Kombucha, a fermented tea drink heavy on gut-friendly probiotic properties, has become the beverage of choice for health-conscious celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Halle Berry, who’ve traded in their Starbucks cups for a bottle of the tart brew.
The healthy dose of good bacteria is said to aid in digestion and promote a healthy gut environment. “Every single human being has good and bad bacteria,” says Dr. Sara Celik, a Toronto-based naturopathic doctor. “Probiotics are essentially our defence system against harmful microorganisms. They protect us from bad bacteria, from viruses, from an overgrowth of yeast and from parasites.”
And they can do more than help your digestive tract—when formulated into skin-care products, good bacteria can work their anti-inflammatory magic on a variety of skin ailments including acne, eczema and rosacea.
“The skin microbiome is a group of organisms that live on the skin,” says Dr. Shannon Humphrey, medical director at Carruthers & Humphrey and director of continuing medical education in dermatology and skin science at the University of British Columbia. “Bacteria, fungi, viruses and even mites create this complex environment—a ‘soup’ that is necessary for healthy skin and healthy immune function.”
Good bacteria can keep this ecosystem in check and help with the optimal efficiency of the skin’s immune system. The probiotics in skin-care formulations aren’t the same are the ones you’ll find in a bottle of kombucha or your morning cup of yogurt, though.
“The probiotics in topical skin care are chosen for their skin health benefits and have a direct effect on the skin, as opposed to probiotics found in fermented foods,” says Dr. Roshini Raj, associate professor of medicine at NYU School of Medicine and founder of probiotic-based skincare brand Tula.
What’s in a Name?
Using the knowledge she’s gained as a digestive-tract specialist, Dr. Raj formulated Tula using different strains of healthy bacteria aimed at treating various skin concerns.
For example, micrococcus lysate (an enzyme from an extract of ocean bacteria) reduces redness caused by irritation and inflammation in the skin. Lactobacillus casei acidophilus (which ferments sugars into lactic acid) helps to nourish and smooth the skin.
While the Latin names sound baffling, they are worth recognizing, says Dr. Celik, who recommends patients read the labels before making a purchase.
Scientific research into the effectiveness of probiotics as a form of skin care is still in the early stages, however. “There have been studies looking at oral probiotics and topical probiotics,” Dr. Humphrey notes. “Some show that there are results and some show that there are not. However, there is huge promise—it is certainly worthwhile to discuss options with your physician.”
Perhaps a healthy dose of good bacteria is just what the doctor ordered!