For years, we’ve been advised to eat yogurt — teeming with “good bacteria” called probiotics — for maximum health. But now, dermatologists and skin-care companies say that in addition to eating gut-friendly foods like yogurt, kefir, miso, sauerkraut and kombucha, we should also slather their beneficial microorganisms onto our skin.
“This is a very hot area in scientific research and product development today,” explains Dr. Whitney Bowe, a New York City dermatologist and author of “The Beauty of Dirty Skin” (Little, Brown & Company, out next month). “Based on the information we have, skin issues stemming from chronic inflammation — like acne, eczema, rosacea and even premature aging — can be addressed by incorporating topical probiotics, which can destroy harmful viruses, fungi and bacteria before they stir up trouble.”
While it may sound counterintuitive to get germy for a clearer complexion, consider the relatively recent discovery that there’s a layer of helpful bacteria on top of your skin’s physical barrier called the microbiome. Scientists have found it promotes healthy cell function. And, according to Bowe, our microbiomes functioned just fine before toxins, sugar-laden diets, anti-bacterial soaps and our cultural obsession with squeaky cleanliness disrupted their balance.
Studies show that probiotics can also help strengthen our protective moisture barriers, boost hydration and possibly turn back the hands of time.
“Early evidence suggests that aging skin is associated with the colonization of unhealthy microorganisms on [the] skin,” says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital’s Department of Dermatology. “By helping to restore a healthy balance of bacteria, probiotic skin care may help support skin’s optimal functioning as it ages, which may translate into fewer lines and wrinkles.”
So, why not just smear on a little Chobani?
Doctors say probiotic treatments are pH-balanced and contain more moisturizing ingredients than your average jar of yogurt. For example, Dr. Brandt’s Hydro Biotic Recovery Sleeping Mask is enriched with hydrating ceramides and fatty acids. “Products are engineered to deliver probiotics in the most efficient manner possible,” explains New York City dermatologist Dr. Shereene Idriss. “Also, certain yogurts contain high concentrations of sugar, which may feed the ‘bad bacteria’ and work against the goal.”
What’s more, different types of yogurts contain various strains and concentrations of probiotics, so there’s no guarantee of effectiveness, notes New York gastroenterologist Dr. Roshini Raj. She’s co-creator of the probiotics-centric Tula skin-care line, which introduced Kefir Moisture Repair Pressed Serum last summer. It contains four strains of probiotics from the fermented milk drink.
Probiotic skin-care users should expect to see results in about six weeks. Still, Bowe cautions that a healthy microbiome and the clearer complexion it brings cannot thrive on creams alone.
“They’re only one aspect of the regimen,” she says. “It’s equally important to monitor diet and stress levels and to throw away your loofahs, washcloths and anything with the word ‘anti-bacterial’” so as not to sweep away all the good stuff.