In recent years our understanding of the relationship between our health and the roughly 100 trillion bacteria that live inside our gut has come on leaps and bounds. From the early days of Yakult’s ‘good bacteria’ campaigns to the emergence of Kombucha smoothies, we are now so grateful for all the work our live-in bacterial friends do for us behind the scenes that many of us actively ensure that we eat enough probiotics to keep them around and enough prebiotics to keep them well fed. Given how comfortable we have all become in maintaining a healthy gut, the latest progression in gut health feels like a very natural one. Probiotic skincare is here and it works. Of course, the relationship between our gut and our skin is not new (our bodies have changed very little since we were hunter-gatherers) but it’s not until recently that we’ve really understood what's been happening right under our noses.
Nigma Talib, a naturopathic doctor and aesthetician, does a really excellent job of explaining the power of gut health in her book Younger Skin Starts in the Gut. “A problem in your bowels will eventually create jowls,” Dr. Talib begins by telling us, before describing how our gut can be thought of as our “second brain” because of all the hard work it does for us digesting our food, producing vitamins, protecting against disease-causing counterparts and most importantly regulating our immune system.
Our immune system is important because our skin covered with living microorganisms that are recognised as foreign entities by our bodies. Supported by solid evidence including a robust 2014 study, Dr. Talib claims that as long as we maintain a good balance of bacteria in our gut, then our immune system will be less likely overreact to microorganisms found on the skin and when it does react will do so less aggressively. As long as we have kept a healthy gut by consuming both probiotics and prebiotics then we can expect to see less inflammation, redness, and bumps as the body’s natural response becomes more measured. But don’t worry if you are showing any of these symptoms at the moment, it's a sign that your immune system is working! It just needs a little fine tuning.
So what can we do to help our guts? The answer lies in probiotics and prebiotics. In the simplest terms, probiotics are live bacteria that are good for your gut and prebiotics are the foods that these bacteria can eat in order to keep them performing at their best. A helpful way to think about your gut is to imagine it is like a garden. You can add seeds (probiotic bacteria) to help your garden grow but you’ll need fertiliser and lots of water (prebiotics) to help those seeds reach their potential.
So how do I get them in my belly? Probiotics are created by the natural process of fermentation and are therefore found in fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, miso soup and kimchi. Nutritional Therapist Jeanette Hyde is one of the most high-profile advocates of drinking kefir (a milk drink that has been fermented using kefir grains) as it is an extremely potent source of probiotic bacteria. However, if (like me) you don’t consume dairy, then there are also natural supplements you can take to keep your gut topped up.
You can then boost the amount of prebiotics you take into your gut by increasing the volume of fiber in your diet as many high fiber foods are also high in prebiotic fiber. Some great additions to your meals can be chicory root, onions/garlic, oats, apples (skin on!) and asparagus.
Lastly, as well as keeping our guts healthy inside, we can also apply probiotics directly to our skin. Up close, the surface of our skin is a whole world of its own, with its own community of bacteria that live (hopefully) in some kind of balance. In the same way as eating probiotics can help your gut, by applying a skincare product that contains a probiotic to the skin's surface we can help in ensuring that the outside of our bodies are in balance too. On top of this, probiotic skincare products then break down to create amazing new ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, peptides, and vitamins to help strengthen the skin.
So make sure to consider probiotics (and their prebiotic snacks) next time you are picking out a skin care product of cooking up lunch!