I grew up under the notion that all bacteria is bad bacteria. Working in healthcare I am constantly washing my hands and sanitizing my phone, stethoscope and pens to kill off any lurking bacteria. When patients are sick we prescribe antibiotics to fend off bacterial infections. Everywhere we look are antibacterial wipes and sprays. All this focus on bacteria makes it seem like a war is being waged, us versus them, but what if I were told you the key to a healthy body and beautiful skin is working with, not against, bacteria?
First things first, bacteria has been given a bad reputation. Not all bacteria causes illness and a large amount of bacteria is needed to keep the body healthy and working well. Bacteria is found on every inch of the skin and inside the large intestine lives 300-500 distinct types of bacteria which form the body’s microbiome. Each person’s mix of bacteria is as unique to them as a fingerprint and is determined both by genetics and by their diet and the environment they live in. Bacteria line the inside of the intestines and provides both a barrier to bad bacteria and help with digestion. The balance of good and bad bacteria can change with diet, illness, stress or antibiotic use.
Too much bad bacteria can cause digestive problems such as gas, bloating, heart burn, diarrhea or constipation. Additionally there is evidence to believe that gut bacteria can produce neurotransmitters which are the brain and nervous system’s way of communicating. Poor gut bacteria can play a role in depression, anxiety, or generalized fatigue and brain fog. It is believed that the relationship between the gut bacteria and the neurotransmitters they can produce can play a large role on acne and rosacea.
A typical Western diet high in processed foods, fat and sugar causes a decrease in the amount of good bacteria that live in the intestine. In a healthy gut microbiome, the good bacteria fit together snuggly and form a protective wall that lines the entire length of the colon but in a bad gut microbiome the bacteria allow holes to form in the protective lining. These holes allow bad bacteria to reach the intestinal wall and cross into the blood stream. While this small amount of bacteria isn’t enough to make the body sick, it does trigger the immune system to cause an inflammatory response. Since the immune system is always on alert it over reacts when it encounters anything foreign. When dirt and oil gets trapped on the skin, the hyper active immune system attacks the pore clogging substance before waiting to determine if the dirt is a threat. This causes numerous red and inflamed blemishes to form.
Fortunately, this type of “leaky gut” is reversible; by re-establishing the amount of good bacteria in the diet, you can undo the negative damage caused by an over-active immune system. Luckily you don’t need to radically change your diet to colonize good bacteria in the gut, the solution is quite simple: Probiotics!
Orally ingested probiotics
Probiotics can be found naturally in some foods such as yogurt and fermented foods or can be taken as a capsule. Supplemental probiotics usually contain a mixture of two different types of good bacteria; Lactobacilli or Bifidobacterium . These two strains of bacteria can then serve as a way of building up the broken parts of the bacterial wall that protect and line the intestines preventing bacteria from reaching the blood stream and causing an immune response.
Topically Applied Probiotics
The first main benefit is that topical probiotics can form a protective shield on top of the skin. Acne is caused when bacteria and dirt become trapped inside a pore and stimulate an immune response resulting in swollen red blemishes. Probiotics applied to the skin cause a phenomenon called “bacterial interference” by forming a layer of good bugs on the skin which prevent bad bug bacteria from coming in contact with the skin and causing an inflammatory reaction. The layer of good bacteria can have an antimicrobial effect by producing a substance which can destroy the cell membrane of bad bacteria causing them to die and be unable to trigger an inflammatory response. Lastly it is believed that topically applied probiotics can have a calming effect on the immune system. By protecting the skin, they make the skin cells less likely to trigger an immune response which decrease how sensitive the immune system is to bacteria on the skin surface.
While researchers continue to study whether the effects of probiotics cause a significant improvement in skin health and reduction of acne, probiotics have been proven as safe and effective for the management of gut related side effects. Probiotic supplements can be found in any grocery or health food store and several brands of yogurt and fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchee advertise the types of probiotics they contain.
Speaking from personal experience, I have the best skin of my life after starting using probiotic skincare. The brand I recommend is Tula which is a probiotic skincare line developed by Dr. Raj, a gastroenterologist who attended Harvard and got her medical degree from NYU. She developed this skin care line with a focus on both internal and external health. Their products are designed using several recognizable ingredients like: antioxidants found in blueberries and white tea, the anti-inflammatory properties, chircory root which is a natural prebiotic in addition to vitamins A, C, & E. My everday routine consists of the Purifying Cleanser, followed by the Pro-Glycolic 10% Resurfacing Gel, The Illuminating Serum and finished with the Hydrating Day & Night Cream