2018 cannot get enough of bacteria. The microscopic trend has seen them added to our drinks, our fermented foods and now even our face creams.
Aren’t bacteria bad for you – what are probiotics?
The yin and yang of the universe has created a balance of both good and bad bacteria, in abundance – you’re actually more bacteria by % than human. This balance is crucial because when some strains reproduce more than others, it creates dandruff, acne, seborrheic dermatitis, eczema and the like.
Instead of killing off this bacteria with antibiotics and risking long term resistance, scientists have wondered whether adding more ‘good’ bacteria to the skin might help to redress the balance. This includes supplying pre-biotic ingredients (things that provide the nourishment the bacteria needs to grow, eg inulin fibre), and probiotics (the good bacteria themselves).
The skin’s happy pH is 4.7, this is the level thats needed to cultivate a healthy balance of bacteria. Most cleansers on the market have a highly alkaline pH of 7-12 because they contain strong detergents! This strips the skin of its natural oils and wreaks havoc with the environment. It’s for this reason that toners are sold separately – to make you spend more money fixing the issue your cleanser caused.
What are some good probiotics for skin?
This is still a very grey area but so far studies have shown Bifida Ferment Lysate to be beneficial, most of these studies have been funded by L’Oreal but say that the bacteria is able to sooth inflammation, reduce dryness and improve the natural barrier function of the skin (their claims about DNA repair and age reversal are slightly more dubious).
Lactobacillus plantarum is a bacteria that works by creating antimicrobial peptides. According to a 2012 study, it can reduce erythema, repair skin’s barrier and help treat acne. But, only in concentrations of 5% or higher, lower amounts are useless and guess what? As with many oral supplements on the market, skincare companies don’t usually use that much.
So do they work when applied to the skin?
Probably not. This is because all of the probiotics in skincare are dead! You simply can’t put live bacteria into a product sold off the shelf, the whole reason preservatives exist is to keep the product fresh and stop it from going rancid by killing off any live bacteria. There are some studies to say that the dead bacteria could in theory help train your immune system to build resilience and be healthier but they are weakly supported by hard evidence at this moment in time.
The verdict? If you have dry or sensitive skin, it would probably be more worthwhile investing in a good cleanser that supports your skin’s natural function, as opposed to slathering on bacterial corpses this year.