Using probiotics to combat acne and other inflammatory skin conditions is a recent treatment trend. But, while we know that taking a probiotic supplement can be effective, what about putting it directly on the skin?
Good news – recent discoveries are making that option look ever more promising.
The latest study showed that application of a topical lotion formulated with beneficial bacteria protected against skin infections by destroying harmful bacteria on the skin.
Scientists found that people with healthy skin have many bacteria producing antimicrobial peptides that selectively act against pathogenic bacteria but don’t harm beneficial bacteria.
However, those with skin conditions like atopic dermatitis, or eczema, have the “wrong” type of bacteria and are more prone to bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus (or S. aureus) which can become methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA.
By isolating the good bacteria and growing it, they were able to effectively “transplant” it back to those who were deficient in the form of a skin cream; all patients treated this way saw a significant decrease in S. aureus on their skin.
While people with skin disorders will need to continue applying the topical probiotics because their bodies do not naturally promote the growth of these beneficial bacteria, thankfully, the treatment is easy.
With more research, we find more evidence that the microbiome plays a major role in our health, immunity, and corresponding susceptibility to disease.
And although we tend to associate gut microbes with healthy digestion and vitamin synthesis, these bacteria play an important role in immune health. While the skin – our first line of defense against pathogens and infection – seems distant from our gut, there’s no denying our gut microbes influence our skin health.
We already know that beneficial gut bacteria reduce the severity of acne. And the evidence that gut microbiota and oral probiotics influence systemic inflammation, oxidative stress, glycemic control, tissue lipid content, and even mood itself, may have important implications in acne. Is it any surprise that by balancing the bacteria on the skin, skin infections can improve?
Traditional treatments use antibiotics, which not only kill bad bacteria but also kill the beneficial microbes that we’re now learning can help our skin. So, in the case of diseases with an imbalance in microorganisms such as impure skin, mild acne, dry skin, or mild atopic dermatitis, topical probiotics present an effective alternative to strictly antibacterial products.
Knowing this, what are the best probiotic treatment options to promote a healthy balance of bacteria on your skin and prevent flare-ups and breakouts?
Take a Probiotic Supplement
A broad-spectrum oral probiotic like Probiotic-8, which includes 8 billion live colony-forming units (CFUs) of 8 strains of beneficial bacteria, as well as prebiotic fiber to “feed” good bacteria, can help promote a healthy balance of gut bacteria. A special enteric coating shields bacteria from stomach-acid and delivers microflora directly to the intestine to help repopulate the digestive tract with the beneficial bacteria you need.
Use a Topical Probiotic
While research continues on topical creams with specific bacterial formulas, there are some topical probiotics available today that may work for some. These include Tula, GloBiotics, BioElements, Eminence, and Epicuren, which list ingredients like yogurt or anywhere from one to three strains of beneficial bacteria in certain products.
Eat Probiotic-Containing Foods
Consuming foods rich in probiotics can directly add back beneficial bacteria to your gut. Foods like sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, and miso all have probiotic benefits, but kefir and yogurt (non-fat, without added sugars) are the best options.
Get More Fiber in Your Diet
Fiber promotes the development of good bacteria; if you eat more foods containing fiber like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds, it means you’ll be eating less processed, sugary foods which “feed” and promote the development of bad bacteria that can exacerbate inflammatory skin conditions like acne as well as other health concerns like weight gain and blood sugar.
The benefits of probiotics go far beyond the digestive tract – they can help with issues like skin health, weight control, and mood, among others that are yet-to-be-discovered.
Turns out looking healthy, feeling healthy, and being healthy is all about reaching the right balance – of bacteria, that is.
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.