Probiotic plus

Best known for their role in supporting gut health, probiotics are now being used to improve absorption of nutrients in skincare products, says Rosemary Ann Ogilvie.

The antioxidant resveratrol is renowned for its anti-ageing properties. However, it’s tricky to absorb across the gut, and virtually impossible to absorb across the skin, so adding it to skincare products is pointless. “However, when resveratrol is fermented with probiotics, it appears the bacteria transform the compounds and deliver them across the skin barrier,” says naturopath and holistic beauty therapist, Amie Skilton. “Probiotics are being used as fermentative agents for ingredients that typically aren’t well absorbed across the skin, and I believe there’s a lot more to come in this area.”

Blocking bad bacteria

Probiotics in skincare is an emerging field, and it is known that they help with skin health in various ways. One is very similar to gut health: simply taking up space on the skin reduces access for bad bacteria. They also work with the immune system to keep pathogens under control. Moreover, Skilton adds, they’re in constant communication with the immune system under the deeper layers of the skin, where they stimulate healing, collagen production, and the release of anti-inflammatory compounds, which reduces redness.

Currently, limited data exists as to which species or strains are most effective. Skin microbiome differs from gut microbiome, but initial research has used the same species present in the gut. “There’s good information on saccharomyces, which is actually a probiotic yeast not a probiotic bacteria,” says Skilton. “It stimulates collagen synthesis and smooths skin. And Lactobacillus paracasei has been shown to improve the skin barrier, reduce inflammation and allergy, and inhibit the release of substance P, a chemical that causes us to feel pain. However, we must get more specific to ensure what we use on the skin is in line with what’s supposed to be there.”

So for those who use only coconut or other oil on their skin, will adding a capsule of probiotics to each application have any effect? “I don’t think it will do any harm and it may provide some benefit,” says Skilton. “However, oral probiotics are designed for oral use and the species selected are those with a known impact on the immune system via the gut. They’re not necessarily the species or strains that inhabit and influence the immune system on the skin. So you’ll probably achieve better results swallowing them than opening them up.”

Skilton stresses the importance of understanding that gut health is intimately related to the skin's appearance, and chronic skin conditions like acne, eczema and psoriasis are usually to some degree related to gut microbiome. “If someone wants to produce a result in their skin by adjusting their gut microflora, they should consult a qualified practitioner because there are specific things you need to do to ensure it doesn’t get worse and that it works,” she advises. Mounting research also shows that certain oral probiotics reduce the impact of UV radiation on the skin.