Is it really possible to eliminate spots and cure problem skin with specially formulated topical probiotics for acne? This article looks at the different ways that topical probiotics can improve our complexion and also the best spray-on probiotics for acne prone skin. Plus, I’m also going to talk about the lesser known PREbiotics that are also great for optimum skin health, as the whole pre/probiotic saga often gets confused.
In recent years probiotics have become a vital part of maintaining a healthy gut. Whether we’re knocking back kefir, adding sauerkraut to every meal, or popping some probiotic supplements – we just can’t get enough of those live cultures and the incredible benefits they have on our health. While eating your probiotics is great for your skin, you can also apply probiotics to your face for press impressive results on acne breakouts!
Before we understand how probiotics and prebiotics may have a place in the beauty industry we need to get to grips with what they actually are and how they work! While they both sound quite similar, they both have completely different functions.
Are probiotics and prebiotics the same?
Quite simply, no! Although they both help to maintain a healthy gut when consumed they both have completely different responsibilities when it comes to enhancing the growth of friendly bacteria.
Probiotics are types of ‘living’ friendly bacteria that are naturally found in cultured or fermented foods such as kefir, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, and kombucha but can also be taken as a supplement. These strains of bacteria are similar to those that inhibit our gut so by adding these strains of good bacteria you help to maintain a healthy, happy eco system. Prebiotics on the other hand, are ‘non-living’ food ingredients – such as fructooligosaccharides (FOS) and galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) – which are naturally found in many foods including yacon syrup, artichokes, onions, berries, honey, oatmeal and chicory root. When consumed, these prebiotics reach the large intestines unaffected by digestion and work by ‘feeding’ the probiotics in our guts to help them flourish which in turn suppresses the colonisation of pathogenic (bad) strains of bacteria. Essentially prebiotics feed and encourage the growth of probiotics.
Probiotics are types of ‘living’ friendly bacteria that are naturally found in cultured or fermented foods… Prebiotics are ‘non-living’ food ingredients that feed and encourage the growth of probiotics.
In skin care, from what I’ve researched, the most common plant extracts used as prebiotics are inulin from chicory roots and Alpha-glucan oligosaccharide from sugar beets. Just like how prebiotics work in the gut, both these ingredients work as a food for the healthy bacteria present on the skin and promote the friendly bacteria to recover and multiply whilst keeping harmful ones under control to restores the natural bacteria balance in the skin.
Can applying bacteria to your face cure acne?
Thinking about your skin crawling in bacteria might make you feel a little grossed out, but the good bacteria living on our skin is key to keeping inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema, rosacea, acne, and psoriasis in check.
A healthy person with an strong immune system and the correct balance of skin flora will have the ability to keep pathogens (bad bacteria) under control. However, if you’re unwell, have a weak gut or the health of your skin is compromised in any way, your body will not be as effective at protecting itself.
There are both good and bad bacteria on our skin and while scientists have known for a long time about the importance of a balanced flora in the gut, it’s only recently that they’ve begun looking at how this may also relate to skin problems. There are thousands of species of bacteria living on the skin but specific strains, such as P.acnes, have been shown to thrive in certain parts of the body such as face, head and neck – but this specific type of bacteria is not often found in the drier, flatter areas such as thighs, forearms etc which lead scientists to believe that perhaps P.acnes was the cause of acne inflammation. However, more recent research has completely changed the way we view P.acnes….
It is now known that P.acnes SHOULD NOT be totally wiped out for healthier, clearer skin. There are different strains of P.acnes and studies have shown that not ALL strains of P.acnes are bad. If fact, some may even HELP clear acne.
Let me explain.
A study done by UCLA a few years ago unearthed some really interesting stuff when it comes to acne and the specific strains of bacteria found on the skin. The researchers discovered that two unique strains of ‘negative’ P.acnes was present in 1/5 people suffering from acne but was rarely found in those with clear skin. Another, more exciting, bit of data that this research discover was that not ALL strains of P.acnes bacteria trigger spots! A third strain of P.acnes was actually found in clear skin – but wasn’t present in those with acne.
This means that while acne suffers MAY have ‘negative’ strains on P.acnes contributing to their skin problems, it may also be that they’re LACKING in the positive strain on P.acnes that helps to keep inflammation and bacterial overgrowth under control.
THIS is why antibiotics don’t work long-term for acne clearing as they wipe out P.acnes bacteria entirely, the good strains and all! You may see initial improvement in your skin but quite often the acne will come back worse and harder to clear as it becomes resistant to the effects of antibiotics.
Probiotic sprays: a cure for acne prone skin?
Bacteria overgrowth plays a key role in the formation of acne. Acne occurs when chronic, internal inflammation causes our sebum oxidises and results in the excess production of keratin (skin cells) – also known as hyperkeratinisation – which creates a clogged pore that allows bacteria to thrive and results in an inflamed pimple.
Chronic Inflammation ⇰ Sebum Oxidisation ⇰ Hyperkeratinisation & Clogged Pores ⇰ Bacteria Overgrowth ⇰ Skin Inflammation
By treating our skin with probiotics, we can benefit from a clearer complexion as the good bacteria will encourage the good bacteria on your skin to flourish and help keep acne bacteria under control.
While probiotic sprays are an effective way to control acne breakouts, they’re not a totally bulletproof acne cure. Take a look back to my little flow chart of how acne is formed above. Bacteria itself does not cause acne – it’s actually near the END of the acne formation sequence. It’s chronic inflammation and your body’s responses to bacteria that cause pimples and breakouts. So, for a permanent acne cure you need go deeper than just addressing the bacteria balance on your skin and aim to put a stop to the acne formation process altogether. Healthy eating, stress management, regular exercise and better sleep are just some of things you can do to put a complete stop to acne.
The benefits of topical probiotics for acne
Probiotic based sprays can have a really positive effect on your acne for three key reasons:
Calming: Research has shown that certain types of probiotics have a calming effect on skin cells that “may want to react to the presence of bad bacteria that they see as a threat.” These calming signals helps prevent the skin cells going into attack mode which could cause an inflammation which could lead to acne or rosacea.
Protection: Those of us who suffer from inflammatory skin conditions could see benefits from topical probiotics as they’re said to have the ability send direct signals to the skin cells to prevent inflammation, also known as ‘bacterial interference’. They essentially trick the body into focusing on good bacteria and not the harmful ones that increase inflammation.
Antimicrobial: Dermatologist Whitney P. Bowe, MD, FAAD states that the substances probiotics excrete may have effective antimicrobial properties which can perforate bad bacteria and destroy them. Similar to the effects of antibiotics in the treatment of acne and rosacea probiotics could also help fight bad bacteria which may trigger inflammation.
How to use topical probiotics for acne
How you use your topical probiotic spray is key to how much your skin will benefit from it. When used properly probiotic sprays can have a major impact of your acne and may even have you clear in as little as two weeks!
DON’T mix with antibacterial ingredients
Any antibacterial ingredients are going to do just as their name implies and have a negative effect on ANY bacteria that it comes across. You may be used to using antibacterial ingredients in your acne skin care routine as a way to fight off bacteria but these antibacterial ingredients could be stopping your probiotic sprays from working at full force. Many antibacterial ingredients will continue their bacteria fighting activity for 2-3 hours after you’ve applied the product (THIS is why you often need to reapply spot treatments multiple times throughout the day for best results). I recommend using plain Hemp oil or Rosehip oil and nothing else to cleanse/moisturise first thing in the morning and keep all your potent masks, spot treatments and antibacterial antioxidant serums for your bedtime beauty ritual.
APPLY multiply times through the day
This is another really really important step which I worked out from first hand experience! When I first started using Probiotic Action I refused to give up make-up during the day – meaning I would spritz my face with Probiotic Action after cleansing then apply my make-up (which incidentally contained zinc oxide – an antibacterial ingredient), then not apply it again till the evening after I’d taken my make up off. While these 2-3 applications per day helped my skin slightly, it was no where near the improvement I saw when I took the plunge and stopped wearing make up for a few days and carried my bottle of Probiotic Action around in my bag and spritzed my face every 3 hours.
I’ll admit, the first couple of days were pretty grim and I felt really conscious of my skin but as the days went by and my skin started looking calmer and NO new breakouts were appearing, I started feeling more confident about my bare skin. I even started being surprised by my reflection in the mirror as my skin did look AS BAD as I thought it did in my head. These speedy results gave me the drive to keep up the routine and really make the most out of topical probiotics!
The best topical probiotics for acne
Probiotic Action is my favourite topical probiotic for acne. I like to use this as it comes with a small sprayer bottle that makes it really convenient to carry round – plus it’s pretty affordable, even with worldwide shipping costs! If you’re in the UK you can get 2 bottles (which will last you about 4 months) for about £42 including shipping costs – or one bottle for about £25 (using my discount code!).
Probiotic Action is made with just two ingredients – purified water and “Bacillus Ferment”. All you need to do is mix 36 drops of the Bacillus Ferment solution with 30ml of bottled mineral water (chemicals in tap water can affect the efficiency of the probiotics) and you’re good to go! Spray lightly across your skin every few hours and you could start seeing results within a week. Also, Probitoic Action is room temperature stable so you don’t have to keep it in the fridge.
If you’re looking for intelligent skin care combined with effective bacteria control, then this Pre+Probiotic Daily Mist from Marie Veronique could be the topical probiotic you need for your acne prone skin. Prebiotics AND probiotics are infused with anti-inflammatory Coconut Water, Liquorice, Calendula and Green Tea (which in itself is an incredible acne fighter, studies have shown Green Tea can reduce sebum production by up to 70% and acne count by 50%).
Save 15% all Marie Veronique orders with the code SKYN (ends 12th – Aug ’16)
This spray from Mother Dirt is one of the more expensive topical probiotics for acne. This product contains live AOB (Ammonia Oxidizing Bacteria) and works by converting ammonia on this skin into beneficial byproducts. These live AOB’s help keep the bacteria on our skin in check and promote healthy skin pH.
Many people also find that by using the AO+ Mist regularly they can reduce or even eliminate their need for deodorants COMPLETELY as it also has an incredible effect against body odour! This product needs to be kept in the fridge.
While all these companies are based in the US – they do ship worldwide. Come on UK and Europe! When are we going to start creating some kick-ass topical probiotics for acne?!
Topical Probiotics for Acne: The Pros & Cons
As with all natural acne treatments, it’s impossible to call topical probiotics a miracle cure as you’re not treating the root cause of acne – but there are SO many great testimonials from people who have had great results with topical probiotics for acne. PCOS Expert Stefani Ruper from Paleo for Women is also a huge fan – you can read tonnes more info about topical probiotics for acne and also her thoughts on Probiotic Action here.
The Pros of Topical Probiotics for Acne:
- It works
- It’s affordable
- It’s FAST acting
- Easy to use on all problem areas (face/back/chest/shoulders)
- Totally safe
- Can be used during pregnancy
The Cons of Topical Probiotics for Acne:
- You can’t really wear make-up as you need to reapply throughout the day for best results
- You can’t really use it 2-3 hours after using a product with any antibacterial ingredients in
- It doesn’t cure acne long-term, you need to address the root cause of your acne otherwise your acne will come back once you stop using topical probiotics
What have you go to loose? Topical probiotics could be just the thing your acne prone skin needs to keep it calm and under control while you work on healing yourself from the inside out.
Peace, Love & Clear Skin,
Geddes, L. (2009). Friendly bacteria keep your skin’s defences in check. In The New Scientest. Retrieved from https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn18184-friendly-bacteria-keep-your-skins-defences-in-check/ [Accessed 24 July 2015]
Akst, J. (2014) Microbes of the Skin. In The Scientist. Retrieved from http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/40228/title/Microbes-of-the-Skin/ [Accessed 24 July 2015]
Could probiotics be the next big thing in acne and rosacea treatments?. (2014). In American Academy of Dermatology. Retrieved from https://www.aad.org/stories-and-news/news-releases/could-probiotics-be-the-next-big-thing-in-acne-and-rosacea-treatments [Accessed 24 July 2015]
UCLA study could explain why some people get zits and others don’t http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2013-02/uoc–usc022113.php
OUTCOMES OF 3% GREEN TEA EMULSION ON SKIN SEBUM PRODUCTION IN MALE VOLUNTEERS HTTP://BJBMS.ORG/ARCHIVES/2010-3/MAHMOOD.PDF
TOPICAL THERAPY OF ACNE VULGARIS USING 2% TEA LOTION IN COMPARISON WITH 5% ZINC SULPHATE SOLUTION HTTP://SMJ.ORG.SA/INDEX.PHP/SMJ/ARTICLE/VIEWFILE/6464/4238