After years of relentlessly washing, cleansing, and purifying skin in virtuous hopes of a bright, clear complexion, the key to healthier skin may lie in the microorganisms we most often associate with disease and grime: bacteria. Just like in our guts, the skin is full of bacterial subpopulations. And, some researchers believe that while “bad” bacteria on the skin can dominate and trigger breakouts and inflammation, strains of “good” bacteria may protect the skin and clear the way for better health. Forget clinically clean skin — the ticket to a beaming complexion may be in a harmonious, balanced bacterial population on the skin, achieved with probiotics.
According the American Academy of Dermatology, the good bacteria delivered by probiotics in skin care may help thwart acne and rosacea. When the immune system identifies parasites and bad bacteria on the skin as a foreign threat, it reacts, causing inflammation, congestion, and redness. But, when probiotics are applied topically, they may prevent the skin cells from identifying the bad bacteria at all, sidestepping the body’s freak-out (and zit-causing) response.
Though study on probiotics’ effect on skin is new, researchers at UCLA have identified two strains of “bad” acne bacteria that thrive on the skin and trigger the immune system. But, they also identified a third bacteria strain that’s common in healthy skin and absent in blemished skin. Researchers suspect this good bacteria strain is charged with a natural defense mechanism that helps keep skin clear.
The research is very exciting,” says Dr. Raja Sivamani, a dermatologist and assistant professor of clinical dermatology at UC Davis Medical Center. “The idea is trying to harmonize the skin. And, with probiotics, you’re trying to harmonize the bacterial population. The question is, how do you bring back that harmony? Is it through adding bacteria directly or is it by adding certain substances that might promote the bacteria?”
While researchers are still sorting out exactly how probiotics can best balance the skin, Sivamani points to some promising properties for skin care. “Every bacteria will have some way to selectively enhance their survival and will contain antibacterial properties to use against other bacteria. One of the thoughts is we can use those antibacterial properties to reduce inflammation (due to other bacteria) on the skin.”