Probiotic skin care involves using products that contain live microorganisms to improve the health of the skin. The idea behind this is that it helps maintain a beneficial balance of microbes, helping to reduce the symptoms of skin conditions.
Research on the effectiveness and safety of probiotics in skin care is very preliminary. Early studies indicate that oral probiotics may help with some health conditions, which has led scientists to study whether they may also be useful as a topical treatment.
However, some scientists argue that doctors do not yet understand the skin microbiome well enough to safely use topical probiotics as a skin treatment. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also
This article discusses probiotic skin care and the research supporting its use. It also examines potential risks and suggests other factors to consider when shopping for skin care products.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that are beneficial to human health. Probiotic skin care involves applying these microbes topically in the form of products such as creams or treatments.
The concept of probiotics dates back to
The microbiome contains a huge variety of species. Some of these microbes are beneficial, while others can be pathogenic, or disease-causing. An imbalance in the amount of “good” and “bad” microbes is known as dysbiosis.
According to a
Because of this, scientists and cosmetic companies have become increasingly interested in how probiotics might restore balance to the skin microbiome.
Some common species of probiotics that people may find in skin products
- Streptococcus thermophilus
Almost any skin care product can contain them, including:
- soap bars
However, it is important to note that while many products may list microbes on their ingredients label, it is not always possible to know whether or not these microbes are alive.
Many companies use preservatives in their products to prolong their shelf life and ensure they are safe to use. Preservatives work by killing bacteria. This means that, in many cases, the probiotics
People with atopic dermatitis (AD), or atopic eczema, have a higher amount of the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus in their skin microbiome, according to a
The authors of the study tested the effects of applying the probiotic Lactobacillus johnsonii to the skin of 31 participants with AD. Analysis of the data indicated that it reduced the number of S. aureus and decreased AD symptoms.
Visible signs of aging
- restoring acidic skin pH
- reducing damage from UV light
- reducing oxidative stress
- improving skin barrier function
This may mean probiotics can reduce some of the visible signs of aging, such as sun damage. However, more research is necessary.
Some studies suggest that topical probiotics may promote wound healing, but the results vary significantly.
More large-scale human trials are necessary to see if it affects people the same way.
However, at the moment, this is only a theory. There are currently no randomized controlled trials that prove probiotic skin care targets C. acnes.
Data on probiotic treatment of psoriasis is limited, but studies investigating oral probiotics for the condition show promise. Authors of
A 2019 review analyzed six clinical trials to explore the safety of topical probiotic treatment for AD. It found no significant side effects.
However, as with other types of skin care, there is always a risk that some people will have hypersensitivity or allergies to the ingredients. This may cause:
If this occurs, or the product burns or stings, a person should wash it off and stop using it.
Even though the probiotics in skin care may not be alive due to preservatives, it is difficult to know for sure. For this reason, people with compromised immune systems should avoid topical products that may contain live cultures, as well as probiotic foods and supplements.
Gaps in research
It is important to note that experts are still learning about the skin microbiome. A 2021 paper argues that because scientists do not have sufficient knowledge, using topical probiotics could have unforeseen consequences.
Some species, or groups of species, may be capable of damaging the skin microbiome rather than helping it.
Microbes do not affect the body in isolation. Communities of microbes can have different effects when they coexist. Because this ecosystem is complex and differs from person to person, disruption can be potentially harmful.
The authors of a
It is also difficult for cosmetic companies to create products that still contain live microbes due to the need to keep the product sanitary using preservatives.
An alternative approach could be to use prebiotics in skin care instead. These are ingredients that feed the beneficial bacteria that already live on the skin. This requires no live cultures to be present in the product and does not introduce new species.
If a person decides to try probiotic skin care, they can do so by following these tips:
- Start with a leave-on product, such as a moisturizer, from a reputable brand. A probiotic cleanser or soap will have less chance to work as these products are only on the skin for a short amount of time. Look for products that a third-party company has independently tested for safety and purity.
- Try one new product at a time. Introducing multiple new products may make it difficult to tell which one is helping or if any are causing side effects.
- Patch test the new product on a small area of skin first. If no symptoms develop within 24 hours, a person can try it on their face.
- Apply the product to the face and monitor for any signs of irritation. If there are none, keep using the product for a few days to see how it feels and whether it has any effect. It can take time for skin care to make a difference.
Probiotic skin care involves using probiotic-containing products to try to alleviate certain skin conditions or improve its appearance. Some species of probiotics that people may find on skin product labels include S. thermophilus, Lactococcus, and Lactobacillus.
The FDA does not regulate probiotic skin care, so there is currently no recommendation on which types of probiotics are beneficial to the skin and little way of knowing if the probiotics in a product are alive.
Limited studies that examine specific species have suggested topical probiotics may be well-tolerated by many, but more research is necessary to fully understand if they could treat skin conditions and, if so, which species work best.
It is possible that probiotics could cause negative effects if they disrupt someone’s skin microbiome. People may want to ask a dermatologist for advice on the best products to suit their skin, particularly if they have a condition such as AD or acne.
Learn more about creating a dermatologist-recommended skin care routine here.