Probiotics 101

You’ve probably spent your whole life with bacteria — but mostly getting rid of it. Think washing your hands, sneezing into the crook of your elbow, going through eight million bottles of sanitizer every winter. So it seems pretty counterintuitive that smearing bacteria all over your face could actually help your skin. Sounds crazy (and kind of gross), right?

While there are parts of the body in which bacteria aren’t welcome (hello, eyeballs), others, like your gut, make a good home for the little guys — which, in turn, help digest food and regulate your immune response. Your skin, too, naturally plays host for a number of good bacteria. But external factors (like pollution) and harsh formulas in your skincare routine can kill off these good bacteria. That’s when you get into trouble.

Probiotics are bacteria — but don’t worry, it’s not like you’re rubbing your face with a rag found at a dump. Instead, most of the probiotic technology you’ll find in skincare is derived from bacteria cultures common to your microbiome. Lactococcus is the best known, but there are many different strains available. They’re alive during formulation and usually dead by the time you get them. But even dead, probiotics offer skin benefits. “They serve many purposes including helping to prevent trans-epidermal water loss,” says Steven Rosenfeld, president of Columbia Probiotic Skincare. “Transepidermal water loss can cause dehydration, sensitivity, dryness, and irritation.”

The pros of probiotics:

The whole goal of probiotics is to provide balance to the microbiome. Probiotics are gentle and effective multitaskers, making them an indispensable asset in keeping your skin healthy.

Probiotics benefit every single skin type because they modulate the immune response system. They speedily quell inflammation and redness for those with sensitive skin and rosacea. Studies show how strains of probiotics are effective acne-fighters — the big plus being that probiotics hydrate skin, while most acne solutions try to knock out breakouts by turning your face into a desert state. Furthermore, they help skin seal in moisture, smoothing out any fine lines and wrinkles.

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