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What Can Probiotics Do For Our Skin?

Posted by Liz Earle Beauty Co.

December 23, 2021

6 min read

We sat down with Nutritional Therapist, Alice Mackintosh (@alicemackintosh_nutrition) to find out...

“We know that what we put on our skin has a huge impact on the way it looks and feels. Ensuring that we apply high quality products that have been clinically proven to make a difference is one of the best ways we can nourish our skin from the outside in. Beyond this, there is also a growing movement for managing skin from the inside out.”


Is my gut linked to my skin issues?

Q. Is my gut linked to my skin issues?

“Our skin is a complex organ which is heavily influenced by many other parts of the body. Amazingly, the health of our digestive system can have a big impact on how our skin looks and feels, owing to the constant dialogue that exists between these two organs, known as the ‘gut-skin’ axis1.

Many clients regularly tell me that they notice changes to their skin – redness, rashes, breakouts and sensitivity – when their digestion is ‘off’, and science shows that this link may be partly due to the intricate balance of the microbiome (or bacterial environment) that lies within the gut.

Our gut bacteria help us digest food, keep our bowels regular and motile, synthesise nutrients and neurotransmitters (such as serotonin, 80% of which is located in the gut), reduce inflammation, eliminate toxins, fight off harmful bacteria and keep the gut wall healthy. Our microbiomes are also integral to our immune system – around 70% of the body’s entire immunity is found within the gut. Our skin also has its own ‘in-house’ immune systems and the balance of the body’s microbiome can help to support this.”

Q. Are probiotics good for skin health?

Q. Are probiotics good for skin health?

“Probiotics are bacteria that can be consumed (usually through diet or supplements) to help support our body’s balance of bacteria. Trillions of bacteria reside in the body, and in an ideal world we should naturally be able to maintain this intricate balance ourselves. The problem is that our diet, lifestyle, environment and medications can all have a negative impact.

Consuming foods and supplements which contain beneficial bacteria or probiotics has been shown to help nourish our microbiome, which has a positive impact on our gut2, 3. Though more research is needed in this area, some studies have also demonstrated the positive impacts of probiotics on skin4.”

Photo by Laura Edwards

Q. How can probiotics help skin?

Q. How can probiotics help skin?

“Whilst we know that a healthy gut microbiome is essential for whole body wellbeing, we need more research to explain how exactly it influences the skin. One possibility is that improving our microbial diversity increases the chances of us hosting more beneficial microbes, which are in turn is supportive of our immune system. A healthy immune system is essential for the body because it prevents inflammation, a process which may contribute to premature ageing5. A recent study conducted on healthy centenarians in China found that certain types of bacteria in their gut helped them respond better to inflammation6 protecting them from ‘inflammaging’.

Probiotics also help to support our skin by keeping our gut wall healthy. This organ acts as a gatekeeper, controlling what gets absorbed into our circulatory systems. Issues with our gut wall have been shown to contribute to some skin conditions and sensitive skin7.”

Q. Can probiotics help skin conditions?

Q. Can probiotics help skin conditions?

“When we have a skin condition, we often assume that our skin has been irritated by putting something on it, or by eating something which doesn’t agree with us. Allergies and intolerances are a major cause of skin problems, but they can also be linked to other things going on in the body. Persistent problems such as eczema and acne are often extremely complex, and we are not yet at a stage where we can accurately predict the underlying problems in everyone.

Research suggests that an imbalanced microbiome can be a contributing factor towards rosacea, and that supporting it can help reduce the symptoms8. Another study9 showed that small intestinal bowel overgrowth (SIBO – an imbalance in the microflora found in the small intestine) is 10 times more prevalent in those with acne than in healthy controls. Though this may be correlation, not causation, it does point towards the idea that supporting the gut may be helpful in the management of acne. Those with eczema may also benefit from taking probiotics, and one study found that those supplementing with a strain of Lactobacillus saw a 52% reduction in symptom severity10.

Though we need to do more research here to understand why, and what can be done, probiotics might be a useful inclusion in the management of skin conditions.”

Q. Can probiotics clear up skin?

Q. Can probiotics clear up skin?

“Just like the gut, our skin has its own microbiome – an ecosystem of bacteria that help to modulate the immune system found in the gut and also keep the skin’s barrier re-enforced, which is essential for keeping moisture locked in.

Another one of the major roles of the gut is to clear waste from the body, and our diet and microbiome is essential for helping this process. Should the gut be slow and congested, an extra burden may be placed on other organs, such as the skin, to rid the body of waste. This may increase the chances of breakouts in some people. Keeping the gut moving daily by supporting our microbiome and eating plenty of fresh and colourful fibre-rich foods is a good idea.”

Q. Can prebiotics help my skin?

Q. Can prebiotics help my skin?

“Let’s use the analogy of a garden here – you can’t grow the right plants or expect your garden to thrive unless the soil is abundant, rich and healthy. Prebiotics provide a critical fuel source for the garden of bacteria living in your gut and, in so doing, help it to flourish and stay balanced.

Prebiotics are typically made up of fibre from vegetables, fruit, grains, pulses and nuts that our bacteria are able to break down by fermentation. This provides fuel for those bacteria, allowing them to thrive. Different prebiotics feed different strains of bacteria, so the more types of fibre we eat, the more diversity we have within our microbiome. Some research has shown that eating plenty of polyphenol prebiotics from raw cacao helps support beneficial bacteria known as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium in the gut11.

One of the other benefits of prebiotics is that they help to increase the levels of postbiotics known as short chain fatty acids (SCFAs). SCFAs such as butyrate have powerful anti-inflammatory properties, improve the pH of the gut, and aid immune, brain and gut health12. As we already know, reducing inflammation is essential for the management of skin disorders, and it may also slow the ageing process.

Q. Can probiotics cause skin problems?

Q. Can probiotics cause skin problems?

“Though taking probiotics is unlikely to cause dramatic skin problems, we always need to be extremely careful when embarking on any new supplements or dietary probiotics, especially if we have sensitive/reactive skin, intolerances and allergies. Those experiencing IBS or any digestive diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease should always consult their GP first for this reason.

Disclaimer

Certain supplements are used for different reasons and a one-size-fits-all approach shouldn’t be adopted. In addition, pregnant women and anyone on medication should always consult a doctor before embarking on a supplements programme. As with all articles on lizearle.com, this is no substitution for individual medical or nutritional advice.

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2. Iebba V, Totino V, Gagliardi A, Santangelo F, Cacciotti F, Trancassini M, Mancini C, Cicerone C, Corazziari E, Pantanella F, Schippa S. Eubiosis and dysbiosis: the two sides of the microbiota. New Microbiol. 2016 Jan;39(1):1-12.
3. Kim BS, Choi CW, Shin H, Jin SP, Bae JS, Han M, Seo EY, Chun J, Chung JH. Comparison of the Gut Microbiota of Centenarians in Longevity Villages of South Korea with Those of Other Age Groups. J Microbiol Biotechnol. 2019 Mar 28;29(3):429-440.
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10. Drago L, Iemoli E, Rodighiero V, Nicola L, De Vecchi E, Piconi S. Effects of Lactobacillus salivarius LS01 (DSM 22775) treatment on adult atopic dermatitis: a randomized placebo-controlled study. Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol. 2011 Oct-Dec;24(4):1037-48.
11. Yan HM, Zhao HJ, Guo DY, Zhu PQ, Zhang CL, Jiang W. Gut microbiota alterations in moderate to severe acne vulgaris patients. J Dermatol. 2018 Oct;45(10):1166-1171.
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