Researchers as far back as 1930 suspected a link between gut and skin health but recent epidemiological evidence clearly shows an association between gut problems and skin disorders.
Skin manifestations caused by certain gastrointestinal diseases such as coeliac, Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis have long been reported, however deficient and diseased gut function is also starting to be recognised for some of our primary dermatological disorders such as acne, rosacea, atopic dermatitis, psoriasis and ichthyosis vulgaris (an inherited condition that occurs when skin doesn’t shed its dead cells).
What is even more compelling is the potential relationship between healthy gut balance and the prevention of prematurely aged skin.
As skin therapists, we need to look beyond the surface to discover what is really going on with diseased and ageing skin, and so treat it both thoroughly and correctly. Yes, it can be complicated, but it gives us a good starting point.
Bacteria is often thought of something that causes disease but our bodies are full of bacteria, both good and bad. What we need to do is ensure that there is a harmonious balance of both.
Probiotics are the “good guys” – live bacteria and yeast that are beneficial to health, especially the digestive system. Moreover, probiotics have been proven to perform an extremely advantageous role in skin heath, such as reconstructing atopic dermatitis, promoting the healing of scars and burns, rejuvenating the skin and strengthening its innate immunity.
Supplementing acne sufferers with probiotics, particularly lactobacillus acidophilus and the yeast saccharomyces cerevisiae, will often improve their condition.
Furthermore, the beneficial effect of probiotics on skin may explain why pasteurised, unfermented dairy such as regular milk is associated with acne, but fermented dairy such as yoghurt and kefir is not.
Oral probiotics have also shown to improve eczema, rosacea and psoriasis (the latter two linked to inflammation) symptoms.
Skin is literally crawling with bacteria. This might sound disgusting, but it is vital for healthy skin. There are about 100 million microbes (bacteria, fungi and viruses) that live on and in the human body.
Gut bacteria elevates the human immune system. Having a strong immune system benefits all organs of the body, including the skin.
Understanding the interplay between this gut-skin axis for skin disease and ageing has served as a new avenue for developing novel therapeutic strategies, most notably topical products.
Currently, experts are assessing whether tropical products that have probiotic content are more efficient for skin health than oral probiotics.
Researchers have recommended that probiotics can benefit skin not only through the digestive tract, but also when given in topical applications such as creams or lotion. Indeed the anti-inflammatory impact of bacteria has been seen in topical use.
Therefore, one safely can conclude that for a successful outcome of treating skin disorders such as acne, rosacea, and eczema etc, aestheticians need to take a holistic, internal-external approach to treatment.
“Both [internal and external application] have been shown to affect the skin in a significant way; for anti-ageing, and also to help with chronic skin conditions – things like acne, rosacea, and eczema,” says Dr Whitney Bowe, a New York dermatologist who has published key studies in support of this.
Dr Bowe says her patients have seen results just by applying plain Greek yoghurt on their faces twice a week. And while those with acne-prone skin will benefit especially, she says that people with any kind of skin type or condition can see good results.
“As far as probiotics exacerbating a [problematic] skin condition worse, I have not seen that happen,” she emphasises.
A NEW FRONTIER IN SKINCARE
While a DIY approach as recommended by Dr Bowe is all well and good, many beauty brands are quite aware that probiotics are a serious breakthrough in skin health and ageing science, and thus a variety of probiotic-containing products are making their way to market.
Probiotic bioactive agents provide DNA and cell membrane protection, reduce skin vulnerability, heal stress induced damage, premature ageing and brings the skin to its healthiest state, by boosting the body’s natural immune system and cell defence mechanisms.
There are many conventional treatments that are commonly recommended, such as avoiding triggers that irritate the symptoms (for example: stress, spicy food, sun, alcohol or heat), prescription medications (containing antibiotics or anti-inflammatory steroids or birth control pills) or IPL photo-facials.
However, these treatments often do not provide any substantial relief. Therefore, if aestheticians are serious about treating common skin disorders, probiotic skincare should ideally be incorporated into any treatment protocol for acne, rosacea, eczema, psoriasis.
Probiotics act as anti-inflammatory and antioxidants agents which can help eliminate the toxins and free radicals that can damage skin and cause early signs of aging, this offering some hope in slowing down visible signs of ageing.
Strengthen Skin Barrier
Probiotics have been proven to strengthen the skin’s barrier function. The skin acts as a physical barrier to safeguard the internal organs and keep out pathogens and other toxins. Not only are there microflora that live in the human gut, but there is also a skin microbiome, with friendly microorganisms for protection. The skin microbiome has been shown to protect against unfriendly bacteria, pollution and free radicals, all of which can accelerate skin disease and ageing.
Probiotics help skin to increase and uphold moisture in the skin. Well-hydrated skin is not only healthier skin, but wrinkles are also less visible.
Preventing Sun Damage
Probiotics can help protect skin against damaging UV rays that can cause premature skin ageing and wrinkles. There has not been much research into this area, but what has been found is extremely promising.
FEEDING THE ECOSYSTEM OF THE GUT AND SKIN
Enrich the communities of microbes living in the gut and on skin:
Probiotics: Probiotic supplements, yoghurt (especially Greek yoghurt), kefir, miso, sauerkraut, tempeh etc.
Prebiotics: Looking after the “good guys”, prebiotics are non-negotiable in any probiotic-based therapies. Prebiotics are an important fibre source contributing to healthy gut bacteria by nourishing them and helping them grow in numbers. Prebiotics include dandelion greens, chicory, raw onions, leeks, garlic etc., raw Jerusalem artichokes, bananas, avocadoes, peas, wholegrain and sprouted grain breads.
Look for well-formulated probiotic skin care that contain probiotics and fermented ingredients – eg. lactobacillus ferment, fermented yeast, and which are supported by anti-inflammatory and antioxidant agents.