Probiotic skincare has been around for a few years now, but thanks to the pandemic making us all scramble to find those maskne-combating superheroes, interest in gentle solutions for a messed-up skin barrier and near-chronic inflammation have made probiotics one of the most hyped-up ingredient trends for 2021.
Lately, I’ve been seeing more and more probiotic skincare products on the market and even entire brands solely focused on this seemingly magical problem solver. Time to have a closer look at why probiotics in skincare are trending right now!
So, What Exactly Are Probiotics?
For most of us, probiotics belong in the food and supplement category, sold as a remedy to boost healthy gut function, helping with health issues such as bloating and chronic indigestion. Our gut hosts all sorts of microorganisms that are responsible for the breakdown of foods, and they can easily be thrown off balance, for instance after a course of antibiotics (which you should still take when your doctor prescribes them though, because they are literal lifesavers!).
Essentially, probiotics are part of the “good bacteria” that help keep our gut microbiome in balance. The most common types of probiotics usually found in supplements and fortified yogurt drinks are lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. They keep your gut healthy and support its main function of breaking down foods, lowering the risk of inflammation.
Just like our gut, our skin also has its very own unique microbiome—the sum of all the microscopically small organisms such as bacteria and, shudder, tiny mites and other critters living on its surface. The idea of mini bugs crawling all over our skin and even, double shudder, living inside our pores feeding off the skin’s oils, can be quite off-putting. But in fact, these teeny-tiny bugs are crucial for an optimally functioning skin barrier. And just like the gut’s summation of all microorganisms, our skin’s microbiome can easily become unbalanced, leading to the growth of not-so-great bacteria such as P. acnes, responsible for acne and breakouts.
Like our gut, our skin has its own unique microbiome that can become unbalanced, leading to the growth of not-so-great bacteria such as P. acnes, responsible for breakouts.
Probiotics For the Skin
So, it comes as no surprise that clever skincare researchers thought to themselves: Hey, what’s good for the gut’s microbiome may just have some benefits for the skin as well! I actually remember that using fresh yogurt on the skin as a wash-off mask was one of those widespread DIY face mask trends in my teen days, and especially after a sunburn (use sunscreen, people! Don’t do what teenage me did to her skin during summers in France!), the cool yogurt would feel so soothing on my face and noticeably bring down the redness and stinging sensation.
Turns out, there is indeed some truth to that classic DIY recipe: Probiotics have been shown to calm down inflammation and have barrier strengthening properties, making skin more resilient against outward stressors such as allergens or pollution.
Now, unlike supplement companies, beauty brands aren’t actually able to use living strains of probiotics in their products, and so there is some contention when it comes to the ultimate efficacy of topically applied probiotics. However, a lot of research is currently being put into developing probiotic extracts that aren’t “alive” but still just as effective in boosting skin microbiome balance and function.
Probiotics vs. Prebiotics vs. Postbiotics
Now, you may also have heard the term “prebiotic skincare” thrown around lately, so let’s get the terminology confusion sorted. While probiotics are the actual live cultures we ingest when we down those yogurt drinks or eat our kimchi, prebiotics are the “food supply” for these good bacteria, namely sugars and fiber. There is also increasing interest in postbiotics, which are, to put it in slightly icky terms, the “waste matter” of the probiotic bacteria. Postbiotics are another important part of a healthy skin microbiome, essential in combating bad bacteria and environmental pollutants.
Probiotics calm inflammation and have barrier strengthening properties, making skin more resilient against outward stressors such as allergens or pollution.
Who Can Benefit From Probiotic Skincare?
Probiotic skincare is particularly well-suited for anyone with sensitive, easily irritated skin. The fermented ingredients can strengthen and support a compromised skin barrier and thus help fight off irritants. This also makes probiotic skincare a great addition to allergy-soothing skin routines.
Thanks to the anti-inflammatory properties, redness-prone, sensitized skin also benefits from probiotic skincare, and especially pharmacy brands such as La Roche-Posay or Avène like to include probiotics in their sensitive skin ranges. Fermented extracts also have the benefit of being more readily and easily absorbed into skin, repairing and strengthening it from within.
Anyone with a compromised skin barrier—and thanks to constant mask-wearing, who doesn’t struggle with this right now?—should likewise consider giving probiotic ingredients a try. The skin barrier-repairing superpowers of probiotics combined with their soothing, microbiome-friendly effects really make them an ideal ingredient for pandemic-related skincare woes.
Here are some probiotic skincare product recommendations for you to try out the trend!
1. Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair Synchronized Multi-Recovery Complex
This is probably one of the most famous probiotic serums out there, a true cult classic! The Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair Synchronized Multi-Recovery Complex uses both bifida ferment lysate and lactobacillus ferment probiotics plus yeast ferments for a brighter complexion. Its texture is a delight, rich without being heavy, and thus a great anti-aging serum for oilier skin types.
2. Lancôme Youth Activating Concentrate
With its combination of pre- and probiotic ingredients, among them bifida ferment lysate and lactobacillus plus yeast extract to give the skin something to feast on, so to speak, the Lancôme Youth Activating Concentrate helps keep the skin barrier healthy and supple. This lightweight serum also features a vitamin C derivative and hydrating hyaluronic acid, so it works great for dehydrated skin and for anyone who is on the hunt for a product that can combat the first signs of aging without being too heavy or rich.
3. Chantecaille Gold Recovery Mask
If you want to go super luxe, then the Chantecaille Gold Recovery Mask with real gold and rose flower water is the one to choose. This wash-off mask replenishes moisture and gives drIer, mature skin an extra dose of pampering. It contains nourishing murumuru and shea butter, plus richly emollient sesame seed oil. The probiotic component used in this mask is lactococcus ferment lysate, which is a newer ingredient said to have very promising research behind its efficacy as a skin barrier strengthener and epidermal growth booster.
4. Elemis Dynamic Resurfacing Facial Pads
Apart from its Green Superfoods range, which uses prebiotics in the form of vegetable and fruit extracts as a way to support skin barrier function, British skincare brand Elemis also adds probiotic ingredients to many of their other products. In the case of the Dynamic Resurfacing Facial Pads, lactococcus ferment lysate is combined with an enzyme complex that gently exfoliates skin without stripping it too harshly. Skin feels refreshed, smoother, and softer overall.
5. Dr. Hauschka Soothing Cleansing Milk
The nostalgia is real for me when it comes to the Dr. Hauschka Soothing Cleansing Milk: This non-foaming, creamy, milk-like lotion really saved me back in my 20s and helped to restore my weakened skin barrier after years of using stripping cleansing products. Now, this doesn’t do a super great job at removing makeup on its own, but if you use it as a morning cleanser and/or in conjunction with a cleansing oil in the evenings, it will work great while respecting your skin’s microbiome balance. Lactobacillus ferment and fermented extracts won from grains are the main probiotic ingredients here, added to a blend of gentle organic vegetable oils and humectant glycerin.