Skincare wellness has been trending the past couple of years as beauty and cosmetic brands stress a more all-embracing, holistic look at what goes into to giving us healthy skin. Lifestyle, diet and environmental effects on the health of our skin aren’t new news to anyone who has ever delved deeper into understanding skincare beyond the claims brands make on their skincare products. It’s hardly as if we haven’t heard the adage ‘You are what you eat’ before is it?
So why the white noise about skincare wellness now? And why would brands wish to do themselves out of product sales by stressing factors out of their control that might make or break our skin’s health?
According to Mintel, the market research group,”…whilst two thirds of UK women feel diet is one of the top factors influencing the appearance of skin, and although the holistic approach to health and appearance championed by lifestyle bloggers has lifted interest in nutrition for the skin, those who feel diet has a great effect are not lower users of any skincare products”. [Note: this has probably changed now the 2021 pandemic and awareness of climate crisis is making itself felt in beauty consumer habit – see our post on this here.]
By emphasising skincare wellness and working with holistic nutritionist bloggers and celebrities like Deliciously Ella and Madeleine Shaw brands show they are in tune with the current trends and are more enlightened and concerned about our overall health. Let’s be honest, changing diet and lifestyle is still hard to achieve for a lot of us, even with all the info out there. Isn’t it easier to use a skincare product that also takes a holistic view of our skin too? Surely that satisfies our yearning for inner outlook on our outer skincare?
Enter then the rise of skincare wellness products. One in particular that has been trending is probiotic skincare. Elle UK had an article on the trend and listed some big name brands like Elizabeth Arden, Clinique and Aurelia – the latter billing itself as a probiotic skincare brand – that are pioneering body biome skincare regimes using probiotic ingredients. Probiotics are a good litmus test of wellness skincare in action and one example to show the kind of research we should do before we’re persuaded to buy trending products.
Probiotics in Food: lessons for skincare
We’re all familiar with probiotics in foods like yoghurts. Despite their long and incomprehensible names, various friendly bacteria are slapped on the labels to encourage us to buy. Yoghurt is the most common product we find offering friendly bacteria inside. You have probably seen yoghurt labels advocating the benefits of Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Lactobacillus acidophilus, and Streptococcus thermophilus.
There are some 500 to 1,000 types of bacteria present in our gastrointestinal tracts, totaling 100 trillion bacteria which weigh in at 3lbs. The sheer volume of bacteria strains makes it hard for researchers to narrow down a single, isolated bacteria that is responsible for assisting in certain desirable outcomes like helping ease IBS, constipation or leaky gut issues. There is an excellent overview of what probiotics are and the limits of research to date here.
Does a community of various strains of bacteria act to alleviate symptoms and promote a healthy gut? If so, which work in concert? These are questions that science is still struggling to answer. However, the food industry has pioneered the probiotic – pro friendly, health-giving bacteria – trend and most of us have that mantra firmly in our minds.
Probiotics as Skincare Wellness: brand promise
It’s a clever step then on the part of some skincare brands to introduce the notion that probiotics have an important role to play in fostering healthy, friendly bacteria on our skin. No longer is it a case of stripping our skin of all bacteria but more a case making sure the products we use daily promote healthy bacteria to care for our skin’s wellness. Friendly bacteria on our epidermis are a first barrier protecting the skin from harm, whether environmental or from other less friendly bacteria that can aggravate the skin creating flare ups, or aid and abet acne or body odor, for example, or stop lesions healing.
Where’s the science?
The irony is that we have known about a link between acne and gut bacteria since the 1930s. Back then, a pair of dermatologists John H. Stokes and Donald M. Pillsbury researched the linkages among psychological well-being (levels of anxiety and depression for instance), intestinal microflora and skin inflammation conditions such as acne. They were ahead of their time and well before we used terms like probiotic or Omega 3; yet they and others in the 1930s did make reference to L. acidophilus cultures (in fermented milk products) as being used with some success internally to treat acne.
Since then, research has continued, if sporadically, and from around 1999, various studies have indicated that a lactic acid bacteria, found in most live culture yoghurts, can inhibit acne when applied topically to the skin. Studies identify several strains of bacteria as having demonstrable beneficial effects from ceramide production to reduction of inflammation.
This would seem to tally with centuries-old traditional Greek remedy for sunburn, which skincare brand Korres tries to harness in its yoghurt skincare range which says it has “immediate and long-term soothing and calming benefits”. Although Paula’s Choice tends to sit on the fence about the efficacy of the yoghurt in the Korres range.
There are two main paths of research into probiotics in skincare worth watching and waiting for firm evidence-backed answers to the value of probiotics applied topically. They relate to the role of probiotics as a:
1. Protective shield with calming properties – how probiotics help balance the skin, preventing it leaping into action against harmful bacteria and thereby causing flare-ups; and
2. Antimicrobials – the way certain probiotics may attack, damage and/or kill harmful bacteria.
So, Can we Slap Yoghurt on our Face to Promote Skin Health?
The truth is that it’s still early days, despite being a field of investigation started in the early 20th century, and far more research is needed to pinpoint the exact isolated or community of friendly bacteria that work on skincare wellness and issues such as acne, rosacea, eczema and more.
There are millions, even billions of microbes on our skin, and in varying amounts according to just where they hang out. We haven’t a hope of identifying and working out the role each microbiota plays in maintaining a health skin biome. So, research is in its infancy.
Rest assured that the big brands with vast research budgets are working on the case to persuade us of the case for probiotic skincare – and whatever the next ‘big wellness skincare thing is’. This is echoed by Dermatologist Dr Whitney Bowe writing for the American Academy of Dermatology in 2014 said that “…while more studies are needed to identify the most beneficial aspects of probiotics and determine whether topical or oral probotics yield the best results, I think we can expect to see some cutting-edge probiotic products for acne and rosacea in the near future”.
Clearly, skincare wellness trends like that of probiotic skincare are likely to come thick and fast, playing on and levering our increased interest in lifestyle, diet and environmental factors. However, I would recommend doing your homework first and looking beyond brand claims to seek out the views being aired in medical and scientific circles before you buy into the next skincare wellness claim. It may be cheaper and more effective to work on your lifestyle and dietary issues first.
Further Reading & References
Mintel: Beauty Market News: Keeping Skin’s good bacteria healthy
Mintel: Beauty Market News: The healthy lifestyle effect, will it impact the skincare market in the UK.
National Centre for Complementary & Integrative Health – Probitics, an introduction.
New Yorker Magazine – Can Probiotics really improve your skin?
Biomedical Central – Gut Pathogens
Truth in Aging – The truth about probiotics in skincare
Dermatology Times – Probiotics healthy skin?
American Academy of Dermatology – Could probiotics be the next big thing in acne and rosacea treatments?