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What a question, especially when we’re advocating the double cleanse and constantly hearing how our skin is under attack from pollutants. But much like your gut, the skin is an organ that needs to maintain a balance of bacteria. This is the good type that you don’t want to kill off with that abrasive coconut body polish. Microbiota helps to maintain your ‘acid mantle’ or in other words, your skin’s pH. If this becomes too alkaline, you might start to see skin conditions like dermatitis and flare-ups of eczema and psoriasis. For those that don’t suffer from inflammation, they experience dryness and even notice premature signs of ageing like fine lines. With most things, there’s a domino effect: poorly hydrated and vulnerable skin can limit the absorption of nourishing skincare ingredients. Fighting this is the rise of biome-friendly beauty, but does probiotic skincare work like live bacteria does for our gut?
Skincare experts Lionne noted that “according to Mintel, Google searches for microbiome increased by 119% in 2019”, which indicates a strong interest in gut health. The old saying, “you are what you eat” has never rung more true, as we learn that 70% of our immune system exists in our digestive track. And alarmingly, French skincare brand Gallinée’s research points to over 50% of our cells are bacterial. It may seem that we’ve ‘all a sudden’ started hearing about this because of the amount of developments into the gut-brain-skin axis. The same principles that lie in prebiotic, probiotic and postbiotic is translated to skin formulations. Gallinée’s is best known for Face Vinegar, an alcohol-free toner that contains lactic acid and antioxidants. Notably, it has prebiotics in the form of inulin, which is the food that probiotics need to thrive.
Dr Megan Rossi, colloquially known as The Gut Health Doctor and author of Eat Yourself Healthy writes that although eating fermented foods and taking supplements may aid in your general health, it doesn’t correlate to the improvement of chronic skin conditions. “What is more promising is topical probiotics”, although she goes onto note that there are currently, a lack of “evidence-based products targeting the skin microbiota”.
Moreover, there is such a thing as “microbial fingerprint”, which is so unique to us that it’s even used in forensics. Megan from Lionne adds that “nourishing your skin’s microbiome is more complicated than we think! My skin might like one thing, where your skin likes another”. Can we as consumers be satisfied to hear another rendition of: “well, if it works for you…”?
In defence of probiotic skincare simply being a marketing tool, there have been anecdotal endorsements that this does indeed help. Least of all, from myself who is truly a fan of Zelens Z Balance Prebiotic & Probiotic Facial Mist. And my glow has never been healthier than when I was using Exuviance Anti-Pollution Protection Essence, which contains probiotic lysate and hyaluronic acid. Naysayers of probiotic skincare might claim that these are just really, really good products that are able to pack more moisture into the skin than most. But that doesn’t sound negative to me. A well known British brand, Aurelia Probiotic Skincare uses bifido bacteria as a glycoprotein, which enables inter-cell communication. If you think of your skincare like you do your nutrition, our body can repair itself, it just needs the right tools.
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Mother Dirt is a bio-tech brand. I repeat, bio-tech and not a beauty company. Many of its products contain less than 10 ingredients and more importantly, utilises a patented strain of good bacteria, Ammonia-Oxidising Bacteria (AOB). This plant based strand converts harmful ammonia on our skin to nitrites and nitric oxide. For beauty geeks out there, you’ll know that’s the good stuff that stimulates blood flow and something our body naturally produces.
I started using this four months ago when I made the choice to cut out soaps. Frankly, I was sick of lizard legs, where moisturising everyday barely seemed to help. I was taking optimum care of my face, so why not the majority of my surface area?! This meant that my bathroom looked less than sexy – but a small price to pay as I noticed a significant difference. After using the Probiotic Body Wash and Body Oil, I stopped getting that stinging sensation – a sign of dehydration – after a hot shower. Perhaps it’s not so much about ‘cleaning your skin too much’ but how you do it. Sarina Mughal, the Pharmacist Manager at Harrods shares that “stripping skin [of oils] can lead to cracking and dryness. In skincare conditions such as eczema, hydration and moisture retention is key”. This commonly occurs with the use of harsh cleansers (perhaps containing essential oils and SLS) and mechanical exfoliants. And before you reach for that fancy bottle of moisturiser, check it for fragrance as this can be an irritant.
Scientists may not believe that topical probiotic skincare has a significant impact on inflammatory skin conditions. Yet the companies hawking probiotic formulas aren’t all smoke and mirrors. They usually omit all the ‘nasties’, like parabens, silicones, added fragrance and soaps, which the majority of us know to be wary of. More than that, the ones I’ve mentioned here don’t make grandiose claims that their moisturisers contain real live bacteria. Thank God because all this does is bring to mind the idea of Sea Monkeys colonising in my face cream. Many have extensive research that their entire brand is built on and critically, they’re transparent with this information. Perhaps we should be thinking about probiotic skincare as an advancing technology that’s better than not using any at all – rather than a totally perfected concept. Right now, my bacteria-friendly lysates may be working wonders for me and some of you, but who’s to say that in a few years with more innovation, it won’t benefit all of us? I’m certainly not writing it off as a fad.
Skincare fanatics, look no further for your Vitamin C upgrade.