Can Probiotics Help Treat Acne?

For decades, acne has been the teenager’s curse, with self-esteem and social life often taking a beating because of them. For some, the agony continues well into adult life. How many treatments (“guaranteed results!”) and home-based remedies have we tried, desperately hoping something would work? Now it looks like a bowl of yogurt may go a long way in setting “bumpy face” right. Enter probiotics!

The Power Of Probiotics

Till a few decades ago, bacteria were dubbed the villain as far as disease and ill health were concerned. But then researchers found that our bowel contains a universe of microscopic organisms that produce valuable vitamins and enzymes, aid digestion and help maintain overall health. And these natural “good bacteria” can be modified using probiotics, supplements containing these bacteria in measured amounts, to treat medical conditions ranging from bowel diseases to severe infections. The good bacteria can also overcome harmful disease-causing bacteria and restore digestive balance. Lactobacillus, Streptococcus, and Bifidobacterium are some examples of beneficial bacteria. Extremely safe, they are a path-breaking therapeutic measure in treating digestion-related issues.1

Now the role of these probiotics in treating skin conditions such as acne and eczema is being hotly debated.

Action Of Probiotics

Probiotics essentially strengthen our immunity by releasing substances that can kill the bad bacteria. In conditions such as atopic dermatitis, commonly known as eczema, the redness and bumps are due to the body’s immune response to the infection-causing bacteria. Eliminating the harmful bacteria can help reduce the immune response and, subsequently, the redness and tenderness. A study conducted in Mexico found over 42 clinical trials in which probiotics helped improve skin conditions. The researchers concluded that probiotics were useful in treating inflammatory skin conditions such as acne and dermatitis and recommended that larger population studies be conducted in this area.2

Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium spp are considered the most useful in treating such skin conditions. They can be found in fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, miso and in foods such as garlic, barley, banana, onions,

and tomatoes. Supplements of these good bacteria are also available. However, you should take them only under the guidance of a physician.

More Than Just Skin-Deep

As long as 80 years ago, skin specialists theorized a connection between the gut and skin via the gut–brain–skin route. They suggested that through gut bacteria, inflammation in our body could reflect our emotional states, e.g. anxiety. In other words, high-stress emotions could compromise the intestinal lining, leading to toxins from diet being released into the blood stream and causing undesirable inflammatory reactions such as breakouts on skin. If you’ve had an attack of acne before a test, a date, or even before your period, this could be one reason.The presence of beneficial bacteria, in turn, can improve the integrity of the intestinal lining, reducing toxins and the subsequent inflammatory reactions.3 So, having a bowl of yogurt, a natural probiotic, might be the smartest thing to do if you’re stressed out and need to

control that breakout.

Probiotic Creams

You not only benefit from eating probiotics. They can also be used directly on the skin in the form of topical creams. When probiotics are applied directly on the inflamed part of skin, they may act in two ways.

  • Masking the inflammation-causing bacteria: The redness and itchiness of acne are caused by the body’s inflammatory response to infection-causing bacteria. Topical application of probiotics “masks” the bad bacterial presence, thereby reducing the inflammatory response.4
  • Killing the bacteria that cause acne: The good bacteria release certain metabolites (by-products of their growth) that cause acne-causing bacteria to die, thus eliminating the skin condition. One study found that S.epidermidis halts the growth of the acne-producing bacteria P. acnes by releasing enzymes that create small zones where the P.acnes cannot flourish, thereby preventing acne vulgaris.5

Probiotics Over Antibiotics?

Probiotics might be a safe bet for getting rid of acne, but are they better than the antibiotics used currently to treat acne? To seek answers, a study compared the efficacy of a commonly used antibiotic in treating acne called minocycline against probiotics and reviewed a combination of probiotics with minocycline in women with acne. Researchers noted that women who received both probiotics and minocycline showed maximum improvement as opposed to those who received only one of the two.6 With more conclusive research on the subject, we might even be able to do away with antibiotics (and the side effects they bring along) for acne.

The Final Verdict

Although the role of probiotics in treating acne has generated ample interest and is

promising, not enough large-scale trials have been conducted to make them a part of routine treatment. Probiotics is not yet a part of mainstream guidelines for skin specialists treating acne vulgaris or rosacea.7 Nevertheless, the world’s largest dermatology association, the American Academy of Dermatology suggests that patients with acne and rosacea talk to their skin specialist about having natural probiotics like yogurt in their diets or taking probiotics as supplements.8