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First, it was important in the gut, now on the skin. Probiotics are everywhere, and there’s a lot of information out there about their benefits, the importance of the microbiome, and how to incorporate them into your routine the right way.
Well, there are three things we know for sure: microbiome skincare is going to be a big trend, it can be really effective, and there’s a lot of misinformation out there that you’ll have to sift through in order to make it work.
Here’s what you need to know.
Probiotics, or good bacteria, are super important for overall health. The main idea here is simple: you need a balance of bacteria in your gut to keep your system healthy and keep any bad bacteria in check.
When it comes to the world of probiotics and the microbiome, there are a few big terms to keep in mind:
1. Prebiotics: These are supplements or foods that contain a non-digestible ingredient that selectively stimulates the growth and/or activity of indigenous bacteria. Think of it as the soil or the environment in which the good bacteria can thrive.
2. Probiotics: Probiotics are supplements or foods that contain viable microorganisms that alter the microflora of the host. This is the actual good bacteria, and it can originate from one of four places: human skin, the human gut, soil, or water.
3. Postbiotics: These are non-viable bacterial products or byproducts from probiotic microorganisms that have biologic activity in the host.
Now let’s discuss how all of this can be helpful for the skin’s microbiome.
The skin’s microbiome is composed of millions of native bacteria, fungi, and viruses that exist on the surface of the skin. There are approximately 1 billion microbes per square centimeter on the skin.
Ultimately, this bacteria can help maintain the skin’s immunity and prevent the overgrowth of bad bacteria - or pathogens - like atomic dermatitis and psoriasis.
Just like with your gut, having a diverse balance is the key to a happy microbiome - and there are usually around 1000 distinct species of bacteria on the skin at once. That’s because your skin bacteria and skin immune system talk to each other, and they talk to the bacteria in your gut.
This ecosystem can ultimately play a big role in everything from how well products are absorbed to the overall health of our skin. Your skin’s microbiome can combat infections, fight environmental damage, boost immunity, regulate pH levels, and keep your skin plump and dewy.
When a healthy composition of microorganisms and bacteria on the skin is disturbed, the skin can become more vulnerable to an overgrowth of bad bacteria - along with increased inflammation, itching, and an altered skin pH.
Today, this kind of disturbance happens more often than anyone would like.
This, in part, has to do with modern lifestyles. Our lifestyle habits have changed a ton in the last few decades, and the microbiome is really taking a hit. Common perpetrators include things like:
Overall, all of this can strip the skin of its natural oils, which can cause transepidermal water loss along with redness, sensitivity, and dryness.
This can also contribute to major issues like bacterial and fungal skin rashes like eczema, psoriasis, perioral dermatitis, seborrheic dermatitis (dandruff), pityrosporum folliculitis (pesky bumps on the chest and forehead), tinea versicolor, and acne–to name a few.
And it makes sense. The relationship between the microbiome and these atopic conditions is an interesting one, and one that’s currently being researched by Professor Flohr and Dr. Gallo. Dr. Gallo said of his research, “We’ve discovered that some of the bacteria that live on the skin help prevent dermatitis and that people with eczema are missing these good bacteria.” This makes the skin more vulnerable to irritants, which further exacerbates existing conditions. It’s a terrible cycle that’s really hard to break once it gets going - and that’s where probiotic skincare comes into play.
The first thing to note is that there is a slight difference between probiotic and microbiome skincare.
Probiotic skincare, on one hand, actually uses real probiotic elements, meaning it hasprobiotics in the formula. Microbiome skincare, on the other hand, is simply microbiome-friendly. That means it can contain prebiotics, probiotics, or postbiotics (and a comprehensive microbiome routine will have all three).
The prebiotics willfeed your existing microbiome and allow your bacteria to thrive, the probioticswill strengthen your skin’s innate supply of bacteria, and the postbiotics will provide beneficial extracts that living bacteria give off when they're put through the fermentation process that revs up their metabolism.
Just as important as the type of biotic in the bottle - be it a living organism, broken-up bacteria, bug food, or some kind of by-product - is the specific strain of bacteria that it contains. Like with probiotics in the gut, each bacteria on the skin’s microbiome has a specific purpose, and there are lots to choose from.