Why bacteria might give you better skin: How probiotic beauty products work
Baffled about the craze over probiotic facial products? CNA Lifestyle finds out what they really do and if they can fix skin issues like they are purported to.
Probiotics have been in the spotlight for a while, not just in healthcare but skincare as well.
It seems what’s good for your gut health is also great for your complexion, as skincare brands are jumping on the bandwagon and launching new products that are formulated for applying bacteria – the beneficial ones, of course – on your skin.
We know that consuming foods with probiotics can indeed boost our health but does putting them on the skin really help improve its condition and appearance? How do they work if they truly have an effect on your complexion?
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WHAT DOES MICROBIOME MEAN?
You’ve probably seen the term mentioned on the labels and ads of many probiotic skincare products. Microbiome simply means the ecosystem of microorganisms or microbes found in a particular environment – whether it be within your body or on the surface of your skin – and is composed of millions of good as well as bad bacteria.
While beneficial and potentially harmful microbes will always co-exist in the microbiome, the balance between them can shift and affect health.
This can happen due to various reasons – for example, when you take a course of antibiotics, which can eliminate some of the good bacteria along with the bad ones in your body. To get the ecosystem back in good form, it’s important to maintain and support the levels of healthy bacteria in it.
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HOW YOU CAN DAMAGE THE MICROBIOME WITHOUT KNOWING IT
According to dermatologist Dr Joyce Lim, from Joyce Lim Skin & Laser Clinic, the good microbes on the skin’s surface can be similarly displaced, either by the use of antibiotic creams or a more common culprit – excessive cleansing of the face. There’s no surprise that, in the pursuit of skin health, many of us are obsessed with keeping our face clean and tend to be overzealous with our cleansing routine.
While cleansing your skin thoroughly is very important indeed, you can risk disrupting its microbiome by doing it too frequently or using cleansers that are too harsh for the skin barrier. If your skin feels tight, itchy or dry after cleansing, you are probably using the wrong cleanser for your skin type or simply washing your face more often than necessary.
These spell trouble for the skin. “It is thought that the skin’s microbiome plays a critical role in the immune responses of the skin and the skin barrier function. Any alteration in the microbiome may result in a number of skin conditions, such as acne, eczema or psoriasis,” explained Dr Lim.
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ARE PROBIOTICS TRULY THE ANSWER TO GREAT SKIN?
We know for a fact that consuming foods with probiotics can help restore the natural balance of the microflora in the gut. This benefits our health in multiple ways, including strengthening the body’s immunity, aiding digestion, and improving nutrient absorption. But did you know that probiotics can also benefit the skin? “Oral probiotics can modulate the intestinal microbiome and have demonstrated to be effective in treating skin conditions like eczema, acne and rosacea,” said Dr Lim.
If that is true, can probiotics, applied topically, similarly improve the skin? Quite a number of dermatologists have expressed their belief in their benefits for skin, noting that lowered levels of inflammation, a healthy pH level and stronger skin barrier can be established from using skincare that contain probiotics. This, in turn, paves the way for calmer, less reactive and thus happier-looking skin.
While not objecting to that opinion, Dr Lim pointed out that there are, however, limited clinical trials showing that correcting the microbial imbalance in the skin and improving its immunity can directly help skin acne, eczema and rosacea. “In addition, there is little or no data on the safety and mechanism of the action of these topical products. More studies are needed,” she explained.
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HOW TO INCORPORATE PROBIOTICS INTO YOUR SKINCARE ROUTINE
With the above said, however, there is little harm in trying out probiotic skincare to see if it does give your skin better immunity and resilience. This stands provided you are not suffering from any severe skin problem and that you pick products and formulations that are suitable and safe for your skin type.
Dr Lim agrees that even those with sensitive, acne-prone skin, eczema or rosacea can try probiotic skincare products. “Just buy those that have a base for sensitive skin. Most (probiotic) moisturisers are safe to use on sensitive skin.
However, those incorporated into products containing lightening agents may cause irritation for sensitive skin,” she cautioned. In other words, if you have problem-prone skin, go for probiotic products that have a more basic formulation and are made for a singular purpose, as opposed to those that are designed to be multifunctional and may contain certain skincare actives that can potentially irritate skin.
Besides moisturisers, there are many other probiotic products, of course, that you can add to your routine. As long as you apply due care in studying the ingredients to ensure their suitability for your skin, your skin is not likely to get a bad reaction from the use of probiotic products. Here are a couple of popular picks that you can consider.
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AURELIA PROBIOTIC SKINCARE MIRACLE CLEANSER, S$76, FROM LOOKFANTASTIC.COM.SG
Aurelia specialises in probiotic skincare products and is a pioneer in this segment of the market. On top of that, its products are made with BioOrganic ingredients, which means that they are ideal for those with sensitive skin. For a start, this best-selling gentle cleanser will ensure that you are not stripping your skin of precious moisture and good microbes whilst cleansing.
DRUNK ELEPHANT SWEET BIOME FERMENTED SAKE SPRAY, S$60, FROM SEPHORA
Besides containing probiotics that will build up your skin barrier, this new facial mist also packs a bunch of skin-loving ingredients like amino acids, fatty acids, electrolytes, minerals and ceramides in it. Spray on after cleansing your face or as a skin refresher throughout the day.
SUM:37 SECRET ESSENCE, S$172 FOR 150ML
A skincare essence with fermented ingredients is a good way to infuse probiotics into your skin right after cleansing your face. Korean skincare brands have long been using fermented goodies in their products –this skin-smoothening potion is a forerunner of the K-crop.
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LANCOME ADVANCED GENEFIQUE YOUTH ACTIVATING SERUM, S$230 FOR 75ML
Lancome’s popular anti-ageing face serum is targeted at balancing the skin’s microbiome. The latest formulation contains a complex of seven prebiotics and probiotic fractions selected to deliver essential nutrients to the skin and its microbiome.
BIOSSANCE SQUALANE + PROBIOTIC GEL MOISTURIZER, S$76, FROM SEPHORA
Want to try a probiotic product but have oily or acne-prone skin? This lightweight yet hydrating moisturiser is designed to fight the ill effects of daytime stressors so skin stays in a balanced state.
LANEIGE WATER SLEEPING MASK, S$45 FOR 70ML
A reformulation of an iconic product sees the inclusion of a patented Sleeping Microbiome technology that rebuilds skin’s daytime damage and a Probiotics Complex that acts as a protective shield against bad microorganisms that may cause skin inflammation.
Available at Laneige stores and Lazada.