Reviewed by: Iris Hansen, Aveeno Dermatology Expert
Iris has 14 years’ experience in dermatology. She has advised major organisations on dermatology best-practices and has published countless papers on skin health in prominent scientific journals.
When used in skincare products, prebiotics help to balance the good and bad bacteria on your skin
Several skin conditions can be relieved using prebiotic skin creams, reducing redness and soreness
Prebiotics and probiotics can be applied topically, or ingested via food supplements
Probiotics, prebiotics and skincare
Looking after your skin is important. After all, it’s the largest organ in your body and works incredibly hard to help keep you happy and healthy, protecting you from the sun’s dangerous rays and ensuring any bad bacteria is kept out.
Of course, not all the bacteria your skin is exposed to is harmful. It’s home to hundreds of varieties of bacteria, along with other microorganisms, many of which can be classified as helpful or “good”1. The presence of this good, or healthy, bacteria is vital, assisting with a number of your bodily functions, including your digestive system. And it’s no different in terms of your skin. These bacteria contribute to a healthy complexion, working together in perfect balance to ensure a functioning ecosystem on and in your skin – known as a microbiome.
To ensure your skin is in peak condition, it’s important to nurture these bacteria and give them all the nutrients they need to succeed. There are several ways to do this, most of which centre around the skincare products you use and the foods you eat. The ingredients within these products and foods matter, so it’s important to be aware of what goes into your body, as well as what goes on it. This applies to baby skin as well. Babies’ gentle and sensitive skin calls for special care.
One of the most important of these for healthy skin and complexion is probiotics – the naturally-occurring living microbes that live on the skin and in your body. Creams and solutions that contain probiotics help to introduce beneficial bacteria to the skin, moisturising, reducing redness and repairing damage2.
Probiotic foods can be beneficial to skin, as well as digestive health. Probiotics are most commonly found in supplements you can buy in a health food store or supermarket, as well as naturally occurring in foods that contain live bacteria, such as cheese and yoghurts.
Prebiotics are equally essential for your skincare regime. These are non-living ingredients that are used to support the balance of both good and bad bacteria on your skin throughout your skin and within your body.
Learn more about the benefits of probiotics and prebiotics, as well as how to bring these into your everyday skincare routine, including:
What are probiotics and prebiotics?
Using probiotics and prebiotics to treat skin conditions
Side effects of probiotics and prebiotics
Oral ingestion v skin application
What are probiotics and prebiotics?
Although they sound pretty similar, probiotics and prebiotics are two vastly different things with specific functions. Probiotics are defined as living microorganisms that are found both naturally in your body and in food and supplements. When consumed or applied to the skin, they provide a wealth of positive benefits for the body3, including:
Easing chronic skin conditions
Promoting good intestinal and gut health
Strengthening skin overall
Prebiotics on the other hand aren’t actually alive. They are non-digestible ingredients that help balance the good and bad bacteria on your skin4.
When probiotics and prebiotics are combined, whether that be in skin cream or in foods, they join forces to become what’s known as a synbiotic5. Common synbiotics include supplements, additives and certain foods like yoghurt and cheese6.
Here’s a closer look at the differences between the two:
Probiotics consist of different groups of live bacteria and microorganisms that live both in the body and on the skin’s surface7.
There are two main categories of probiotics:
Lactobacillus – considered “friendly bacteria”, commonly found in the human digestive system and in probiotic foods. Several different species exist and can contribute towards treating IBS, digestion problems and skin disorders like acne and eczema when consumed8.
Bifidobacterium – groups of bacteria that reside within the intestines and can also be cultured outside of the body for use in probiotic yoghurts. They are frequently used to treat diarrhoea, intestinal disorders and IBS when consumed in food or supplement form9.
Individual strains have different effects on the body, which means that by eating the right foods rich in probiotics, or applying a likewise solution, bacteria can contribute positively to both your gut and skin health10.
Prebiotics are made up of plant-based11 carbohydrates that are used as fuel for beneficial probiotic bacteria growth12. They can’t be digested by humans, however their role is to positively change or preserve the healthy microbiome found in the gut, or on the skin, when eaten or applied13.
Ingredients found in skincare products that are high in prebiotics include:
Oat – helpful in soothing itchy and irritated skin. They help to improve the balance of microbes living within the skin’s microbiome.
Ginseng – a popular bioactive ingredient, it has anti-inflammatory qualities that can positively impact the microflora in the gut when administered orally14. It can also help reduce inflammation on the skin’s surface when applied in cream form.
Blackcurrant – increasingly found in food supplements, the extract powder from blackcurrants can increase the amount of bifidobacterial and lactobacilli found in the gut15. This can contribute to good overall digestive health.
Pine – in its bark extract form, studies have shown that pine can reduce skin inflammation when taken as a supplement16. It can also help protect against UV-exposure by improving the skin’s barrier.
Using probiotics and prebiotics to treat skin conditions
The combined usage of probiotic and prebiotic solutions has been shown to treat certain skin conditions by positively impacting the skin microbiome – and the microorganisms that live within that ecosystem17.
Both skincare solutions and foods that contain probiotics and prebiotics can be used to relieve variety of skin conditions, including:
Acne – Studies have shown that topical solutions which contain the probiotic lactobacillus plantarum can help reduce acne lesions and repair the skin barriers of these suffering from acne18.
Eczema– Scientific reviews have suggested that probiotic supplements, taken by mouth, can reduce the severity of those suffering from mild to severe eczema19.
Psoriasis – Recent research has illustrated that certain strains of the probiotic lactobacillus can help reduce skin inflammation, showing promising signs that probiotics can control the effects of psoriasis20.
Iris says: “Probiotics are beneficial for treating other skin issues, such as hypersensitivity, wound protection and repairing skin that has been damaged by the sun’s UV rays.”21
Oral ingestion vs skin application
Probiotics and prebiotics can be either orally ingested in the form of foods or probiotic tablets, delivering healthy bacteria directly to the gut, or applied directly to the skin’s surface through cosmetic creams like moisturisers and solutions.
Oral ingestion of Probiotics and Prebiotics
As many healthy bacteria and microorganisms occur naturally in our gut, using probiotics to improve your digestive health has been an area that scientists and researchers have been increasingly interested in22.
To have a long-term, beneficial impact, foods rich in probiotics, like cheese and yoghurt, as well as prebiotic foods such as bananas, onions and asparagus, must be eaten regularly to continually supply the body with fresh bacteria. This is an important step in replacing the probiotics that have been broken down while reaching the gut”23
Skin application of Probiotics and Prebiotics
Applying a topical probiotic cream or solution to your skin can help to address the balance of healthy bacteria that make up your skin microbiome. The probiotics within these creams can help reduce the pH of skin, slightly acidifying the surface, to help promote the thriving of healthy bacteria on the skin24.
Prebiotic skin creams such as Aveeno® Dermexa Moisturizing Cream,can also be hugely beneficial. They help preserve the existing healthy bacteria on your skin when applied and encourage the survival of probiotic microorganisms already in your skin microbiome25. But that’s not all. They also improve the balance of bacteria on your skin microbiome, contributing to a healthier skin ecosystem overall.
Both probiotics and prebiotics can play a major part in achieving a healthy complexion, as well as helping to relieve existing skin conditions. Give them a try by adding them to your daily skin routine, as well as your everyday diet. Look for products formulated with pre-biotic ingredients such as colloidal oatmeal. Prebiotic Oats not only keeps dry sensitive skin moist and smooth, but feeds your skin’s natural bacteria, keeping it in perfect balance.