Probiotics: A Bacterial Balancing Act for Skin Care

Probiotics may reach beyond digestive health


Probiotics aren’t just for boosting digestive health anymore: Burgeoning research shows that these microorganisms may be a secret weapon in fighting acne.

Just like with the inside of our bodies, there are strains of beneficial and harmful bacteria that live on our skin. While researchers at UCLA and Washington University in St. Louis have identified two strains of harmful bacteria on our skin that can help cause acne and skin inflammation, they’ve also identified a beneficial strain that may protect skin against breakouts[1]—a discovery that may prove pivotal in treating future patients with acne.

But we may not have to wait to reap the inflammation-fighting benefits that probiotics can bring. Research has shown that when applied topically, probiotics can help fight the bacteria of acne-prone skin.[2] Here’s how it works: our bodies respond to overgrowth of bacteria on the skin as a foreign threat, causing the skin to become red, inflamed and congested--something that can lead to acne breakouts. But when probiotics are applied topically, they may prevent the skin’s cells from overreacting to the bacteria and supply good bacteria into the mix, therefore preventing the body’s breakout or flare up response (and the acne that follows).

Finally, probiotics can also produce antimicrobial substances powered to kill harmful bacteria,[3] providing another way that these beneficial microorganisms may help disarm the body’s inflammatory response. Researchers are working to identify which probiotic strains wield this ability to kill harmful bacteria. In the meantime, those looking to boost time-tested acne treatments (such as using benzyl peroxide or salicylic acid-spiked skin care) may benefit from introducing probiotic-infused skin care to a regimen and using an army of microorganisms to balance the skin. 


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1.    Fitz-Gibbon S, Tomida S, Chiu BH, et al. Propionibacterium acnes strain populations in the human skin microbiome associated with acne. J Invest Dermatol.2013;133(9):2152-2160; PMID: 23337890.

2.    Kang BS, Seo JG, Lee GS, et al. Antimicrobial activity of enterocins from Enterococcus faecalis SL-5 against Propionibacterium acnes, the causative agent in acne vulgaris, and its therapeutic effect. J Microbiol.2009;47(1):101-109; PMID: 19229497.

3.    Wang Y, Kuo S, Shu M, et al. Staphylococcus epidermidis in the human skin microbiome mediates fermentation to inhibit the growth of Propionibacterium acnes: implications of probiotics in acne vulgaris. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol.2014;98(1):411-424; PMID: 24265031.