Great for the gut, probiotics are now also the latest buzz ingredient in skincare. We put these beneficial bugs under the microscope to find out more

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From digestion to mental health  and now ‘next generation’ skincare, probiotics have established themselves as one of the most buzzed about ingredients in health and beauty.

Cropping up in many a cream, serum and cleanser, these ‘friendly’ bacteria are making the leap from fridge to bathroom shelf. “Consumers used to believe all bacteria [on the skin] were dangerous, but science has changed this viewpoint,” says Global Analyst David Tyrrell in Mintel’s ‘The Future of Facial Skincare 2017 Report.’ “We now know skin bacteria can be good for skin health. Brands can seize on this knowledge and create next generation 'skin gentle' face products that are also bacteria friendly.” Now both long-established and specialist ranges are adding probiotics to their products. So do they work?

What is probiotic skincare?

Similarly to how probiotics help to balance out our gut microbiome, probiotic skincare claims to support the microflora that naturally occur on the skin to increase skin’s natural defences. The purported results? Reduced inflammation, greater resilience to environmental damage and a strengthening of the skin barrier against aggressors such as UV, pollution and stress. Essentially a way of boosting skin’s (the body’s largest organ’s) immune system.

What the brands say

When it comes to gut and skin health, reinstating equilibrium seems to be the common factor. “The term balance is what links the two sciences,” explains Claire Vero, founder of Aurelia Probiotic Skincare. “Our probiotic ingredients balance the immune response, or inflammation, in the skin, while probiotics used for a healthy gut balance different levels of good and bad bacteria.”

Strengthening skin barrier has long been ignored by the industry according to co-founder of new probiotic skincare range Glowbiotics, Christine Watson. “Gold standard ingredients such as retinoids, antioxidants and peptides are important for stimulating certain pathways in the skin that lead to an anti-ageing effect. However, no existing technology focuses on supporting the skin’s immune system,” she says. “The barrier, comprised of the stratum corneum, acid mantle and microbiome, is the skin’s first line of defence against environmental aggressors,” she explains. “If this structure is not supported at all times, inflammatory pathways become activated. Inflammation is the skin’s enemy. Chronic inflammation will negate any benefits the skin gets from any ingredient it is exposed to.” By maintaining the integrity of the skin barrier – of which bacteria is a key player - she points out, it allows the active ingredients in our skincare to do their job properly, thereby protecting our investment in them.

Are we talking live bacteria?

No. Both Aurelia and Glowbiotics use inactive forms. “Putting living bacterial cells in skincare formulations poses potential instability issues - mostly products requiring refrigeration,” points out Christine. “We extract the most beneficial components of the probiotic that we can, then use them in stable skincare formulations.” The bacteria is put through a special fermentation process, she explains, making them completely stable while keeping all of the immune boosting benefits.

Aurelia uses a non-live probiotic from bifido bacteria in the form of a glycoprotein (a molecule which helps cell-to-cell communication). “We then combine it with milk proteins to protect and restore your skin from within,” says Claire. “They calm the natural immune triggers in your skin which can be overstimulated by pollution and stress and reduce the damage these immune triggers cause to collagen, elastin and healthy cells.”

Just as prebiotics – the food that bacteria feed on – are vital for our gut, the same is true in probiotic skincare. “Prebiotics are considered nutritional sources for the existing healthy probiotics that naturally reside on the skin, supporting their vitality and strength,” explains Christine. “Of all the prebiotics available in research, we chose beta glucan, acting not only as a prebiotic but a powerful stimulator of collagen as well.”

MORE GLOSS: How to boost your gut health on a budget

What a cosmetic doctor says

Cosmetic doctor and anti-ageing specialist, Dr Frances Prenna Jones believes that probiotic skincare can be beneficial, but in certain circumstances and depending on the probiotic used. An advocate of probiotic supplements predominantly, (due to the greater level of research behind them she notes), she has seen cases of skin inflammation and instances of over colonisation, i.e. excess bacteria, in particular benefit from topical options. “The best results I have seen personally are with atopic dermatitis,” she says.

“I am totally pro probiotics, but the mechanism of action on the skin orally is different from their mechanism of action when applied topically,” Dr Prenna Jones comments. “Orally, they not only help dampen down subliminal inflammation within the body which leads to ageing, but they can also treat chronic conditions such as unstable angina. This is due to their ability to help balance our hormones by reducing the stress response in our bodies caused by bacterial overgrowth which leads to swings in cortisol and therefore insulin and subsequently other hormones - this is called the gut-brain-skin axis.” She adds, “There is great evidence for their use orally in atopic dermatitis, acne and rosacea.”

Her probiotic supplement of choice? Dr Ohhria’s Probiotics Professional Formula capsules , £49.99. “I always recommend that [oral probiotics] be taken twice a day and be a non-dairy source, as dairy is in itself a proinflammatory,” she advises.

What do we think?

While orally, probiotics are widely seen as a ‘supplemental superhero’ of sorts, topically, it seems that the consensus might not be as clear-cut. From our experiences, products containing probiotics in them have produced some noteable calming and rebalancing results with our testers commenting that they feel distinctly less stripping than others they've tried. That being said though, they do also come with other skincare goodies in them too to provide a multi-pronged approach towards skin health. However, whether due to their probiotic content or because of the other ingredients in them, some have certainly left a lasting impression on us with a few star products having found a solid place in our beauty regimes. Here are our favourites.

Aurelia Probiotic Skincare Revitalize & Glow Serum, £57

Leaving skin dewy and healthy looking, this fast-absorbing serum refreshes skin beautifully thanks to its combination of omega 3, 6 and 9-containing botanicals, vitamin E, probiotics and skin de-stressers. A must-have in the no makeup stakes in our Art Editor Sarah McGinnis' opinion.

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Elizabeth Arden Superstart Skin Renewal Booster, from £45

Containing a probiotic complex designed to support skin’s natural anti-microbial properties, this pre serum/moisturiser daily addition seeks to boost skin’s barrier and also increase the efficacy of whatever you put on top.

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Glowbiotics Probiotic Hydraglow Cream Oil, £47

A lightweight hybrid pick that’s ideal for achieving glowy dewy skin, our Editor Victoria Woodhall counts this as her go-to when opting to go makeup-free. Also containing shea milk and abyssinica seed oil to hydrate and light-reflecting minerals for luminosity, it makes going barefaced all the more appealing.

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MORE GLOSS: What it’s like to go makeup-free for a month

Vichy Slow Age Fluid Moisturiser, £30

With a delicious texture that’s akin to a creamy pot of Yoplait, this dream of a daily moisturiser acts as a great way to help combat daily damage. Containing probiotic-derived bifidus designed to strengthen the skin barrier and dissolve dryness, an antioxidant cocktail of vitamin A, vitamin C and baicalin (whose roots come from traditional Chinese Medicine) and Vichy’s signature Thermal Spa Water, skin’s left both softer and suppler.

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TULA Urban Defence Hydrating Mist, £22

Refreshing and cooling, this portable probiotic pick makes for the most welcome of deskside companions. Hydrating, without being heavy, coconut water, stress-relieving ashwagandha extract, anti-inflammatory reishi, detoxifying algae and of course, probiotics, make for a fittingly replenishing summer cocktail.

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Glowbiotics Probiotic Ultra Rich Brightening Cream, £63

Whether used day or night, this rich cream provides a more intensively hydrating option for our Editor Victoria. Deeply moisturising, it seeks to restore radiance and luminosity and delivers on both counts.

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