Probiotics in Skincare and Supplements: Do They Work?

12 November 2021

Microbiome in Skincare: Decoding prebiotic, probiotic and postbiotic in skin care


You might already be familiar with the benefits of probiotics for gut health, thanks to the popularity of  VITAGEN Less Sugar, the probiotic containing cultured milk drink. Probiotics can be thought of as ‘good bacteria’ that help with a variety of conditions like digestion when taken as drinks or supplements; and may have a role in reducing inflammation in the skin when used topically in skincare.



 image credit: ELLE


Although probiotics was one of the break out ingredients in the skincare scene of 2019, skin care products containing probiotics have been around for years now. Probiotics, prebiotics, postbiotics and microbiome (confused or still following me?) look set to continue to make a strong presence in dermatology in 2020, judging by the plethora of skincare products that have joined the foray of microbiome beauty products.


Related blogpost:

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Today’s review will take you through understanding probiotics and microbiome skincare and supplements; the science and safety behind the hype- and then you can decide for yourself if these bugs get under your skin. Enjoy!


But first, a background on these bugs:



Your body is a wonderland…of bugs.


The human skin is teeming with over 1000 species of bacteria1 with one million of these mico-organisms per square centimetre of the skin2. If this grosses out the germaphobe in you, hold on before you reach for your sanitiser. These bacteria are part of the skin’s natural microenvironment called microbiome. These bacteria generally do not harm us and our skin and have an important role in keeping our skin healthy and disease free in a complex interplay of dynamics.


he bacteria on our skin are also known as commensal bacteria. Commensal bacteria on the skin keep our skin’s balance in check by3,4:

• Preventing harmful bacteria from colonising the skin’s surface

• Defend against disease causing bacteria

• Promote immune tolerate and reduce the severity of inflammatory disease

• Regulate skin pH


A loss of this delicate balance between commensals and harmful bacteria on the skin has been linked to disorders of the skin such as acne, eczema, psoriasis and rosacea5-7.


Related blogposts:

Acne: Types, Causes, Treatments and Tips for Prevention

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Maskne: How to Avoid Acne from Wearing Surgical Face Masks

Rosacea: Symptoms, Triggers, Skincare and Treatments

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How do bacteria defend and protect the skin?


Not all the mechanisms have been fully elucidated to date, but the science so far shows that microbes protect the skin in a steady state by directly blocking harmful bacteria from colonising the skin. Commensal bacteria also regulate our body’s immune system to enhance defense against harmful bacteria while reducing inflammation by secreting antimicrobial factors5-9.


Some bacteria may do more than merely increasing the skin’s defense against harmful pathogens. Streptococcus thermophilus has been shown in small studies to increase the level of ceramides in the skin10-12; making this a promising area of further research for patients who have sensitive skin and eczema.


Related blogposts:

Ceramides: A Relief for Sensitive and Dry Skin

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Before you dive into the trend of microbiome skincare, here’s what you need to know about the science and whether you may stand to benefit. Image credit: Pinterest.


How do probiotics in skincare protect the skin?


Probiotics creams and serums contain live strains of bacteria to increase the skin’s population of ‘good’ bacteria to increase the benefits of these ‘good’ bacteria.

What’s the difference between probiotics, prebiotics and postbiotics in skincare?


The skincare and medical jargon may be a little confusing so allow me to break it down for you.

Probiotics are live strains of bacteria that benefit the skin

Prebiotics are the ‘food’ that the probiotics feed on

Postbiotics are the metabolites or by-products released by probiotics


What does the science show about prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics in skincare?


Even though probiotic skincare products are in vogue right now, the science for microbiome skincare is still in its infancy stages. Most of the studies and data are based on small studies and don’t replace mainstream treatments such as lasers and chemical peels for acne or Botox or Rejuran Healer for anti-aging and skin rejuvenation.


This is what the science shows so far for applying probiotic skincare:

Acne: Small studies have show an improvement in acne and reduced bacterial load of Cutibacterium acnes (formerly known as Propionibacterium acnes13,14.

Sensitive and dry skin: Probiotics containing Streptococcus thermophiles applied to the skin have shown to increase ceramide levels in the skin in a few studies10-12.

Eczema (astopic dermatitis): Early research into probiotic skincare for eczema has shown some benefits with topical probiotics11,19.

Wound healing: Topical probiotics may improve wound healing and reduce inflammation20,21. Some probiotics may also improve wound healing by reducing skin infections22,23.

Anti-aging: Some studies show that some bacteria can help to quench free radicals which accelerate aging24,25.


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gut skin axis

The gut skin axis is a theory that skin health and gastrointestinal health are related. If the gut health is affected by imbalances involving metabolites or microbiomes, the health of the skin is also affected.


Since we’re on the topic of probiotics, what does the science say for probiotic drinks and supplements for the skin? Is there a link between gut health and skin?

The lining of the gastrointestinal tract also has its own microenvironment of bacteria, just like the skin. A loss of this balance between commensal bacteria and harmful bacteria has been linked to skin disorders such as rosacea26. One study showed remission of rosacea after the gastrointestinal microflora was restored to normal26.


The use of oral probiotics to indirectly influence skin diseases has also been explored in several studies. Here’s what some of the research show:

Acne: Oral probiotics containing Lactobacillus species improved acne after 12 weeks and had greater effectiveness when combined with antibiotics27,28.

Eczema (atopic dermatitis): The effects of oral probiotics has been studied most extensively in eczema. Although there are studies that support the use of oral probiotics for treating eczema29,30, a Cochrane review of 39 randomised controlled trials up to 2017 showed that oral probiotics made little or no improvement in reducing the symptoms of eczema and concluded that use of probiotics for the treatment of eczema is currently not evidence-based31.


Conclusion: Should I use probiotics for my skin?


Probiotic skincare may be trending right now but our understanding of the science of probiotics is still incomplete. Suffice to say, probiotic skincare isn’t going to replace tried and tested treatments and skincare active ingredients anytime soon. If you’re still considering trying out probiotic skincare, please check in with your doctor especially if you have specific skin conditions such as acne and rosacea. The balance of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria is a delicate one and so far our knowledge about probiotics has been limited to specific species and strains.


Oral probiotic supplements and drinks seem to be more promising for treating skin conditions on top of improving gut health. If I had to recommend oral probiotics versus probiotic skincare for general skin health, I’d say oral probiotics would be my choice. If you have acne, I’d say it’s worth a try.


Hope you found this review on probiotics and the skin useful. Have a good week!

If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy the following reviews on skincare ingredients:

Cica in Skincare: Centella Asiatica Explained

Everything You Need to Know About Hyaluronic Acid

How to Lighten Pigmentation and Dark Spots with Skincare

All About Topical Vitamin C: One of the Best Ways to Protect Your Skin

Niacinamide: A Versatile Skincare Ingredient

Sunscreen Reviews: The Best, Worst and Unsafe Ones I’ve Tried

Ceramides: A Relief for Dry & Sensitive Skin and Eczema

The Ordinary Skincare Review and Ingredients Decoded

The Inkey List Skincare Review and Ingredients Decoded

2020 Beauty Trends: Skincare and Beauty Treatments from Korea

Eye Creams work?

Is Bakuchiol An Effective Retinol?



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20. Interleukin-8 production by polymorphonuclear leukocytes from patients with chronic infected leg ulcers treated withLactobacillus plantarum. Peral et al. Clin Microbiol Infect 2010;16: 281–6.

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23. Selective antimicrobialaction is provided by phenol-soluble modulins derived from Staphylococcus epidermidis, a normal resident of the skin. Cogen et al. J Invest Dermatol2010;130:192–200.

24. Expression of a heterologous manganese superoxide dismutase gene in intestinal Lactobacilli provides protection against hydrogen peroxide toxicity. Bruno-Barcena et al. Appl Environ Microbiol. 2004;70(8):4702–4710.

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