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  • Can Probiotics Heal Acne? An Esthetician's Perspective

For years, acne therapy has centered around systemic and topical antibiotics, irritating topical retinoids, and side-effect laden Accutane. New advancements in science are just beginning to scratch the surface of natural anti-acne remedies that are steeped in ancient wisdom and tradition.

The History of Probiotics

For thousands of years before the invention of refrigerators, fermentation was used as a form of preservation. Almost every culture has a signature fermented food: Koreans have kimchi, Europeans sauerkraut, yogurts, and cheeses, Japanese natto, the list goes on! This allowed populations to maintain their harvest surplus and consume it during the winter when produce was limited. We've come a long way from burying food underground with wild bacteria to ferment foods -- we now have sanitized, steel factories that guarantee safety.

The first therapeutic use of isolated probiotics was in 1899 when Henry Tissier recommended the administration of Bifidobacteria to infants with diarrhea. This was preceded by his discovery of Bifidobacteria in the stools of healthy humans. Further research led to the development of probiotic products like Yakult which has set the stage for commercialization of healthy bacteria that we see today.

Fast forward to now, probiotics are known to have a myriad of health benefits, including supporting healthy cholesterol1 and inflammation2, a healthy GI tract, and even clearer skin.3

Dysbiosis As a Possible Risk Factor for Acne

Dysbiosis, or an imbalance between commensal bacteria (probiotics) and pathogenic bacteria (bad bacteria, think: Candida, E. Coli, H. Pylori), may play more of a role in acne than once previously thought. One 2018 cross-sectional study4 found a significant difference between the gut microbiota of acne patients compared to healthy controls. This mirrors recent research5 that has demonstrated a more direct connection between the gut microbiome and the health of the skin.

High levels of a biomarker of dysbiosis, p-cresol, has been shown to reduce skin hydration and impair barrier function5 — two risk factors for acne.

How Does the Gut Microbiome Impact Acne?

While the exact mechanisms of the gut-skin connection haven’t been fully explored, it is believed that the gut microbiome interfaces with the skin in a few ways: a direct influence on skin cell turnover, systemic anti-inflammatory signaling, and increased wound healing.5 There is also evidence to suggest5 that pathogenic bacteria may be able to disrupt the health of skin via increased intestinal permeability, also known as Leaky Gut Syndrome.

Smiling young woman holds a bottle of NutriGold Probiotics Gold

Gut Bacteria and Skin Cell Turnover

Skin cell turnover is essential to maintaining healthy skin. One factor in the pathogenesis of acne is clogged pores, a result of sluggish skin turnover. When skin is not properly sloughed off, it suffocates pores, preventing anti-bacterial oxygen from entering. This causes P. acnes bacteria, which feeds off sebum, to grow exponentially. The immune system then intervenes, evident in the inflammation and white blood cells that manifest as a pustular pimple.

Promoting the efficiency of skin’s natural exfoliation using beneficial bacteria is one way probiotics can help those suffering with acne. One specific strain that may support the skin’s natural exfoliation is Lactobacillus plantarum. In a randomized controlled trial, double-blind placebo study, Lactobacillus plantarum was shown to increase skin radiance, elasticity, and hydration, indicating a possible interaction with skin cell exfoliation and barrier maintenance.6

Gut Bacteria and Inflammation

Big, red pimples are a sure sign of the role of inflammation in acne. For this reason, consuming healthy probiotic strains may also help to reduce the severity and occurrence of acne. Some strains that support the body’s natural anti-inflammatory response are Bifidobacterium infantis, Lactobacillus acidophilus, and Bifidobacterium bifidum.7

Bottle of NutriGold Probiotics Gold

Gut Bacteria and Increased Wound Healing

Acne, especially acne that has been picked or popped, is considered a wound. Accelerating wound healing can help to resolve acne quicker and decrease the amount of time it is present on the face. Lactobacillus reuteri8 has been shown to speed wound healing by upregulating oxytocin.

Leaky Gut, Acne, and the Impact of Gut Bacteria

Knowledge about how the integrity of the gut barrier impacts the health has grown in recent years. While the permeability of the gut barrier is important for absorption of nutrients and water, too much permeability (or Leaky Gut) can cause problematic compounds like undigested proteins, pathogenic bacteria and their problematic compounds (specifically pro-inflammatory lipopolysaccharides), and other toxins present in the gut to enter systemic circulation and set the stage for chronic low-grade inflammation.

Leaky gut can occur as a result of consuming hormonal birth control9 and gluten,10 however, it can also be a result of dysbiosis.5 Chronic leaky gut can result in skin dysfunction.

Probiotics come to the rescue again due to their ability to maintain the integrity of the gut barrier. Butyrate, a short chain fatty acid that maintains the health of the gut barrier, is produced by butyrate-producing bacteria strains in the gut. This production is upregulated by prebiotic consumption,11 like green bananas, cooked and cooled potatoes, and polyphenols (antioxidants found in tea, berries, dark chocolate).

Lactobacillus plantarum and Bifidobacterium infantis12 have also been shown to help heal and seal the gut barrier.

Spotlight On Lactobacillus rhamnosus

A twelve-week study done on Lactobacillus rhamnosus13 showed promise, significantly supporting clearer skin. It does this by regulating abnormal expression of the genes IGF-1 and Fox-O1. This prevents a cascade of signaling that results in abnormal skin cell production among factors that have been proven to contribute to the development of acne.

A Promising Solution

Ever-increasing evidence is swinging wide the door of probiotic’s role in supporting healthy skin. Probiotics may provide a hopeful alternative for those who prefer not to become users of prescription drugs (like Accutane) or for those that have developed antibiotic-resistant P. acnes14 (the bacteria implicated in acne formation, a phenomenon known to develop as a result of antibiotic acne treatment).

As the long-term side effects of allopathic treatments continually emerge, consumers are consistently on the hunt for more natural alternatives for their symptoms.

Picking The Right Probiotic Supplement

Choosing a quality probiotic supplement is just as important as understanding which strains can benefit acne patients. The mantra “You are what you assimilate” that has evolved from “You are what you eat” is especially significant in this case. How a probiotic is assimilated into the body as a result of proper formulation is just as important as the bacteria strains in the probiotic supplement.

I love Nutrigold’s Probiotic Gold because of its patented non-synthetic delivery system that ensures the implantation of the beneficial bacteria into the microbiome as opposed to being destroyed by the acidic nature of the stomach. This is a huge bonus on top of all of the proven anti-acne strains aforementioned: Lactobacillus acidophilus, plantarum, rhamnosus, and reuteri, and Bifidobacterium infantis. This nutraceutical is truly a probiotic powerhouse!

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