Modern science is unlocking ancient truths about how our bodies really work. From 2008 to 2013, the Human Microbiome Project used newly developed genetic sequencing techniques to show that what we thought we knew about being human is quite different from the reality.
Some surprising facts emerged. We are actually a highly complex mix of microbes and human cells, with all our microbes contributing more genes responsible for survival than our human cells contribute. There are around ten times more microbes than human cells in the human body – but because the microbes are so very small they account for less than 3% of body mass.
All over our bodies, thousands of species of microbes work together to perform the intricate chemistry that keeps us healthy, and alive. In the gut, the resident microbes do things like make essential amino acids and vitamins, modulate the immune system and break down toxins. It’s well- known that probiotics for the gut are good for us. It’s also now clear that topical probiotics for our skin are just as important and significantly changing the way we should be caring for our skin.
Our skin is home to over 20% of our total microbial diversity and probiotic skincare has the power to shift this population towards a more balanced state. Balanced skin is happy skin, which not only looks better but also ages much slower. Probiotics can do a lot more though, like helping clear troublesome conditions such as acne, rosacea and eczema.
What do probiotics on your skin actually do? Can they give you radiant skin? Scientific research now tells us that they can:
- Produce moisturising factors, such as hyaluronic acid, to keep skin hydrated
- Promote barrier function, keeping pathogens out and moisture in
- Maintain pH at the skin’s preferred acidic level
- Break down skin toxins so they can be removed
- Influence the skin’s immune response to keep it calm and unstressed
It’s no wonder that probiotic skincare is fast becoming one of the hottest topics in the industry. From innovative, small independent companies to large multinationals, the level of interest in this new understanding of our skin is astonishing.
We’re going to hear a lot more about probiotic skincare in future, so here’s a quick guide to some of the essential things to know.
At the heart of the matter are microbes. A microbe is a single-celled organism and includes things like bacteria, yeasts, fungi and viruses.
Our microbes are mostly beneficial to us, or at least not harmful. Some of them can be detrimental if not kept under control.
Our microbiome is the sum total of all microbes living in and on our bodies. Together with our human cells, they create an amazing and highly complex ecosystem which thrives on diversity and being in balance. The microbes resident in and on our skin are – not surprisingly – called our ‘skin microbiome’.
Just to be clear, “microbiome” is not a human-specific term. Pretty much everything on earth has a microbiome – humans, plants, animals, soil, seas, atmosphere – you get the idea.
The World Health Organization defines probiotics as live micro-organisms (microbes) that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.
There are two key words here : “Live” which tells us that a probiotic must be alive and capable of growing (or developing “colony forming units” in more scientific terms). The other key word is “benefit” i.e. a probiotic is not harmful.
There is a rapidly growing body of quality scientific research from all around the world which shows the benefits of probiotics applied to the skin.
It’s really hard to do this in formulating a topical skincare product as there are a number of practical and technical challenges. For a start, you can’t use harsh preservatives, because preservatives are designed to kill things like bacteria and other microbes. Nevertheless, a few highly innovative companies have already successfully devised solutions to these challenges and there will certainly be more manufacturers doing so in future.
Not all current probiotic skincare products are created equal, however. Sometimes “probiotic” claims are really referring to non-live probiotic extracts or probiotic derivatives used as ingredients. So, what are these and why are they used?
There are several different types of extracts from probiotics or derivatives of probiotics which are not alive and cannot develop and grow, that are being used in skincare. These include
- The by-products from the probiotic growth process, with the actual probiotics filtered out
- The cell contents of probiotics (sometimes referred to as ‘lysates’)
- Whole, but permanently deactivated, cells of probiotics
While these do not have the same effect as true probiotics in complementing the skin’s live microbiome, there is scientific research supporting skincare benefits being provided which validates their use. The attraction for skincare manufacturers is that these are much easier to include in conventional skincare product formulations.
Just to confuse things a little, there are also Prebiotics. Prebiotics are essentially food for our beneficial microbes.
Carefully selected prebiotics are included in some skincare products to supplement the nourishment and development of your skin’s ‘good’ microbes, while not providing the same nourishing benefits to ‘bad’ microbes.
Our bodies are really ecosystems. Ecosystems are robust and healthy when they include plenty of diversity, their components are in balance and they are unpolluted.
A healthy skin ecosystem means our skin thrives, is unstressed and calm, the rate of ageing slows and it looks its radiant best. A weak skin ecosystem on the other hand shows itself through poor skin condition, which can take many different forms, and results in an increased rate of visible ageing.
We don’t know all the answers yet, but even as we continue to discover more about our microbiome and probiotics, the message today is clear: learn to love your microbes and they will love you right back!
Kevin Jurgens is an organic chemist-turned-businessman – but still a bit of a science and nature geek at heart, with a particular interest in the astounding possibilities of the microbiomes of our world. After many years in senior corporate roles across several countries, Kevin now provides consulting, management and brand representation services in Australia – including exclusively representing Esse, the world’s leading probiotic skincare range.
See more at www.esseskincare.com.au or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.