When most of us hear the word “bacteria,” we think of bad things like infections and uncleanliness.
But there are “good” bacteria called probiotics that help keep our bodies in check, and they are essential for many vital functions.
Perhaps the most well understood probiotics live in our digestive system, and they help our stomachs and intestines work properly. That’s why there are so many probiotic supplements that come in pill, powder and even yogurt forms that have been proven to be beneficial for our bodies.
Scientists know that the skin is host to “good” bacteria as well, but there are many undiscovered strains. In order to identify bacteria, they must be cultured in a lab, but researchers have had issues getting some of these skin bacteria to grow in petri dishes.
But with new techniques that decipher the genetic makeup of bacteria (specifically the Human Microbiome Project headed by the National Institutes of Health), we’re well on our way to getting a more accurate picture of the invisible ecosystem that exists on the surface of our skin.
Representing a big step forward in this area of research, one recent study proved that ingesting probiotics reduced skin inflammation and inhibited hair growth. In the conclusion of this study, the researchers touched on the prospect that feeding the skin the right kind of bacteria can have beneficial effects on the skin, inflammation, hair growth and the skin’s response to stress in particular.
With a better understanding of the good and bad bacteria present on our skin, it’s very possible that probiotics could be used to prevent and treat a variety of skin issues and conditions. Although it’s a bit too soon to tell which probiotics can be beneficial for the skin, and whether they have the same effect when applied topically, a variety of skincare companies are already starting to include these good bacteria in their products.
Among those:• Christina Cosmeceuticals’ Unstress line claims to use probiotics to combat skin stress caused by environmental damage and free radicals. The company says the good bacteria found in the products strengthen cell membranes, making skin more elastic, resilient and immune to inflammation.
• NUDE Skincare has been using probiotics since 2007, saying these good bacteria optimize how the skin functions at a cellular level. The company also claims that probiotics work on the skin’s surface to soothe and hydrate skin as well.
• Clinique Medical (available exclusively through dermatologists) offers a probiotic cleanser that works to reinforce the skin’s protective barrier—and stave off the effects of environmental stress.