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The Truth About Probiotics in Skincare

Probiotics in skincare
July 23, 2015 Reviewed by Marta 7 Comments


Probiotics in skincare are trending. The probiotics theory is predicated on the growing science around bacteria in our intestines and how essential they are for our well-being. The probiotic yogurt craze has been around for a few years and now skin care companies have caught the bug. However, I have a gut feeling that this is not the next Big Thing – even if some interesting indies and big brands such as Clinique are jumping on the bandwagon.

What are probiotics

Within your gastrointestinal tract, there is a complex ecosystem with over 400 bacterial species, the majority of which are found in the colon. They help balance our digestive systems, synthesize vitamins and nutrients and enhance the immune system. The notion is not to kill off the good bacteria, but to ensure that there is the right balance of good and bad. In such a diverse environment of 400 plus bacteria, it is tricky finding the right bacteria for the right job. And some probiotic strains don’t do anything at all. Some might do harm, 

Nonetheless, the food industry is trying to promote products – yogurt being the most obvious – with probiotics. Here are a few of the most commonly used. Lactobacillus acidophilus is the probiotic that is found in some yogurts. S. boulardii is the only yeast probiotic. Bifidobacteria occurs naturally in the colon. Bifida ferment lysate is made from sugars and is a cosmetic ingredient (see products with probiotics below)

Probiotics and skincare

Nurturing good bacteria and preventing the accumulation of bad bacteria makes sense to me on a holistic health level. But is there really an impact on the skin? And if the whole good/bad bacteria theory is based on the intestinal environment being kept in balance, what’s the good of putting good bacteria on the skin’s surface?

Conditions such as acne and rosacea may benefit from the antibacterial effects of probiotics. Still scientific understanding is a little hazy. Even the dermatologist Whitney Bowes, who is a passionate probiotic proponent, is reduced to saying that it is all very complex (source). Convincing studies are few and far between, although mostly positive. A recent Korean study of 56 acne patients found that drinking a Lactobacillus-fermented dairy beverage effectively reduced their total acne lesion count and decreased oil production over 12 weeks. (source)

Helping to connect the dots is a studyfrom 2008 demonstrating that patients with rosacea had a ten-fold greater incidence of SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth). So, that seems to imply a bad bacterial imbalance could be corrected and rosacea could be reduced. Maybe.

Probiotics and anti-aging

Now what bugs me about all this probiotic stuff (as far as skin care is concerned) is that it is a bit vague. Even more so, are the claims made about probiotics and anti-aging. According to Elle magazine, bad bacteria are “actually seeping out into the bloodstream, and that can trigger system-wide inflammation and increase inflammatory markers in the skin."

Dr Bowe says there's some evidence that probiotics may help to build collagen. But she doesn’t elaborate on where this evidence comes from. The only study I have found was on mice that were given oral supplements, not a topical, but it did conclude that damage from UV radiation was reduced. Supplements were also shown to minimize UV damage for a group of patients “over the age of 18” (source)

A Japanese study is a little ambivalent on whether fermented yoghurt was any better than normal yoghurt. Both groups of yoghurt eaters showed better skin hydration. The fermented group showed more sebum production.

Probiotic beauty products

If all of this intriguing enough for you to go hunting down probiotic anti-aging skin care, then you will find a relatively wide selection these days. Elle magazine listed the following five and I took a quick look to see what probiotics they were actually using and the formulas overall.

Clinique Redness Solutions Makeup SPF15 with Probiotic Technology ($27). In a silicone filled formula (well, this is a foundation and sunscreen with a nod to skincare), the probiotic is lactobacillus ferment. The lactobacillus bacteria converts sugars to lactic acid and is most commonly used in the production of yogurt and sauerkraut.

Tula Purifying Cleanser ($25) comes from a line that is dedicated to probiotics and was founded by a gastroenterologist. This cleanser’s formula has plenty of vitamins and botanicals extracts. Initially, I was surprised at how coy it is about its “probiotic technology” – referring only to yoghurt extract. Even Clinique fessed up to naming its bacteria of choice. But then later down the ingredients list I spied bifida ferment lysate, the same probiotic that is used by L’oreal in Youth CodeI also noted that Tula refers to “nutripeptides” although I’m not sure what this means – milk protein?

Aurelia Probiotic Skincare Cell Revitalise Rose Mask ($65). Aurelia is another brand with a probiotic focus. Bifida ferment lysate, is higher up the ingredient list here. There is also yoghurt powder and a goodly quantity of botanical extracts. I also liked the look of the Revitalize & Glow Serum ($47), which has a couple of probiotics and some great extracts, including baobab.

Eminence Clear Skin Probiotic Moisturizer ($58). This one feels as if it jumped on the probiotic bandwagon. The ingredients simply list yoghurt, although according to WebMD, not all yogurt is probiotic.

Acure Radical Resurfacing Treatment ($18) features a lemon probiotic from fermented lemon extract. I can’t find much information on whether fermented fruit really counts as a true probiotic unless it is lacto fermented. Either way, it isn’t specified here.

 Main image sourced from


  • June 14, 2018

    by Sandy

    Even if this article's purpose was to help people...I lost interest when it said that good bacteria are only helpful in the gut....
    I have two degrees in Biological Sciences and it is very well known that our entire body has bacteria, everywhere, not just in the gut, but on our entire body, inside and out. Also known as the Microbiome...these are the good germs that protect us against the bad germs/toxins/etc.

    I suggest reading more about microbiology, and from trustworthy sources, not just from any website.

  • July 25, 2015

    by Marta

    Thanks so much Sarah - that's really helpful to know. Great to have a co-researcher on the other side of the pond!

  • July 25, 2015

    by Sarah

    I have since contacted a couple of manufacturers about this and they explained that probiotics in skincare are lysates - in other words, they are not live when included in skincare.

  • July 24, 2015

    by Marta

    Hi Elisa, these look fabulous and I love all the indigenous African extracts: Kalahari Melon, Devil's Claw..... very exciting. I'm going to ask them for testers. Thank you so much for passing this on!

  • July 24, 2015

    by Marta

    Hi Sarah, I understand where you are coming from but it will depend on how the products are formulated and with which preservatives. Let's take phenoxyethanol, one of the most ubiquitous preservatives. It doesn't kill every single strain of bacteria. That is why you'll often see a product covering as many as it can with three, four or more preservatives. We would have to assume that the formulator of a probiotic product has chosen a preservative system that leaves the "good" bacteria alone.

  • July 24, 2015

    by Elsa

    I am a South African beauty writer and read your article with great interest. Have a look at the organic ESSE Probiotic range which has just launched here and in 20 countries internationally. The BIOME Formula uses live probiotics in an anti-aging skincare range. Would love to see what you think!

  • July 24, 2015

    by Sarah

    I don't understand - probiotics are live bacteria. But you can't have live bacteria in skincare. That's what preservatives are for - to kill bacteria.
    So if the probiotics are not live, how can they have any effect on the skin?

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