Probiotics have entered the chat—when it comes to skincare products, at least. One big reason? The use of probiotics for acne shows a ton of promise, with early research pointing to their efficacy while still being easy on the skin barrier. But it’s not as straightforward as just adding bacteria, zapping acne, and clearing your skin forever.
Rather, the concept of using probiotics to tackle certain types of breakouts is actually rooted in the concept of the skin microbiome, which is the ecosystem of live microbes—think bacteria, yeast, and beyond—that chill on the surface of the skin, where they contribute to a healthy complexion. (On the flip side, when these microbiota are thrown out of whack, it can lead to all sorts of skin conditions, from rosacea and dermatitis to eczema and, yes, breakouts.)
A major advantage: Probiotics are a whole lot gentler than your usual acne-fighting products. We asked a derm to walk us through the effect of probiotics on acne breakouts, and how you can make them work for you for clear, healthy skin.
About the Expert:
“Probiotics are considered live microorganisms that provide health benefits—so-called good bacteria or yeast,” says Marisa Garshick, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. The good bacteria live in balance with the bad bacteria, where they keep skin inflammation in check.
You can think of it as the skin’s version of the gut microbiome. A healthy balance of gut bacteria in the digestive tract is considered essential to overall health; in fact, gut health has been linked to everything from diabetes to depression. And its influence extends from the inside-out, going so far as to impact skin in a phenomenon that’s been dubbed the gut-skin axis.
The benefits of probiotics know no bounds. Keep in mind, though, that probiotics aren’t a quick fix for any and all breakouts. “While there is limited evidence, it is likely that probiotics are particularly helpful for inflammatory acne, as they can help to reduce inflammation,” says Dr. Garshick. If you’ve been dealing with good old acne vulgaris, here’s how incorporating probiotics into your skincare routine can help.
Good news: When you’re using probiotics for acne, you can’t really go wrong. “Further research is needed to determine the true benefits, but overall they are easy to tolerate,” says Dr. Garshick.
Choose your fighter: Microbiome-friendly ingredients can be applied topically, either as prebiotics (which act like fuel for bacteria), probiotics (the actual live bacteria), or postbiotics (the beneficial end-products). While the exact probiotic strains may vary, “some strains such as lactobacillus paracasei and lactobacillus rhamnosus have anti-inflammatory benefits—making them helpful for acne,” she says.
And while topical probiotics are a no-brainer for skin, you can get them via a dietary supplement, too. “Oral probiotics join the bacteria that have already been living in the gut and aim to keep the balance of good organisms and bad organisms in check,” says Dr. Garshick.
Possibly the best part? You don’t have to quit your other acne treatments. “Because probiotics are often gentle on the skin and also help to support the skin barrier, they can also be used in conjunction with other acne treatments,” says Dr. Garshick.
Whatever's popped up on your skin, you're in luck: This potent spot treatment offsets 5% benzoyl peroxide—which functions as an antibacterial agent—with tea tree oil and probiotics, which minimize the telltale signs of inflammation. Redness and swelling won’t stand a chance.
Make quick work of clogged pores with this non-drying clay mask, which balances detoxifying activated charcoal with soothing probiotics. It's all the pore-clearing power of clay, but without the usual dryness of an old-school mud mask.
Breakouts can happen to any skin type. This thoughtful serum offers just the right amount of balance, with a strategic blend of probiotics, hyaluronic acid, and antioxidants to keep skin glowy, soft, and smooth, whatever you’re working with.
Acne-prone skin needs moisture, too. With this probiotic-spiked face cream, you can slather it on to nourish skin and get a slew of heavy-hitting ingredients, such as probiotics, vitamin C (a powerful antioxidant), and even firming peptides.
While harsh cleansing agents can strip the skin, throwing off the balance of the microbiome, this actively nourishes with probiotics—as well as lauric acid to keep that bad bacteria in check.
If you’re wearing makeup to conceal blemishes and create a smooth finish, consider this long-wear foundation, which is infused with probiotics for acne-soothing benefits.
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