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The Science Behind Probiotics and Common Skin Problems
Oil cleansers, foaming cleansers, double-cleansing routines—we are obsessed with keeping our skin squeaky clean. Still, as focused as we are on all of that rubbing, wiping, rinsing and exfoliating, we do rely on a little extra grime to maintain both our complexions and our skin’s health.
We’re not talking about dirt, though. We’re talking about bacteria. Did you know there are millions of bacteria living on your skin 1? Maintaining that flourishing ecosystem of bacteria is essential to avoiding breakouts, patches of dryness and oil slicks.
However, it’s not the only thing that counts. If you want to keep your epidermis clean, clear and most definitely under control, your skin’s microbiome isn’t the only one you should be worried about.
Skin Health Depends on Gut Health
Your skin is far from the only part of your body that contains bacteria. In fact, there are about as many bacteria in your body as human cells, if not more. Bacteria are, literally, everywhere 2. The greatest numbers, however, are found in the intestines.
Most people are born with trillions of bacteria in their intestines. This crew isn’t just hanging around, either. Our gut puts them to work! Along with the digestive enzymes secreted by our organs, these bacteria help digest the food we consume, breaking it down into essential nutrients that can be absorbed into the bloodstream.
But that’s not the only role they play in the digestive system. Bacteria also produce chemicals that help regulate the immune response to foreign invaders.
The skin acts as part of the defense mechanism our bodies have against these invaders. In order to do this, though, skin cells must turn over rapidly. The bacteria in the gut can influence cellular regeneration.
While scientists aren’t sure how, exactly, the relationship works, they do know that the gut-skin axis exists 3. Furthermore, when the bacterial balance in the gut is thrown off, that imbalance shows up in the skin.
Old skin cells can make your skin look opaque and dull. Skin cells that don’t turn over and slough off properly—hello, natural exfoliation—can also exacerbate acne on the skin’s surface.
What Can Damage Gut Flora?
The bacteria you’re born with tend to be a hardy bunch, but that doesn’t mean they’re indestructible. The balance between the “good” and the “bad” bacteria in your gut is essential to the way your intestines function, and there are many ways it can be undermined.
Take, for instance, a standard course of antibiotics.. Something that simple and routine can decimate the gut microbiome—and damage your skin health at the same time.
A variety of diseases and digestive problems can cause an overgrowth of “bad” bacteria, as well 4. Irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, diverticulitis, diabetes, pancreatitis—these are just a sampling of chronic conditions that can create an environment in which “bad” bacteria flourish.
One Way to Improve Skin Health: Probiotics
The best way to determine which harmful bacteria are in your system is microbiome testing. By taking a gut health test, you can determine which bacteria you need to neutralize. Furthermore, Ombre can help you figure out which probiotic bacteria will help win that battle.
You can further help repopulate the good bacteria in your gut by eating foods that promote or contain probiotics naturally, like kimchi or yogurt, or by taking a probiotic supplement.
Whether you take them as capsules, tablets or powders—or as a food or beverage, since you can find live active cultures in yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and other items—the bacteria will travel through your digestive system to your large intestine.
With the balance between “good” and “bad” bacteria restored, your gut microbiome will be able to function as it should. The mixture of original bacteria and supplementary bacteria will go to work and help with digesting your food, secreting important chemicals into your bloodstream and, yes, managing your skin’s maintenance and cellular turnover.
Probiotics Can Do What?
Even though science has only recently come up with the evidence to support theories about the relationship between gut health and skin health, doctors have been tossing the idea around for decades.
More than 70 years ago, dermatologists began considering the notion that Lactobacillus acidophilus—a common bacteria species in probiotics—could improve skin health. But that’s not the only way probiotics help the body 5.Over the last few years, researchers have found that the skin-gut axis isn’t the only one that exists. There’s also a deeply entwined connection between the gut microbiome and the brain, as well as the immune system.
What does this mean for you and probiotics? Well, in addition to probiotics boosting the health of your skin, they are also shown to reduce inflammation and improve mental health. As we know, both can show up in the mirror. Inflammation causes swelling, puffiness, and acne, while the stress caused by depression and anxiety can spur breakouts.
The more we dig in to the mysteries of the human body, the more we find that our body systems are interconnected. What impacts one impacts others, and that’s particularly true of our skin. Luckily, with probiotics on the table, there’s an easy way to look good, feel good and improve your overall wellness. How easy is that?Brenda Kimble is a nutrition coach and wellness blogger from Austin, TX. She is also a mother of 2 daughters and a son. Her life’s goal is to encourage herself and others to live a more balanced lifestyle, incorporating healthier habits and exercise practices, which she does by connecting with people in her industry through her writing. When she is not working, she enjoys yoga and spending time with her family.
- 1 Grice, E. A., & Segre, J. A. (2011). The skin microbiome. Nature reviews. Microbiology, 9(4), 244–253. doi:10.1038/nrmicro2537.
- 2 “NIH Human Microbiome Project Defines Normal Bacterial Makeup of the Body.” National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 31 Aug. 2015, www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-human-microbiome-project-defines-normal-bacterial-makeup-body.
- 3 Salem, I., Ramser, A., Isham, N., & Ghannoum, M. A. (2018). The Gut Microbiome as a Major Regulator of the Gut-Skin Axis. Frontiers in microbiology, 9, 1459. doi:10.3389/fmicb.2018.01459.
- 4 Dukowicz, A. C., Lacy, B. E., & Levine, G. M. (2007). Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth: a comprehensive review. Gastroenterology & hepatology, 3(2), 112–122.
- 5 Bowe, W. P., & Logan, A. C. (2011). Acne vulgaris, probiotics and the gut-brain-skin axis – back to the future?. Gut pathogens, 3(1), 1. doi:10.1186/1757-4749-3-1.