Why your skin needs pro­bi­otics

Cer­tain bac­te­ria on and in your body can give you a clearer, health­ier com­plex­ion. Here’s why.

SHAPE (USA) - - Contents - By Beth Janes

The idea of bugs hang­ing out on your face is the stuff of night­mares. But that’s what’s hap­pen­ing, at least on a mi­cro­scopic level—and it’s ac­tu­ally the dream sce­nario. Your gut has its mi­cro­biome—the 100 or so tril­lion bac­te­ria lin­ing your GI tract that are in­volved in ev­ery­thing from brain func­tion to your weight—and now re­searchers have found that skin houses its own spe­cial bac­te­rial blend vi­tal to its health. About a tril­lion strong, the mi­crobes on skin dif­fer from those in the gut as well as from per­son to per­son. “Just as cacti grow nat­u­rally in Ari­zona but not the Mid­west, ev­ery bac­te­ria has an en­vi­ron­ment where it thrives,” says der­ma­tol­o­gist Whit­ney Bowe, M.D., the au­thor of The Beauty of Dirty Skin.

Get­ting to know your skin’s bac­te­ria

In the past, ex­perts thought of these or­gan­isms mostly as foes or benign friends. Now they’re dis­cov­er­ing all the good that bac­te­ria do, like sig­nal cells to per­form key tasks or turn genes on or off. For ex­am­ple, spe­cific strains tell cells to pro­duce the fats and ce­ramides needed to main­tain the skin bar­rier. That’s cru­cial for keep­ing mois­ture in and ir­ri­tants out, says der­ma­tol­o­gist Jef­frey Dover, M.D. And re­cent re­search from the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia San Diego found one strain that pro­duces a com­pound to help sup­press can­cer cells. But there are bad ap­ples too. Cer­tain bac­te­ria trig­ger in­flam­ma­tion and play roles in acne, rosacea, eczema, and pso­ri­a­sis. Oblit­er­at­ing them isn’t the an­swer—even if you could do so with­out also wip­ing out all the ben­e­fi­cial mi­crobes. “No [one type of ] bac­te­ria is good in abun­dance; bal­ance is key,” Dr. Dover says. So is di­ver­sity; the more and var­ied the strains, the health­ier the skin. When one path­o­genic bug dom­i­nates, trou­ble en­sues. In those with eczema, it flares when a com­mon strain of Sta­phy­lo­coc­cus au­reus gains a foothold over oth­ers, Dr. Bowe says. An off-kil­ter mi­cro­biome also com­pro­mises the skin bar­rier, con­tribut­ing to dry­ness, sen­si­tiv­ity, in­flam­ma­tion, and pos­si­bly ag­ing. (Con­tin­ued on page 50)

Healthy gut, healthy skin

Stud­ies show that mi­crobes in your gut af­fect skin too. Bac­te­ria there make up 70 per­cent of your im­mune sys­tem, Dr. Bowe says. When the bac­te­rial bal­ance is off, “some pa­tients may ex­pe­ri­ence gas or bloat­ing, but for oth­ers the sole man­i­fes­ta­tion is in the skin,” she says. A healthy gut mi­cro­biome also main­tains a tight in­testi­nal bar­rier, which keeps tox­ins quar­an­tined. An im­bal­ance, how­ever, makes the gut leaky, re­leas­ing them into the body and trig­ger­ing in­flam­ma­tion all over, Dr. Bowe says. The gut-skin link may go be­yond im­mu­nity. “The lit­er­a­ture is show­ing ef­fects [of pro­bi­otic sup­ple­ments] on hy­dra­tion too,” says Gre­gor Reid, Ph.D., the chief sci­en­tist at Seed, which has de­vel­oped a pro­bi­otic sup­ple­ment.

How to bug out

Sup­port your mi­cro­biome through your life­style, diet, and skin care. Be kind to skin’s in­hab­i­tants Avoid harsh an­tibac­te­rial soap and hand san­i­tizer, and never scrub skin ag­gres­sively. “It dis­rupts the ter­rain where bac­te­ria thrive,” Dr. Bowe says. In­stead, use cleansers and mois­tur­iz­ers with niaci­namide or ce­ramides to bol­ster your bar­rier. Get a lit­tle dirty Our world is way too clean, Dr. Bowe says. Be­cause we in­dis­crim­i­nately kill bac­te­ria with clean­ing prod­ucts, we’re not ex­posed to many of na­ture’s mi­cro­bial goods. Re­searchers in China found that those who live in megac­i­ties have less di­verse skin mi­cro­biomes, which may ex­plain why ur­ban ar­eas see more skin in­flam­ma­tion. “You don’t need to never shower,” Dr. Dover says. Just limit cleans­ing to once a day. Try mi­cro­biome-tar­get­ing skin care If skin is gen­er­ally healthy and you use gen­tle prod­ucts, you prob­a­bly don’t need to over­haul your rou­tine, Dr. Bowe says. But if you have sen­si­tive skin, dry­ness, or acne, biome-cen­tric prod­ucts could help. Con­sider pre­bi­otics that feed skin bac­te­ria, found in Natur­o­path­ica Manuka Honey Cleans­ing Balm ($62, natur­o­path­ica .com) and Joy­ome Il­lu­mi­nat­ing Day Serum and In­ten­sive Overnight Re­pair ($153 for both, joy­ome­skin­care.com), as well as pro­bi­otics, mean­ing ac­tual bac­te­ria, found in Mother Dirt AO+ Mist ($49, moth­erdirt.com). Eat well, stress less Load up on fiber-rich pro­duce and foods with pro­bi­otics and pre­bi­otics—yo­gurt, bananas, onions, and raw as­para­gus. Also, know that stress changes the di­ver­sity and num­ber of bugs in your gut, ac­cord­ing to a study in Brain, Be­hav­ior, and Im­mu­nity. Coun­ter­act with ex­er­cise and sleep, which stud­ies show di­rectly help bal­ance mi­crobes. Pop pro­bi­otics daily Pre­lim­i­nary stud­ies show var­i­ous strains of pro­bi­otic bac­te­ria may im­prove skin by boost­ing hy­dra­tion, calm­ing in­flam­ma­tion, help­ing pre­vent UV-in­duced bar­rier dis­rup­tions and ox­ida­tive stress (which trig­gers ag­ing), and more. They do this not by worm­ing their way from the GI tract to the skin but by chang­ing how your gut mi­cro­biome func­tions in ways that in­flu­ence skin or even by re­leas­ing ben­e­fi­cial me­tab­o­lites that make it to skin via the blood­stream, Reid says. Try the strains in Seed Fe­male Daily Syn­bi­otic ($50, seed.com), which are Bi­fi­dobac­terium longum SD-CECT 7347-SP, Lac­to­bacil­lus ca­sei SD-CECT 9104-SP, and B. lac­tis SD-CECT 8145-SP. Also, be weary of sup­ple­ments that make ou­tra­geous claims. “No one on the planet is al­ways to­tally healthy,” Reid says. Pro­bi­otics of­fer a way to tip the scales in fa­vor of bet­ter health.

SAVE FACE A thriv­ing mi­cro­biome may be the key to great skin.

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