Probiotics are known to be as a must-take for general wellness, but they could be essential for skin health as well.
Researchers concluded that the skin microbiome, or bacterial balance of the skin, has more to do with acne development than a single type of bacteria.
Just like in our gut, there are good and bad bacteria on our skin and finding the right balance could improve skin health.
Propionibacterium acnes has long been the bacterial culprit of acne, but Dr. Huiying Li, an associate professor of molecular and medical pharmacology at UCLA mention that isn’t necessarily the case.
According to the study conducted by Dr. Li, acne isn’t due to just one bacterial strain. It is really the balance of the bacteria in our skin. All bacteria are not bad. There are some that are good for us.
Understanding skin bacteria
Genetic factors can impact the skin’s microbiome, and vitamin B-12 could be one of those factors as Dr. Li mentioned.
In her study, they evaluated skin follicle sample from the total of 72 people, 38 had acne and 34 did not. They found that they were differences in the bacteria between the two groups.
The microbiome of the group without acne had genes linked to bacterial metabolism, which are thought to be important in preventing harmful bacteria from colonizing the skin.
In the other side, those with acne had a higher level of virulence-associated genes which included those linked to the transport of bacterial toxins that are harmful to skin.
Targeted skin treatments to control the skin microbiome could help strike a healthy bacterial balance and lead to healthier skin.
In fact, this may be more favorable than using antibiotics that can kill harmful and helpful skin bacteria.
Giving skin healthy bacteria could improve it, the same way that taking a probiotic improves gut health.
Phage therapy or taking a probiotic may be a way to clear skin according to Dr. Li.
“Instead of killing all bacteria, including the beneficial ones, we should focus on shifting the balance toward a healthy microbiota by targeting harmful bacteria or enriching beneficial bacteria,” according to Dr. Emma Barnard, a researcher in the Department of Molecular and Medical Pharmacology at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine.
Can Probiotics clear acne?
Knowing that probiotics could be key to healthier skin, is popping a pill enough to make a difference in our skin microbiome? That depends on who you ask.
Li says a topical probiotic could be all it takes balance out the bacteria on the skin.
“If we can modify the microbiome, that could potentially help the condition,” she said.
Dr. Joshua Zeichner, a dermatologist from New York, said that therapies to eliminate harmful bacteria and replace them with healthy bacteria can minimize skin inflammation and will be future targets for acne medication.
Dr. Julia Oh, a researcher from The Jackson Laboratory in Connecticut, who is focused on studying the microbiome, noted that Li’s study focused on the skin microbiome — not the gut microbiome. Therefore, taking an over-the-counter probiotic may not impact the skin.
“It is unknown if an oral probiotic can affect the skin,” she said. “I would be willing to bet that it does, but there is little concrete research to date to suggest the particular strains or mechanisms.”
Dr. Oh said that a topical probiotic modulates the skin microbiome “should be a good bet, particularly if the topical probiotic is either immunomodulatory or if it suppresses the ‘bad’ skin microbes.”
Dr. Debra Jaliman, a dermatologist based in New York, mention that oral probiotics definitely have a positive impact on the skin’s microbiome. “Topicals don't penetrate as well as an internal probiotic would,” she said.
Another New York-based dermatologist, Dr. Whitney Bowe, agreed that oral probiotics can help. She’s studied the gut-brain-skin axis, and that she believes oral probiotics do work to balance the skin’s microbiome.
“All of this research is in the early stages, but there is mounting evidence to suggest that oral probiotics and dietary modifications will absolutely play a major role in the future of acne therapy,” said Bowe. “I believe it will ultimately be a combination approach that is most successful.”
But Dr. Maggie Kober, a dermatologist from California, said there aren’t enough studies to say whether an oral or topical probiotic is better. But there is growing evidence that oral probiotics can help skin, she said.
“Using topicals and oral probiotics together may lead to greater improvement as it balances the microbiome superficially as well as from within,” Kober said.
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