Can probiotics clear your acne?

These days, it seems like there’s nothing bacteria can’t do. It can cure nasty diarrheal infections through a trendy fecal transplant. It can help heal leaky guts. And now, research is showing that it can even clear your skin.

That might seem counterintuitive to anyone who’s been prescribed rounds of acne-fighting antibiotics by their dermatologist. But some derms are now prescribing probiotics alongside the antibiotics. This pairing can help calm antibiotics' negative side effects, like yeast infections—but they may also have an unintended benefit for acne sufferers, said Dr. Whitney Bowe, a New York-based dermatologist and researcher.

"After they’d finish the antibiotics, my patients would come back and say they were still taking the probiotics, because they were really helping their skin clear up," she said.

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How do probiotics pack such acne-healing power? Digestion is affected by stress, anxiety, and a low-fiber, high-processed diet, which shifts our inner microbial colonies for the worse.

"When that happens, levels of system-wide inflammation are increased," Bowe said, including in the skin. "By taking oral probiotic supplements or by eating probiotics in your diet, you can theoretically restore a healthy environment in your gut and keep the skin from getting inflamed."

This gut-skin connection isn’t a new idea: In 1961, a case report found that of 300 acne patients given a probiotic, 80 percent had clinical improvement. But the notion has captured a lot more attention lately. 

Recent studies conducted in Russia and Italy found that probiotics help acne patients heal better and faster. And one small 2010 study published in the journal Nutrition found that acne patients who consumed a Lactobacillus-fermented beverage for 12 weeks produced less sebum (oily secretions) and had fewer acne lesions. 

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New research is looking at how topical probiotics can have similar effects. By acting as a shield on the skin, topical probiotics are thought to interfere with the colonization of acne-and-inflammation causing bacteria. In a recent pilot study, a 0.2 percent topical of phytosphingosine for 8 weeks reduced pustules by 89 percent. Another study on a probiotic lotion found it reduced inflammatory lesions by more than 50 percent over the placebo lotion.

You can find probiotic skincare products on the market now, but they’re not all the same, and more effective ones are currently in development, Bowe said. Look for products with these study-supported probiotics: Streptococcus thermophiles, Streptococcus salivarius, Bifidobacterium longum, and Enterococcus faecalis.

Oral probiotics Align and Culturelle are also supported by studies, she says. And don’t forget the food route: Yogurt with live active cultures, miso soup, and sauerkraut can all boost your stores of skin-clearing probiotics.

(Did you know that eggs and olive oil hydrate your hair? Check out these 5 DIY Beauty Tricks for more at-home skin and hair helpers.)