As of late probiotics have got a lot of attention within the scientific community and some thought leaders see them as a super miracle product cure. In this article I want us to delve deep into what probiotics are, how they work and how they help acne from a scientific perspective.
Modern clinical research shows that probiotics (good bacteria) can be good for your acne prone skin. First, let’s break down some of the scary scientific terms that govern this area of science to get an understanding of how best approach our acne problem!
Any definitions we use here are going to be related to either the human gut or skin, but the strict biologic/ecological definitions may encompass larger systems. Sounds confusing but stick with me!
Probiotics, the prefix “pro” in front of the biotic relates to meaning good, well or true in the Latin and Greek origins. Putting both the prefix and suffix of this together we get Probiotic, meaning good bacteria.
Prebiotics, the prefix in front of biotics here relates to mean before or “in front of”, again from Latin and Greek origins. In the context of this article, we’re going to think of prebiotics as an insoluble food ingredient that promotes the function of probiotics in the gut.
Flora, usually relating to plants within a particular habitat but in our context, we use it to mean bacterial life within our bodies , specifically the gut and skin.
Microbiome, a term used to describe bacteria (a type of microorganism) in a particular environment.
Now that we have the boring sciencey definitions out of the way let’s continue onto how all these components fit together to potentially cause acne and what we can do to alleviate it.
Remember that not all bacteria is not bad, human bodies are packed with bacteria both good and bad so don’t fret too much if you feel there may be an imbalance.
Gut Flora, Mood and good Skin?
It has been long theorised that there has been a so-called gut brain skin connection. The theory extends to highlighting that skin health can be affected by both psychological and physiological factors. So your general mood, emotions and overall well-being can be attributed to good skin health…
A study in 2011 showed that these factors can affect the microbiome of the gut causing altered functions of the organs which promoted inflammation in the gut and overall inflammation in the body. One of these symptoms being acne, among many other skin conditions including urticaria (hives) and dermatitis.
In one study up to 40% of subjects with acne had hypochlorhydria which is caused by inadequate stomach acid not neutralising the “bad bacteria” within our food. This, in turn, promotes the migration of bacteria from the colon up toward the small intestine which had altered the normal biome of gut flora.
This study highlighted a link between total gut flora and skin health as well as other serious medical conditions.
Everyday factors that affect Gut Flora
Factors that negatively affect gut health and mood are many fold but the most common culprits seem to be:
- Excessive amounts of refined sugar within the diet
- Bad diet rich in preservatives and artificial food colourings that lack necessary dietary fiber
- Smoking is a source of a number of toxins and inflames the skin and body as a whole
- Previous use of antibiotics for other conditions. After all their purpose is to kill bacteria
…..And a whole host of other everyday foods and cosmetics. It’s important not to get consumed in the ideas that everything can affect gut health but in my experience, if we can take care of the major factors that should be enough to treat acne.
A 2011 study states:
The ability of the gut microbiota and oral probiotics to influence systemic inflammation, oxidative stress, glycemic control, tissue lipid content and even mood itself, may have important implications in acne
The whole effect of mood on gut flora is highly complex and possibly too deep to unwrap in this article but scientists know that being in a chronic negative emotional/psychological state releases various hormones conducive to ill health in general not just negatively affecting gut flora alone!
So where can we get all the friendly probiotics necessary for positive gut flora and healthy skin? Luckily enough human evolution has us covered in the form of traditional fermented foods which are probitics in themselves. These include:
- Kimchi – The eastern, more delicious version of sauerkrout!
- Kefir and lassi – A sour cows milk drink from Russia and India respectively.
- Saurkraut – you can also eat other fermented vegetables
- Yoghurt – It’s best to go Greek and put tasty fruits on top
Dietary probiotics should be enough to start the process of balancing gut flora to healthy normal levels but supplements also help. The two supplements which I have used in the past are here and here.
Skin Flora and Acne?
Treating the root cause is the best way to go when treating acne, however, this can take time and some of the symptoms specifically acne breakouts, bacne and other types of acne can stick around for a while longer. This can be due to a number of reasons but one of them includes skin flora which can promote inflammation and acne on the surface of the skin.
Just like the gut, our skin has both good and bad bacteria. This balance of bacteria can be in charge of the production of acne fighting and acne causing chemical compounds on the surface of the skin.
In modern dermatological studies, the evidence of the daily use of topical probiotics on acne and rosacea sufferers has shown a marked improvement. The pathways and science behind the interference between topical probiotics and acne formation are however complex.
As with other cosmetics, there are a variety of ways one can apply these probiotics to the skin which include masks, creams and cleansers. They also work in different ways to prevent acne formation on the skin which include:
A protective Shield
Topical probiotics essentially sit on the surface of the skin to prevent the body to “see” the bad acne causing bacteria. This helps the body by stopping an immune response to the bad skin flora effectively helping in reducing or stopping acne.
Some probiotics work by (naturally producing) chemical compounds to kill bad bacteria. More research is being conducted on the specific strains of bacteria that perform this role for more effective and targeted treatment of acne.
Anti Inflammatory effect
Certain probiotics cause an anti inflammatory response with skin cells which in turn stops the immune system from producing inflammation that results in acne.
Check out my article on the best topical probiotic products, but in short, I recommend this one and this one.
Prebiotics – How can they help?
As we touched on earlier in this article within the definitions, Prebiotics are a food source for probiotics and are specifically for the good bacteria which help them perform more efficiently. Specifically, prebiotics are indigestible plant fibers. These are usually easy enough to obtain in everyday food sources.
The prebiotic approach is very much encouraging the growth and stimulating the probiotics to stay in the gut once they are there!
The general formula for finding prebiotic foods is simply focussing on fibrous food in general. These foods will usually have a mix of both soluble and insoluble fiber which in turn will both help gut flora and any constipation issues. If you have a balanced diet you are likely consuming prebiotics already.
To put any doubt to rest, here is a list of some foods which include prebiotics:
Although this is not an exhaustive list I like to eat foods which are delicious but let me keep my friends! Garlic has 17.5% fiber by weight but you’ll find it hard to convince me of eating it raw!
As with any approach to treating acne, I always favour a combination approach because it is what has worked for me and because it treats both the root cause and the symptoms too…. As soon as I see any breakouts on my face and back I want them gone immediately!
- A number of factors can affect gut flora and subsequently acne breakouts on your skin. These can include but not limited to bad diet, smoking, stress, previous medication (antibiotics) and your psychological mood. Be mindful of the gut brain skin theory.
- Probiotics can positively affect your gut microbiome. Fermented dietary sources exist and are plentiful in your local grocery store. You can also add in supplements to your diet.
- Topical probiotic cleansers, creams and washes have been shown to help acne sufferers in a number of ways. Take a look at my topical probiotic cleanser review.
- Prebiotics feed the good bacteria in your gut and reinforce a positive microbiome which in turn can prevent breakouts. They can come from a variety of dietary insoluble fiber sources which you may not even know you are consuming.
Disclaimer: Although I have done everything in my power to research this topic effectively I am not a doctor. Please consult your doctor before you make any changes to your diet. Free My Acne cannot be held responsible for any damages.