The beauty industry is built on the idea that the path to good skin is paved with expensive topical products. Don’t bother trying to map an alternative route, it taunts, because such a thing does not exist! This is a very effective strategy, and one that has ensured the industry is worth upwards of $532 billion today.

Don’t get it twisted: Topical skincare routines are important, but they’re just one piece of the breakout banishing puzzle. A comforting thought if you’ve tried every product under the sun, but still struggle to keep your disobedient skin in line.

As the largest organ of the body, our skin has a very taxing job of taking care of us. After all, the environment by which our skin lives is incredibly harsh. Think of it like a commune of survivors after a zombie apocalypse. Everyone has a job to keep the facility safe and as comfortable as possible, however it is important that it is well managed because mismanagement can, frankly, bring about an unsafe environment. Our skin’s microbiome (or skin flora/microbiota), like our zombie safe commune, is colonized by symbiotic microorganisms. Be them bacteria, viruses, fungi and/or protozoa—these living organisms strive to live harmoniously together, protecting against the invasion of pathogens, and to strengthen our immune defenses! This environment is also known to be represented in the gut and have mental health implications as well (aka the “brain-gut-skin axis”).

When we think about skincare, we are generally thinking about the outermost layer of the skin (epidermis). Most bacteria on the skin are found on the superficial layers of the epidermis and the upper parts of hair follicles. These bacteria can prevent pathogenic organisms from colonizing on the skin surface (by outwitting nutrients, secreting chemicals, or stimulating the immune system.

While many of these organisms are benign at worst and helpful at the best, organisms like Cutibacterium acnes (or C. acnes) formerly Propionibacterium acnes, are long thought to contribute to the inflammatory skin conditions like acne. Found in sebum (oil) rich areas, C. acnes has been shown to be in excess in inflammatory acne where other helpful bacteria are deficient.

A lot of acne is hormonally driven—including the type that plagues teenagers during puberty—but, as Dr. Samer Jaber of Washington Square Dermatology in NYC states*, “When most people talk about [hormonal acne], they’re talking about acne in adult women.” According to a study by the American Academy of Dermatology, roughly 50 percent of women in their 20s and more than 25 percent of women ages 40 to 49 are affected by hormonal acne.

Hormonal acne is generally related to a woman’s menstrual cycle and the fluctuations of estrogen and progesterone that accompany it. Convinced this could be you? To decipher whether the cause of your acne is hormonal, some signs to look out for are cyclical flares each month, dotted along the lower face, jawline and/or around the mouth. These zits are usually deeper, painful pimples (as opposed to blackheads, whiteheads and blocked pores).

Taking a multi-pronged approach is your best bet in saying ‘laters to hormonal acne. ZitSticka KILLA patches aside, a change in diet and the incorporation of key vitamins can help to alleviate hormonal zits. Many evidence-based studies suggest cutting dairy and sugar can help to reduce the frequency and severity of breakouts. According to Anne Chapas, the founder of Union Square Laser Dermatology, “The spikes in blood sugar which arise from eating high-glycemic foods causes oil production, which in turn causes acne… We know that those cause a harmful hormonal environment.”

So far, research has learned that optimum skin health (and gut health) is achieved by improving the biodiversity of the microbiota. Agents like probiotics and prebiotics, when applied to the skin, can help to suppress the growth of acne causing bacteria as well as improve the overall health of the microbiome and its defenses

SO, WHAT ARE PROBIOTICS AND HOW DO YOU GET THEM?

Probiotics are live microorganisms extracted and isolated from humans and then cultured in a lab for supplementation. They have the capacity to survive in the gut and immune system to enhance the natural environment in the way that  natural good bacteria does. Probiotics like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium regulate skin inflammation by working with the gut environment. They also help to promote an overall healthy immune system. Streptococcus thermophilus has shown to improve ceramide production, a lipid molecule known to trap water in the skin, thus strengthening the skin barrier. These can be found in fermented food sources like yogurt, kefir, miso, kombucha, kimchi, and pickles. And if you don’t quite like the acidity component to these foods, supplements like ZitSticka’s SKIN DISCIPLINE provide blended doses of probiotics often supplemented with additional vitamins which help dial down internal inflammation that shows up externally as breakouts.

AND PREBIOTICS?

Prebiotics are the food source for the helpful bacteria in our intestinal tract and skin. Since our digestive system cannot break down prebiotics, they survive only to reach the colon where they can be consumed by the healthy bacteria, helping them grow and thrive. In terms of the skin, they provide a nutrient base for the healthy bacteria! Foods like fiber-rich fruits, veggies, whole grain, starchy potatoes, bananas, onions, asparagus and garlic are where prebiotics are derived.

Just as it is important for your hydration levels to consume actual water, it is equally important for probiotics and prebiotics to be present in your diet as well!

Fun fact: Did you know that stress impairs the normal gut microflora? Psychological stressors can cause intestinal microbes to produce stress related neurotransmitters like acetylcholine, serotonin, and norepinephrine that result in an overarching system inflammation.

I know what you’re thinking: “Here we go, again! ANOTHER beauty fad to add to our shopping lists. When will it end?” And I get it. But, think about it this way: As diverse a species as we are, “healthy” may look a number of ways. The one key factor is that it starts from the inside. Providing our bodies with the nutrients and hydrants to defend ourselves are the means by which we can achieve our healthiest body, most beautiful skin, and our best selves. And now we know that another mechanism we should be mindful of is this wonderful thing called the Microbiome. Beauty, skin-deep.

Want some more tips on taking care of your skin from the inside, out?

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