Doctors consider the gut to be the second brain of the body. And with gut health being the buzzword in the wellness industry, it has led to launches of countless probiotic products (apple cider vinegar, kimchi, kombucha, live bacteria shots) that help us maintain our gut microbiome and add multiple strains of good bacteria. Not only do probiotics give you good skin but they are also a great ingredient to look for in your skincare products too.
Turns out, your grandma’s advice of using curd mixed with gram flour or other kitchen ingredients as DIY masks has a lot more science behind it.
“Skin being the largest organ of the body, it is colonized by beneficial microorganisms, which serve as a physical barrier to prevent the invasion of pathogens. Chronic inflammation, stress, changes in the skin’s pH levels and diet are some factors that can create an imbalance in these beneficial microbes,” explains Madhulika Mhatre, consultant dermatology, Wockhardt Hospital. When the barrier is broken, Dr Mhatre adds, or when the balance between commensals and pathogens is disturbed, skin diseases such as acne, rosacea and dermatitis may occur. Probiotics help get healthy microbes back to the optimum balance. “Using probiotics in both pill and topical form is helpful in many skin conditions. It may help prevent and treat skin conditions, including eczema, acne, dry skin, UV-induced skin damage, battle skin ageing and even skin cancer,” says cosmetic plastic surgeon and andrologist Anup Dhir, who's senior consultant at Apollo Hospital. “With our over-clean modern lifestyles and use of sanitisers, however, this ecosystem is often damaged and can result in dry, stressed and sensitive skin,” he adds. Topical probiotics, prebiotics and postbiotics help keep the ecosystem balanced, which, in turn, results in glowing, happy skin.
But what’s the difference?
Probiotics are live bacteria that support the healthy or good bacteria and prebiotics are non-digestible compounds that feed and support these healthy bacteria and keep pathogens in control, explains Dr Mhatre. “A general recommendation is to choose probiotic products with at least one billion colony forming units and containing the genus Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium or Saccharomyces boulardii, etc. Greek yoghurt has a good amount of probiotics,” says Dr Dhir. Bacillus coagulans (eliminates free radicals and prevents skin ageing) or Vitreoscilla (reduces water loss and improves dry skin) are other strains.
Ceramides or the glue that holds our skin cells together are important to protect the skin barrier. Probiotics have shown to boost the production of ceramides (which reduces as we age), or lipids (fats) that help retain moisture in the skin and keep acne-causing bacteria levels in check. These also maintain the pH balance of the skin and act as antioxidants, adds Dr Mhatre. “Certain prebiotics help balance skin pH or support the skin’s barrier function or help improve dry damaged skin, indirectly preventing an increase of bad bacteria. Ingredients with prebiotic effect include amino acids, plant sugars such as fructooligosaccharides, sulphur, calcium and magnesium,” she says.
Postbiotics are fermentation byproducts produced by the bacteria that feed good microbes. "They enhance water, sodium and electrolyte absorption by the skin. Also, if the bacteria on your skin are not making enough fatty acids or peptides, a topical product with fatty acids can give it a boost,” Dr Mhatre suggests.