We should buy body washes and moisturizers that feed the billions of bacteria, viruses and fungi that live on our skin to keep it healthy – if we are to believe major skincare brands.
Like the gut microbiome, the trillions of ‘friendly’ bacteria that inhabit our gut where they keep ‘bad bacteria’ at bay, the skin microbiome is increasingly believed to be important to health, with imbalances linked to skin conditions including rosacea, acne and eczema.
Harsh cleansers, body washes and scrubs are blamed for disrupting the balance of our skin microbiome and, just as ‘probiotic’ yogurt is being marketed as a way to clear up the ‘good’ bacteria in the gut, it is now possible to buy toiletries designed to nourish and stimulate the ‘friendly’ bacteria on our skin.
We should buy body washes and moisturisers that feed the billions of bacteria, viruses and fungi that live on our skin to keep it healthy – if we are to believe major skincare brands [File photo]
The probiotic skincare market was worth £ 16.3 million worldwide in 2017 and sales are expected to nearly double by 2025.
Some products are just mild creams and lotions that claim to be gentle on the skin’s microbiome. Others contain bacterial extracts that are said to have benefits from calming the immune system to moisturizing and strengthening the skin.
Finally, a third line of new toiletries contain ‘live’ bacteria and are marketed as being useful for balancing the skin’s microbiome – and as a way to reduce deodorant use.
For example, the flagship product AO + Mist from the American company Mother Dirt contains bacteria that are normally found in the soil. Sprayed over the body, insects in the spray would ‘consume the ammonia’ [which is acrid-smelling] in your sweat and convert it into healthy compounds for your skin ‘.
But what’s the proof that we need to take care of our skin microbiome – and is it washed? At first glance, the insects on our skin seem to be the key to our health.
Studies have shown that people with eczema have higher concentrations of the bacteria S. aureus on their skin than others and that toxins produced by the beetle can damage and inflame the skin.
In laboratory studies, scientists have also identified other skin bacteria that make chemicals that kill S. aureus – and these protective bacteria are rarer in people with eczema than others without a skin condition.
Other research has suggested that the skin microbiome even plays a role in cancer. In 2018, researchers at the University of California at San Diego showed in experiments on mice that a strain of the common skin bacterium S. epidermidis produces a chemical that prevents the spread of skin cancer cells.
There was also a review of all trials with ‘probiotics’ for the skin last year, which showed that in ‘a limited number of studies’ they have been shown to help treat dermatitis, acne and rosacea. However, dermatologists say there is still a lot we don’t know about the skin microbiome.
Catherine O’Neill, professor of translational dermatology at the University of Manchester, says that while we know that some insects on our skin produce chemicals that are toxic to pathogenic bacteria, we don’t know much about whether the skin’s microbiome strengthens the skin . or how it interacts with the immune system.
“There is a lot of nonsense in the field,” she says. ‘I haven’t seen any hard evidence to suggest that we should all be concerned about flushing out our skin microbiome.
“The data just isn’t there to support many of the claims.”
The American dermatologists who conducted the review last year also emphasized, “Over the past decade, commercially available topical probiotics have gained popularity. However, there is a lack of literature on safety profiles and therapeutic potential.
“While emerging evidence is promising, further research is needed to more thoroughly evaluate its benefits and safety,” they wrote in the Dermatology Online Journal.
Some products are just mild creams and lotions that claim to be gentle on the skin’s microbiome. Others contain bacterial extracts that are said to have benefits from calming the immune system to hydrating and strengthening the skin [File photo]
Alexis Granite, a dermatologist advisor at Cadogan Clinic in London, agrees. “We’re not there yet to determine if probiotic skincare products could be helpful,” she says.
“Theoretically they could be useful for certain skin conditions, but we don’t have enough good quality evidence yet.”
Unknown, says Dr. Granite, include which bacteria cocktails would be beneficial and whether different people need different combinations of bacteria.
The gut microbiome is much more researched, with studies linking it to everything from skin conditions to mental health and cancer.
But while some research suggests that oral probiotics, such as those in yogurt drinks, can help inflammatory skin conditions like acne and rosacea, other research casts doubt on how well they work, says Dr. Granite.
She says anyone tempted by probiotic toiletries should “ save their money for now. ”