House3
CLOSE
MENUCLOSE

How Do Topical Probiotics Actually Work?

Beauty
Illustrated by Lindsay Hattrick

On introducing bacteria to your skin-care regimen

Probiotics, or “good” bacteria, have been a buzzy subject in the health and wellness space for some time now, particularly as we learn more and more about the importance of maintaining a healthy gut and how that microbiome affects the rest of our body, including our skin.

But, on top of the growing popularity of ingestible probiotic products, such as yogurt and fermented foods, powdered and pill supplements, kombucha, and more, we’re now seeing probiotics pop up in our skin care. But the question is: Do they actually work? We talked to several doctors and beauty professionals to find out the dirt, so to speak, on probiotic skin care and our microbiomes, in general.

First things first, what even is a skin microbiome?
Much like our gut, our skin is also inhabited by a number of “healthy” bacteria, yeast, and viruses, which are collectively known as the skin microbiome. “A healthy microbiome is essential for optimal skin and gut health,” says Dr. Pearl Grimes, dermatologist and president of the Women’s Dermatologic Society. “The healthy organisms at both sites suppress the detrimental effects of natural residents or invading microorganisms.”

However, our skin’s microbiome can easily become disrupted and thrown off balance. As Grimes explains, a variety of factors can contribute to this imbalance, including skin-care products we use daily, like soaps and moisturizers that contain harsh ingredients. Other things that could wreak havoc on our microbiomes, according to Margo Weishar, M.D., of Springhouse Dermaesthetics, include environmental stress (hello, pollution!), acne treatments, and skin conditions, like eczema, that affect our skin's barrier functions. If all that seems overwhelming, don't worry—there are remedies available.

Is this where probiotics come in?
Yes! In fact, there are three different categories of treatments to help regulate your microbiome, which Weishar breaks down for us: “Prebiotics are composed of substances that help promote the growth of helpful bacteria, while probiotics contain the actual bacteria. Lastly, there are postbiotics, which contain substances produced by bacteria that are helpful to the skin.”

Out of these three, probiotics have become the best-known, coming to the rescue as a means of rebalancing the skin by introducing helpful bacteria missing from our microbiomes.

So are all topical probiotics just a means of slathering living bacteria on our faces?
No! Actually, not all probiotics are the same—they don't even all contain living bacteria. As David Pollock, beauty chemist, consultant, and the brains behind Just Ask David, explains, many products have preservative systems which kill the live bacteria microbes, making the cultures deactivated—but still effective. “The challenge is how to bring out the benefits of fermentation and probiotics when the microbe is no longer live,” he says. So while, yes, probiotic skin care involves putting products full of bacteria on our skin, some products, such as Mother Dirt, contain living cultures, while other brands, like Aurelia, contain deactivated bacteria.

But what are the specific benefits of topical probiotics?
Dr. Grimes says that “topical skin-care regimens containing probiotics have been shown to establish a healthy skin pH, reduce inflammation, reduce the deleterious effects of pollution on the skin, as well as functioning as skin antioxidants."

Additionally, Grimes says that many people with specific skin concerns should look into using probiotics: “Recent studies have shown that probiotic strains have the ability to reduce abnormal pigmentation and improve fine lines and wrinkles. Skin conditions that have been shown to benefit from topical probiotics include atopic dermatitis, acne vulgaris, acne rosacea, sebhorrheic dermatitis, and psoriasis.”

As Weishar explains, many acne treatments work by killing all bacteria on the skin—both bad and good. This can cause even more problems, though, and some think that probiotics allow the skin to learn how to regulate itself better. Weishar says, “I’m very excited by the idea of using a patient’s natural ecology of bacteria on the skin to help fight acne, rosacea, eczema, and more to help promote a beautiful, glowing complexion. It’s wonderful to use the body’s own knowledge to heal itself.” 

But is it safe to put bacteria on your skin?
Grimes says that, as with all skin-care products, some individuals may experience some minor irritation. So test individual products for a while before committing to their use. 

Something to keep in mind is that, as with many clean and natural skin-care products, products containing live probiotics will have a relatively short shelf life. Astarita urges you to check the box or the product itself for an expiration date to ensure effectiveness—and to be sure a product hasn’t spoiled.

You should also treat probiotic skin-care products the same way you would treat ingestible probiotics—by either keeping them refrigerated or in a very cool place, as well as follow any specific brand recommendations, suggests Grimes.

Curious to give probiotic skin care a go? Check out some of our most trusted products, below.

Photo courtesy of Biossance

Biossance, Squalane + Probiotic Gel Moisturizer, $52, available at Biossance.

She considers herself "one of the luckiest kids on the face of the earth"

Dani Okon, NYLON's associate creative director of video, sat down with her great-aunt, May Okon, to talk about their shared experiences—despite vastly different time frames—living as queer women in New York City. Prior to retirement, May was a journalist for the New York Daily News, having first entered the male-dominated workforce when "the boys were all at war." And, of course, she absolutely killed it. Her only regret? "Retiring at 55," she tells Dani, joking, "Who the hell knew I was gonna live to 100?"

Upon retiring, she moved out to the Hamptons with her partner and bought a home. If she had to do it all over, May says "there are a lot of things I wouldn't do," but she still considers herself "one of the luckiest kids on the face of the earth." Get to know May in the video, above.

Check out the other videos in our series where we placed queer people from different generations in conversation with one another:

Rob Smith and Eddie Jarrel Jones
Lauren Morelli and Garcia
Marlene Colburn and Naima Green
Ashlee Marie Preston and Devan Diaz

Produced by: Alexandra Hsie
Camera: Gretta Wilson + Katie Sadler
Edited by: Madeline Stedman

True
FROM THE WORLD WIDE WEB

Here's how they're making sure it doesn't happen

Lauren Morelli, the showrunner and executive producer for the new Netflix show Tales of the City, is fostering a space where multiple queer realities can be shown on-screen. She spoke with one of the cast members, trans actor Garcia (who plays Jake Rodriguez on the show), and, in the video above, they explore why it's wrong to treat queer stories as representative of the entire community. Tokenization is something that they both want to avoid at all costs, and they're on the right track.

Check out the other videos in our series where we placed queer people from different generations in conversation with one another:

Dani and May Okon
Rob Smith and Eddie Jarrel Jones
Naima Green and Marlene Colburn
Ashlee Marie Preston and Devan Diaz

Produced by Alexandra Hsie
Directed by Charlotte Prager
Shot by Gretta Wilson + Charlotte Prager
Edited by Gretta Wilson

True

"Nothing is truly a binary"

We put non-binary activist Eddie Jarrel Jones and The Phluid Project founder Rob Smith in conversation with each other, and the two spoke some powerful truths about the continued gendering of products like makeup and clothing. Smith recalls that 30 years ago, the only way that he was able to experience the joys of playing with makeup was to work at a beauty counter. Even today, Jones notes that it's hard for non-binary femmes like them, or even trans women, to get that experience in stores.

In the video above, get a sense of why Smith created a genderless store, and see how important it is for people like Jones to have a space where they don't feel criticized for dressing like they want.

Check out the other videos in our series where we placed queer people from different generations in conversation with one another:

Dani and May Okon
Lauren Morelli and Garcia
Naima Green and Marlene Colburn
Ashlee Marie Preston and Devan Diaz

Produced by Alexandra Hsie
Directed by Charlotte Prager
Shot by Charlotte Prager + Dani Okon
Edited by Gretta Wilson

True
Asset 7
MORE in VIDEO

We put the two activists in conversation

Marlene Colburn, one of the founders of the Dyke March, and Naima Green, an artist currently working on a project and archive called Pur·suit, which will document queer people of all identities, agree that it's really hard to find lesbian spaces that aren't bars. Just as hard, it seems, is to find lesbian representation that isn't white. In the video above, the two talk about how they are creating space for queer people and what that looks like within two different generations.

Check out the other videos in our series where we placed queer people from different generations in conversation with one another:

Dani and May Okon
Rob Smith and Eddie Jarrel Jones
Lauren Morelli and Garcia
Ashlee Marie Preston and Devan Diaz

Produced by Alexandra Hsie
Directed by Charlotte Prager
Shot by Dani Okon + Charlotte Prager
Edited by Charlotte Prager

Illustrated by Sarah Lutkenhaus

Because traveling far doesn't have to suck

Travel can be tough. Sure, there are definitely the exciting aspects to it, especially when it means we're going on vacation, but if it involves traveling to different time zones, then we have to deal with jet lag, which is... not fun at all.

Keep reading... Show less
True