The inclusion of probiotics in skincare products is gaining acceptance, but is it all marketing hype? Are we using actual live probiotics? Is there any science behind this trend? Read this blog to understand the facts and be an expert on the subject.
First of all, let’s look at the definitions of the term “Probiotic”. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) the definition of a probiotics is "live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host." There is disconnect between the use of this term and the actual definition in the cosmetic industry. I don’t believe it was ever intended to be deliberately misleading, but it is an incorrect term. There are only a couple of products that have been developed overseas that actually contain real live bacteria, and they have to be painstakingly developed, shipped with refrigeration, and must be stored in the fridge, as they cannot contain preservatives, or it will kill off the live cultures. These brands are not going to be the subject of the blog today, but I did want to make the point that they do exist.
Now that the proverbial horse has bolted, the term “probiotic” has been well established in the cosmetic industry, and since consumers look for this marketing claim, it is hard to change the language. It does represent the inclusion of probiotic cell lysates or bi-products, but let’s reaffirm the fact there is no such thing as “live probiotics” in skincare. If you see any claims stating that skincare products contain active or live probiotics it is untrue.
Now, to be clear, the probiotic lysates (biproducts) have been derived from various strains of probiotics such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, pentosus, and brevis, and they have been scientifically proven to have some benefit for the skin. The breakdown biproducts of tyndalized (heat killed) probiotics are actually very valuable to the skin and can help keep the skin healthy in a number of ways. The following cell components and metabolites of probiotics have been shown to have the following benefits:
Sphingomyelinase – increases ceramide synthesis
Lactic acid – As part of natural moisturising factor it hydrates the skin, as well as providing antimicrobial activity, and improving removal of dead cells.
Hyaluronic acid - Improves skin hydration and elasticity
Lipoteichoic acid and peptidoglycan - Stimulates production of skin’s natural antimicrobial peptides
Acetic acid – Antibacterial effect
Peptidoglycan – Increases tight junction function
Diacetyl – Antibacterial effect
As you can see there is real value in applying these probiotic bi-products to maintain the natural acidic pH of the skin, improve skin defence, reducing skin sensitivity, maintain a healthy barrier and relieve skin dryness.
Prebiotics are often included in skincare formulas and are basic oligosaccharides (sugar based substances) that nourish and support the health of our skin microbiome (natural commensal bacteria), and I do see value in adding these to formulas.
This is big subject and one that I have thoroughly researched. I have also attended the Skin Microbiome Conference in order to gain a deep understanding of this topic. I will be writing subsequent blogs on what causes a microbial imbalance on the skin and what sort of conditions this leads to as well as what can be done about it.