One of the fastest-growing skincare trends at the moment centers around the gut health-skin health connection, and this holistic approach to beauty isn’t likely to slow down any time soon. More and more brands continue to come out with “microbiome-friendly” skincare products, and probiotic supplements are being presented as beauty supplements rather than simply digestive aids or immune boosters. All of the buzz might have you wondering if better gut health can improve your skin’s health and whether or not you should be taking probiotics.
The Connection Between Skin Health and Gut Health
To understand the role probiotics can play in skin health, we first need to understand the role that gut health plays in general. A short, simplified answer is that both inflammation and a compromised immune response resulting from poor gut health can lead to a number of skin conditions from acne and dandruff for instance, to more serious skin issues like eczema, psoriasis, rosacea and even skin cancer.
The gut microbiome, consisting of trillions of microbial cells, is located primarily in the large and small intestines. It’s a bustling community of bacteria, fungi, viruses and other microorganisms which has a direct effect on our health in several ways, including the immune system.
In order to maintain proper immune system regulation, the gut microbiome interacts with tissues and organs in a back-and-forth manner. When this relationship between the gut and immune system isn’t working as it should, it tends to show on our skin in one way or another.
While there is still much to be researched to learn the precise ways that a particular bacteria imbalance can lead to a specific skin condition, studies have shown strong correlations between gut health and inflammatory skin conditions like eczema for instance. According to this 2021 gut-skin axis study, numerous skin issues occur alongside an unhealthy gut microbiome.
This is where probiotics come in for better skin health. If your skin issues are the result of a poor immune response or an inflammatory autoimmune issue, probiotic supplements can help by restoring gut health and thus allowing for proper immune system regulation.
The Added Benefits of Using Microbiome-Friendly Skincare in Conjunction with Probiotic Supplements
When you see “Microbiome-Friendly” topical skincare, more often than not, it’s going to be some sort of product that is gentle enough to leave the skin microbiome as unaltered as possible. Just like the gut, our skin has its own microscopic world consisting of trillions of microbes. And also like in the gut, the microorganisms living on our skin have an optimal way in which they are balanced together in harmony and in a way that serves a bigger purpose for human health. The skin’s physical protective barrier is composed of multiple layers or skin, with the surface level including its community of microorganisms. Impair that balance between good and bad bacteria on the surface of the skin, and you risk having a compromised skin barrier.
Because of the bidirectional nature of the gut and its regulatory functions, like with the immune system, an unhealthy gut can itself have a negative impact on the integrity of the skin’s microbiome. An impaired skin microbiome can in turn allow environmental pollutants and bad bacteria to have a negative impact on the immune system and gut health. This, as mentioned, can result in the very skin conditions that may further compromise skin health, creating a sort of negative feedback loop between the skin, immune system, and gut. For someone with eczema, you can imagine this is when symptoms may get out of control and is likely when one would have to take a more aggressive multi-pronged approach in order to get symptoms under control; such as diet change, oral medication, as well as a topical approach. Treating your skin more gently to begin with can help prevent damage, and using microbiome-friendly skincare is an added step you can take to help maintain a more balanced skin microbiome.
How to Know if You Should Be Taking Probiotic Supplements for Better Gut Health
A few different factors including genetic, environmental, and dietary can all have an effect on gut health. The types of foods you eat are inarguably what you have the most control over. A diet high in sugar can lead to higher levels of bad bacteria, while heavily processed foods and foods high in saturated fats can have a negative impact on your gut’s good bacteria. Foods which improve the growth and diversity in your good bacteria typically include high-fiber and polyphenol-rich whole foods like oats, fruits and veggies, and nuts and beans. Here is a more detailed list of some of the best and worst foods for gut health. If for some reason or another you simply aren’t eating the kind of diet that will support good gut bacteria, a probiotic supplement can be a good option.
Another factor that might be out of your control would be any health issues which call for the use of medications. A good time to boost your good bacteria would be after a round of antibiotics, especially if you're on long-term prescription medications to treat indigestion, depression, or ADHD.
In addition to those reasons, your gut can benefit from taking a probiotic if you struggle in any way with systemic inflammation, digestive issues and/or immune system issues. Due to the link between those different facets of physical health, improving the health of one of those issues can inadvertently help the others.
How to Know Which Probiotic Supplements Are the Best Quality
Like with any health supplement, all probiotics are not created equal. Several factors such as CFU, the type of bacterial strains, and the stability of the strains are things to consider when choosing the right probiotics.
CFUs refers to the amount of colony-forming units in a probiotic supplement. That number is typically located on the information label of a probiotics bottle, and it suggests the amount of live bacteria that is likely to multiply once it gets to your digestive tract. A single CFU denotes the ability of one cell to reproduce until it forms a colony. Though that doesn’t always mean more is better. It is possible that taking too many probiotics can cause mild side effects such as gas and bloating. However there is no risk of overdose with a probiotic supplement when used as directed. It’s best to consult with your doctor just as you would before taking any new medication or supplement. It also depends on why you’re taking them, like if you are adding them to your regular daily supplements, or if you are trying to quickly rebalance your gut after a round of antibiotics. A typical amount of 50 CFUs is what you may find in a high-quality multi strain probiotic supplement. The dose suggestion is often 1 to 2 capsules per day, so it’s easy to take more when you feel you need it and less when you don’t.
Regardless of the number of CFUs in a probiotic capsule however, you also want to look for one that is “multi-strain” or contains multiple bacterium types. With proper gut health, it isn’t just about having more good bacteria than bad bacteria in general. Having the right kind of diversity among your good bacteria is just as important. This research, just as one example, on the role of gut health in immune system regulation shows how change in a single microbial species can tip the scales between a healthy or unhealthy immune response. Some probiotic supplements will say “9-Strain” on the label for instance, while others don’t, and all you should have to do is look at the label details to find how many and which kinds of strains are included in a particular probiotic complex. The two most common types of bacteria found in probiotics, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, are the most popular and both have proven health benefits.
After finding a probiotic with a significant number of CFUs as well as the best variety in bacterial strains, you need to make sure those live cultures will make it to your gut microbiome in-tact. If this article were written back when probiotic supplements first landed on the health scene, I’d be telling you to only take probiotic supplements that come refrigerated, to ensure that the bacteria in your probiotics are still alive by the time you take it. While you should refrigerate probiotics after opening, in order to maximize shelf life, probiotics nowadays needn’t always come refrigerated as long as you follow the storage guidelines on the label.
Supplement preservation by way of a vegetable cellulose capsule provides a convenient non-meat and non-dairy capsule for those with special dietary restrictions. With no animal byproducts, a vegetable capsule is also vegan-friendly. Unlike common gelatin capsules, a cellulose capsule has some additional benefits when it comes to taking probiotics. A vegetable capsule is best for ensuring the bacteria make it to your intestines. As the vegetable capsule breaks down more slowly than a typical gelatin capsule, it can pass through your stomach acid without the bacteria being affected as much. Though it is still recommended that you take a probiotic capsule in between meals, particularly in the morning, to give the supplement an even less acidic environment to pass through.
As you can see there are many factors to consider when adding a probiotic supplement to your health and wellness regimen. Though picking the right one can have several positive effects on your gut, immune, and skin health. Especially if you struggle with any particular skin issues, an oral probiotic can be an effective addition to your health and beauty routine.