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Could Probiotics Help Clear Your Skin?

Read on if you’re considering adding them to your skincare routine.

Skincare formulas have always been ripe for odd-yet-innovative ingredients. (See: snail mucus.) But unlike others before it, probiotics are quickly becoming a favorite of both skincare lovers and dermatologists. Its jump from the supplement space to your bathroom shelf is in part due to promising research, which shows that it may offer big benefits for your skin. Here’s why probiotics may be the next big thing for treating everything from acne to fine lines.

First, a primer on probiotics: Think of them as friendly bacteria that may provide health benefits. “The skin’s microbiome is basically all of the organisms present on the skin,” explains Debra Jaliman, M.D., a dermatologist in New York, New York. “It plays an essential role in both health and disease. Most skin problems such as acne, eczema, and rosacea affect the skin microbiome.”

Topical probiotics and your skin get a symbiotic situation: The bacteria get a home, while your skin enjoys protective perks. That’s because probiotics can form a layer of defense over skin’s surface. This layer can shield your skin’s cells from the harmful bacteria and parasites that trigger skin’s immune response (that is, irritation, redness, and even swelling).

Its skincare benefits may not end there, either. “Recent studies have found that the topical application of probiotics decreases skin sensitivity and redness, and can result in a reduced appearance of fine lines,” Jaliman says. One review of current research cited emerging science that probiotics could even protect skin from free radicals (which mess with DNA and destroy collagen) and prevent damage caused by UV light.

If you’re wondering about oral probiotic supplements, there are potential benefits on that front, too. “Probiotics maintain the function of the intestines and support the immune system,” explains Jaliman. “This not only promotes gut health, but clear skin as well.” The connection: Factors that affect your gut, like stress and a poor diet, can cause slow digestion, which in turn can alter the ratio of good and bad bacteria in your gut. Those bad bacteria can eventually run rampant, leading to inflammation throughout the rest of your body—including your skin. By restoring the levels of good bacteria in your gut with an oral probiotic, researchers theorize that you may be able to reduce inflammation everywhere else, too. That same review of research noted that there’s some promising evidence that some oral probiotics could help improve the function of your skin barrier and help keep your skin hydrated.

Some dermatologists are already supplementing their patients’ usual acne and rosacea treatments with probiotics; if you’re interested in using probiotics as an integrative therapy for a skin condition, make an appointment with your derm to discuss the possibility. More research regarding the exact strains of bacteria, how much is effective, and other guidelines for probiotics in skincare does still need to be conducted. One thing is clear, though: Probiotics have serious promise.

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