If you’ve checked out my picture on this site, you may have noticed the gray, Elvira-esque white streak in my hair or the crows’ feet radiating out from the corners of my eyes. The all-natural look that I have long relied on is starting to become harder to pull off. As a woman of a certain age, topics related to aging and beauty have taken on a more interest for me than they once did. For those of you, like me, willing to spend money on “hope in a jar,” hopefully you’ll find this interesting.
We often notice wellness when looking at someone, referring to people who look good as being the “picture of health.” When someone is not well, their skin will may reveal it. The skin is our largest organ and is impacted by our overall health.
Probiotics aid in digestion of food and absorption of nutrients and minerals, which contribute to glowing and beautiful skin by permitting the body to assimilate skin friendly nutrients and fats. Probiotics strengthen our immune system by protecting against infectious and inflammatory disease. They contribute to our overall wellness, including skin health.
In additional to overall health benefits, probiotics provide specific benefits for skin disorders. It is already been shown scientifically that probiotics play a role in skin heath, such as improving atopic dermatitis, promoting the healing of scars and burns, rejuvenating the skin and strengthening the skin’s innate immunity. For those acne sufferers who have unhealthy guts, supplementing with probiotics, particularly Lactobacillus acidophilus and the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, will often improve their acne.
Both eczema and psoriasis, which have been extensively examined by the medical community, have been shown to be benefited by probiotics. Eczema is a chronic, inflammatory skin condition that is associated with problems with allergens and the immune system and its symptoms include: dry, extremely itchy skin, blisters with oozing and crusting and dry, leathery, scaling or thickened skin. Giving probiotics to infants has been shown to significantly reduce the likelihood of infants developing eczema. Probiotics have also been shown to improve eczema symptoms in patients suffering from the condition. Psoriasis is another skin disorder, linked to inflammation, where oral probiotics have been shown to provide benefit.
As probiotics can be helpful with these skin disorders, is it such a leap to imagine that their benefits could extend to aging skin? Gut bacteria boost the human immune system. Having a strong immune system benefits all organs of the body, including the skin. We each have about 100 million microbes (bacteria, fungi and viruses) that live on and in our bodies. Your skin is literally crawling with bacteria.
The microbes in our gut have been shown to be able to communicate with the bacteria that are found on the skin and in your mucosa. Researchers are currently examining whether these interactions can reduce skin inflammation (like rosacea) and improve collagen production as well as examining whether topical products containing probiotics are more effective for skin health than oral probiotics. Human studies have suggested that probiotics can benefit skin not only through the digestive tract (by consuming them) but also if given in topical applications such as creams or lotions.
There are many factors that contribute to skin aging and wrinkling. Environmental toxins and disease can damage the skin, weakening its ability to repair itself. UV radiation in sunlight causes photo-aging with resulting age-spots and wrinkles. The collagen and moisture contained naturally within the skin reduce with age, causing sagging and wrinkles. Probiotics may offer some hope in slowing down the visible proof of all of that life experience we’ve worked so hard to attain!
Strengthen Skin Barrier
Probiotics have been shown to strengthen the skin’s barrier function. The skin acts as a physical barrier to protect the internal organs and keep out pathogens and other toxins. Not only are there microflora that live in the human gut, but there is also a skin microbiome, with friendly microorganisms to protect us. Our skin microbiome has been shown to protect against unfriendly bacteria, pollution and free radicals, all of which can accelerate aging.
The diseases of atopic dermatitis, eczema, rosacea, psoriasis, and acne all may be triggered or exacerbated by unfriendly microorganisms. The friendly skin microbiome appears to produce acids that lower skin Ph, with the resulting acidic environment discouraging colonization by disease causing microbes.
Fatty ceramides hold the cells in the top layer of skin in place and are one of the main components of the epidermis. Ceramides also attract and retain moisture in the skin and work with cholesterol and saturated fatty acids, which are also found in the epidermis, to create a barrier (the lipid barrier) which prevents excessive evaporation of the water from the skin. Very dry or damaged skin often has reduced numbers of ceramides. With fewer ceramides, the skin barrier is weakened, making the skin more vulnerable to infections. Sadly, the number of ceramides in our skin decreases as we age.
In a 2008 study, Dr. L Di Marzio and colleagues, for a limited time period, applied a skin cream containing the probiotic, Streptococcus salivarium ssp.thermophilus (S. thermophiles) to the skin of elderly Caucasian women. In accordance with results of earlier experiments, the skin of the women who received the S. thermophilus cream showed increased skin ceramide levels1, over the control group. The skin of the women who received the probiotic also showed increased hydration.
Probiotics help skin to maintain moisture. Well hydrated skin makes wrinkles less visible. As discussed above, skin cream containing Streptococcus thermophiles was found to increase moisture in the skin of aging women.
Hyaluronic Acid (HA) is a natural substance that exists in the human body. It is a major component of the skin and helps to provide the structure of the skin, which give the skin strength and tightness. HA is lost in the skin as we age, which can result in sagging.
HA is often touted as an active ingredient in anti-aging skin creams. It is a very effective moisturizer with the ability to hold on to water. It also can be used, if applied topically, to assist in healing wounds, burns, skin ulcers.
I found it quite surprising to learn that certain probiotic bacteria produce HA. For commercial purposes, HA is actually produced by microbial fermentation, by the bacteria Streptococcus zooepidemicus. Streptococcus thermophilus can also produce HA. There are likely other bacteria that produce HA that have yet to be identified.
In one study, applying bacterially fermented soymilk to the skin can increase mouse skin’s ability to produce HA. In 2000, Japanese researchers fermented soy milk with the probiotic, Bifidobacterium breve. They then applied it topically to mouse skin for six weeks. At the end of the period, the mice who received the fermented soy milk showed significantly increased HA production by the skin as well as increase skin moisture and thickness, as compared to the control group that received unfermented soy milk.
These findings raise the exciting possibility of anti-aging skin care products containing probiotics or containing ingredients fermented by probiotics. As topically applied cosmetics require less testing than internally consumed medications, it may not be too long until we start to see these on the shelves. However, as always, effectiveness will depend on whether there are therapeutic levels of active ingredients, product freshness and storage and how reputable the producer is. Buyer beware.
Probiotics can help protect skin against damaging UV rays that can cause premature skin aging and wrinkles. There has not been much research into this area, but what has been found is extremely exciting.
A 2010 study published in the British Journal of Dermatology2 followed study participants who were given a dietary supplement containing the probiotic Lactobacillus johnsonii along with nutritional doses of carotenoids. This study was based on an earlier study that showed beneficial effects of supplementation with this bacteria against UV skin damage. After repeated exposure to UV light that mimicked sun exposure, those subjects who received the supplement showed significantly reduced signs of UV skin damage over the control group that received a placebo.
Many probiotic supplements already contain this helpful probiotic. It can also be found in many kefir strains. (Kefir is a fermented milk food that contains very high Colony Forming Units (CFUs) of helpful bacteria and yeasts). There may be other probiotic bacteria that also provide protection against UV damage to the skin, but they have not yet been studied.
By no means should you replace your sunscreen and hat with probiotics. Physical protection against the sun is definitely best. But it is very interesting to know that friendly bacteria that is taken internally can provide one more source of protection against photo-aging.
Collagen is a protein that is made in the dermal layer of the skin. It makes skin smooth and provides it with elasticity. Collagen production decreases as we age and as this happens, saggy skin and wrinkles are often the unwanted result.
Several probiotic bacteria produce proteins that bind collagen proteins together – assisting the collagen to form structure to maintain skin firmness. The bacteria studied were: Lactobacillus fermentumRC-14, L. rhamnosus GR-1 and 36, and L. casei Shirota. It is not clear whether application of a probiotic skin cream or taking supplements would provide actual benefit to the skin.
Eating soy products (tofu, soy milk, etc.) and dark green vegetables may increase collagen production. Avoiding the sun can help as the UV rays can damage collagen. As discussed above, certain probiotics also protect against UV damage (and thus may also protect against resulting collagen damage).
Rosacea is a very common, chronic skin condition, particularly noticeable in fair-skinned people chacterized by:
- Redness of the skin of the cheeks, nose, chin or forehead.
- Small visible blood vessels on the face
- Bumps or pimples on the face
- Watery or irritated eyes.
There is no final medical consensus about what causes this condition, but it can become quite noticeable and cause distress to the person suffering from it. It typically appears between the ages of 30 and 60 and is much more common in women than in men. Eventually, it may even affect the shape of the nose, causing it to swell and get bumpy.
Studies have shown that probiotics, applied directly to the skin and taken internally can improve and prevent rosacea.
There are many conventional treatments that are commonly recommended such as avoiding triggers that irritate the symptoms (for example: stress, spicy food, sun alcohol or heat), prescription medications (containing antibiotics or anti-inflammatory steroids or birth control pills) or IPL photo-facials. But these treatments often do not provide relief.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, research that is ongoing has shown success with both orally administered probiotics (through food or pills) and in topically applied creams that contain probiotics.
When microbes are on the skin of patients with rosacea, the immune system thinks they are harmful and creates an immune response to try to kill them, with resulting skin inflammation, redness and even bumps. When probiotics are topically applied, they prevent the skin from identifying the microbes as harmful, thus preventing the immune response. Additionally, the probiotics themselves actually have anti-microbial properties and can kill some of the bad microbes that might otherwise trigger a reaction.
There are currently several cosmetics companies, the bigger of which have research teams of their own, that have jumped on the probiotics bandwagon. Clinique, for example, has produced a skin lotion, called Clinique’s Redness Solutions with Probiotic Technology, and it making the claim that it will help with red, inflamed skin.
Kefir is a fermented milk drink, that can be easily and inexpensively made at home, which is extremely high in probiotics (higher than probiotic capsules), containing many strains of bacteria and beneficial yeasts. Many people claim that making a face mask out of kefir is very soothing to skin afflicted by rosacea. Kefir has the additional benefit of containing lactic acid, an anti-aging ingredient.
If your kefir is somewhat thick, you can simply apply it to your face and let it sit, as seen in the photo. After a bit, it will harden and dry and stick to your face. If your kefir is watery, you can soak cotton balls, cotton pads or cheesecloth cut in the shape of your face with kefir (preferably homemade), place the soaked pads on your face and lie down. Place them over your face and wait thirty minutes. Then rinse with water.
Oral Probiotics and the Gut Brain Skin Axis
Since the 1930’s, scientists have been talking about the gut-brain skin axis. The theory behind it is that stress alone or stress in combination with a poor diet can affect the healthy bacteria residing in the gut, causing unfriendly bacteria to start to outnumber the probiotic bacteria that normally reside there. Eventually, the integrity of the gut lining is affected by this and toxins “leak out” from the gut and into the body, causing inflammation that can trigger rosacea.
In Italian study, those rosacea patients given an oral probiotic supplement of L. acidophilus and B. bifidum showed improved rosacea symptoms over the control group with rosacea not given the probiotic.
Taking probiotics, either through supplements or by eating food high in probiotics (such as kefir or other fermented foods), and improving the diet to include more fiber and less sugar and fat can help to return the gut to health. The probiotics will then create a barrier that lines the gut and prevents leaking and inflammation caused by it.
Although the science is still developing, there is lots of anecdotal evidence that taking probiotics helps decrease or cure rosacea. People also claim that drinking kefir is an effective way to cure rosacea. As there are many other benefits to taking probiotics, as pills or in food containing them such as kefir, this could be an interesting avenue to explore for rosacea sufferers who have not been able to find relief with traditional treatments.
- Di Marzio L, Cinque B, Cupelli F, De Simone C, Cifone MG, Giuliani M (2008) Increase of skin-ceramide levels in aged subjects following a short-term topical application of bacterial sphingomyelinase from Streptococcus thermophilus. Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol 21 (1):137–143
- The British Journal of Dermatology. 2010; 163(3):536-543.