Our skin is naturally teeming with bacteria. Although the thought may disgust you, it turns out that the right balance of skin bacteria may promote its health.
Studies have shown that our skin’s bacterial community changes when going from one part of the body to another. For example, our facial bacterial community is different from the bacteria on our arms.[1,2]
Many new prebiotic and probiotic products have come to the market that claim to improve your skin health. What is a prebiotic? What is a probiotic? What is the research behind their use to enhance your skin?
A probiotic is a product that directly adds beneficial bacteria. This can either be done through oral intake or by directly applying it to the skin. When taking it orally, the intent is to change the bacterial populations in the gut in hopes that this will lead to secondary benefit in the skin. When applying a probiotic to the skin, the intent is that the bacteria in the probiotic will create a healthier community and improve skin health. The good news is that research is growing with many new studies emerging.
On the other hand, a prebiotic is a substance that will promote the growth and survival of beneficial bacteria. However, there is no bacteria that are directly applied. Similar to probiotics, this can be either ingested orally (to change the bacteria in the gut) or applied directly to the skin (to change the bacteria in the skin).
The most beneficial way to restore bacterial harmony may be a mix of both approaches. The theory behind prebiotics and probiotics is that they can help to control your bacterial population toward a good balance. In essence, the hope is to create a healthy harmony of bacteria rather than an unhealthy mix. This concept has already been explored in eczema (also known as atopic dermatitis) where it was shown that people with eczema had a different population of skin bacteria, with an abundance of Staphylococcus aureus, in comparison to those that did not have eczema. The researchers also found something else that was surprising. The bacterial population of the skin in those with a flare of their eczema was different from the bacterial population in those same people when their eczema was controlled. In other words, the wrong bacterial population was associated with a flare of disease but the right population was not.
This concept is what fuels the excitement behind the use of probiotics and prebiotics. Can we realign our skin into the right bacterial harmony to maintain its health? The building excitement and research in this area will surely uncover answers.
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