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If health supplements were a high school cafeteria, probiotics would sit at the popular kids’ table. 

Over the past several years, more and more researchers have studied probiotics’ effects on our overall health, and people are increasingly embracing them for their benefits to our digestive and immune systems, whether through oral supplements or in drinks like kombucha. 

The kicker is that probiotics can also benefit your skin, providing a helpful dose of those healthy bacteria that work to keep your skin clear, happy, and acne-free. But how do they work exactly? And how do you know what your skin’s unique needs are? 

The answers lie in the difference between good and bad bacteria, how probiotics reinforce the good bacteria, and some simple ways you can make sure your microbiome stays in balance.

What is a Microbiome?

Before we go any further, let’s define some terms. 

We’ve written at length about this elsewhere, but in short, “microbiome” refers to any group of microorganisms (like bacteria, fungi, and viruses) living together in a given habitat. Your body contains many of them. 

Your gut is one microbiome. It’s filled with bacteria that help break down food for digestion. 

Your skin is another. It’s covered in bacteria that live on your skin every day. And that’s good! Part of the reason why skin is such an effective barrier between your body and the outside world is that the “good” bacteria fight off harmful substances.

Okay… So, There Are “Good” Bacteria? 

Yes! We tend to hear the word “bacteria,” and only think of the kinds that make us sick. However, when you have a bacterial infection, what that really means is that the number of “bad” bacteria in your system is larger than the number of good bacteria. The good guys are overwhelmed, your system goes out of whack, and you start to feel the effects of that imbalance. 

It’s a bit of an over-simplification, as there are many ways our bodies fight infection, but it illustrates one of the central principles of probiotics: they give your body an extra dose of those friendly bacteria that keep your system working correctly. 

Can Probiotics Help With Acne?

Like we said, your skin is a microbiome just like your gut, with dozens of both good and bad bacteria living there every day. 

The bad bacteria—most commonly Staphylococcus aureus and group A β-hemolytic streptococci—can lead to some nasty skin infections, but more often, they trigger acne. 

While acne has many different causes, one is the bacteria C. acnes. Put simply, acne occurs when your sebaceous glands produce too much sebum, that oily substance that keeps your skin moist. C. acnes thrives in this overly hydrated environment. It breeds, which irritates the pore’s lining and causes redness and inflammation. 

The greater the number of good bacteria on your skin, the more effectively it will be able to fight off the bad guys, leading to fewer infections and, in many cases, less acne. 

Where Do Probiotics Come From? 

You can find probiotics in lots of foods and drinks. Here are some of the best sources of natural probiotics:

  • Yogurt
  • Kombucha
  • Miso Soup
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kimchi
  • Pickles
  • Kefir (fermented probiotic milk)
  • Tempeh (fermented soybean product)

All these foods are great sources of natural probiotics, which help your skin, gut, and immune system all in one. You can also take a probiotic supplement or use products fortified with pre-, pro- and postbiotics.

Can Taking Probiotics Help Your Skin? 

Your skin loses those good bacteria as the day goes on. Washing your hands with antibacterial soaps, for example, washes away the bad guys, yes, but the good guys often go along with them. 

Probiotic supplements or topical creams can help replenish those lost bacteria, keeping your skin’s microbiome in balance. 

But the benefits of probiotics go beyond preventative acne treatment. In 2015, researchers found that therapy with probiotics may help to prevent and treat eczema and UV damage. Another study found that probiotics could slow signs of aging by reducing the severity of oxidative stress and improving skin barrier function. Scientists are only just beginning to understand the benefits of probiotics, but early results are promising. 

Find Out How Probiotics Can Be Right For You

It’s important to remember that everyone is different. The factors that contribute to healthy skin, including our genes, our diet, and more, are unique to everybody. Understanding your skin’s unique needs—and how probiotics can help—is crucial to keeping it happy, healthy, and clear. 

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