotics "don't work" or aren't "effective" - but because they only yield a short-term gain (clearer skin) for a long-term loss (antibiotic resistance, GI issues). Besides, many people with acne don't have a lot of "bad bacteria" on their skin, anyway. This is because many of us with acne have spent years & years damaging our skin with harmful, drying products that kill off all of the bacteria on our skin - bad AND good.

Humans have an irrational fear of bacteria, and this seems to stem from a lack of understanding regarding bacteria's purpose. About 1-2% of our body mass is bacteria! Our bodies are literally full of bacteria. But for years, conventional wisdom has told us that we need to be bacteria-free to really be clean. Bacteria always = bad in the conventional sense. But here at we know that isn't true.

Whether bacteria is at the root of your acne troubles or not, blasting all of the bacteria off your skin is not the answer. Period. Studies have consistently linked bacteria to immune system function and to combating various inflammatory diseases. Recent research around the human microbiome has also indicated that people are probably better off letting their “good” bacteria, which support the body’s systems, fight their “bad” bacteria, which can cause illness, infection and even death. On our skin, a lack of good bacteria, or an imbalance in good and bad bacteria, can lead to worsened skin issues. After all, it is the good bacteria that helps to keep the bad bacteria in check. If we get rid of a lot of the bacterial colonies on our skin, how do we know that we haven't depleted the good bacteria and left the bad bacteria to run amok? Often times, unfortunately, this is precisely the case. This can be characterized by skin conditions worsening, chronically dry or irritated and red skin, etc.

One of the ways we can help to support our healthy bacterial colonies (a balance of both good and bad bacteria) is to keep our skin functioning at optimal levels, and this means keeping our skin acidic. With acne, we often purchase drying products because they deliver results - they effectively dry out our pimples, and thus, clear them up. Unfortunately, we also end up drying out the rest of our skin in the process, which causes the pH level of our skin to rise to higher, alkaline levels. The bad bacteria on your skin cannot live without their food source (our sebum), so they die off. But ... so do the healthy bacteria. So now, you're left with skin that's too alkaline, that's probably dry & damaged & irritated, & you have depleted levels of good and bad bacteria.

Conversely, allowing good bacteria to colonize the skin results in little armies of good bacteria fighting off the bad, and generally bringing balance to the skin. Thus, it's easy to see what an important role bacteria play in our skin health, and by fostering a habitable environment for good bacteria to flourish and keep bad bacteria in check, we are directly helping our skin to heal and become healthy again. This is why I recommend a lot of products that are acidic, either at the same level as human skin (4.5-6.5) or slightly lower, still.

But new topical products are coming out that contain probiotics, which are said to help to foster the healthy bacterial balance on our skin.

Topical probiotics may work to restore skin microflora and decrease acne. Topical probiotics work by promoting a positive balance in the skin and may improve inflammatory skin conditions like acne. Like oral probiotics help maintain our healthy gut microflora, our skin microflora plays an equally crucial role in regulating inflammation and the immune response.

Patients with acne treated with topical probiotics have been found to experience a reduction in acne lesion concentration, skin redness, a reduction in pathogenic bacteria numbers, as well as a marked improvement in the skin barrier function.

However, it's important to note that the skin microbiome is unique, changes frequently depending on a variety of factors, and not all probiotics will work for all patients all the time.

Here are a few products that I would recommend trying out for your skin:

Andalou Naturals, Renewal Cream, Probiotic + C

Andalou Naturals, Oil-Free Moisturizer, Acai + Kombucha

If you're looking for oral probiotics:

Now Foods, Probiotic-10, 50 Billion, 50 Veg Capsules

This is a good starter as it is affordable, but keep in mind that you sometimes have to pay for quality, and for rarer strains. Either way, this is a good place to start.

When it comes to probiotics what matters is the amount (quantity) of probiotics available, as well as the diversity (10 strains is better than 5, 50 is better than 10). In oral probiotics it is not hard to find a variety of options - different products will contain a wide array of strains and numbers. However, with skin care products we are only now scratching the surface of including them, so we may be restricted to a few beneficial strains in smaller numbers for the time being.

I personally like to switch up my probiotics - both oral and topical - on a regular basis. This exposes my skin to the greatest diversity, and gives my skin a better fighting chance against bad bacteria.

As always, we should be critical of all products and their claims. As with any oral probiotic, we really have no guarantee that there's any live bacteria or not. Without live bacteria, the probiotic is useless - and unless the product has other beneficial ingredients for your skin, the product will simply do nothing at all.

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