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Pre- and Probiotic Skin Care

It has become increasingly clear that our microbiome is a critical part of our health. From metabolism to sleep and brain function, the bacteria and other microorganisms that constitute our microbiome help maintain homeostasis. But did you know it’s just as essential to regulating the health and appearance of our skin?Let’s learn about the role of the microbiome in skin health and how to choose clean skin care to support it.

What Does the Microbiome Do for Skin?

The number one role of the skin microbiome is to regulate immune signaling between the host skin cells1. This host-microbe relationship is controlled by factors secreted from both the host cells (e.g.cytokines) and the microbes (e.g.metabolites used for energy or replenishing the acid mantle). The established healthy microbiota may even directly compete with pathogenic (disease causing) bacteria or viruses for available nutrients, forcing them to die off2.Recently, we’ve realized that alterations in the skin microbiome are closely linked with various types of dermatitis and acne2,3.

What are Pre- and Probiotics? 

Probiotics refers to the microorganisms that confer benefits to the host’s skin. Prebiotics refers to the nutritional needs of those microorganisms4. Recent advances in genomics have allowed us to better characterize the “normal” skin microbiome although this varies greatly between individuals and depends on the location of the skin region tested5. We’ve learned thatthere are common types of bacteria that appear consistently on healthy skin and we can topically apply mixtures of living or inactivated probiotics to boost the health of the skin microbiome. Application of products containing prebiotics takes it one step further and supplies nutritional support for the microorganisms. 

What are the most effective products for supporting the microbiome?

The most common probiotic ingredients in skin care are fermented bacterial lysates, typically in moisturizers. The bacteria are allowed to grow under high nutrient conditions and then inactivated before being included in the product.Prebiotic ingredients are typically plant-based fibers and sugars (often referred to as oligosaccharides)and other complex sugar molecules6. Research hasn’t demonstrated a clear case for which species of bacteria or combination of prebiotics is most beneficial so it’s recommended to examine studies of the specific ingredients in your products and understand how the prebiotics support the common microbiome species. However, evidence generally agrees that application of probiotics to the skin reduces skin sensitivity, supports wound healing, and improves hydration7,8. A moisturizer or serum is the best choice for applying pre- or probiotics as it allows for extended contact with the skin.Supporting these tiny creatures is a safe and unique way to boost skin health that is true to the biohacking pursuit!


1. Grice, E. A. & Segre, J. A. The skin microbiome.Nat Rev Microbiol 9, 244–253 (2011).

2. Nørreslet, L. B., Agner, T. & Clausen, M.-L. The Skin Microbiome in Inflammatory Skin Diseases.Curr Derm Rep 9, 141–151 (2020).

3. Blanchet-Réthoré, al. Effect of a lotion containing the heat-treated probiotic strain Lactobacillus johnsonii NCC 533 on Staphylococcus aureus colonization in atopic dermatitis.Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol 10, 249–257 (2017).

4. Maguire, M. & Maguire, G. The role of microbiota, and probiotics and prebiotics in skin health.Arch Dermatol Res 309, 411–421 (2017).

5. Byrd, A. L., Belkaid, Y. & Segre, J. A. The human skin microbiome.Nature Reviews Microbiology 16, 143–155 (2018).

6. Bustamante, al. Probiotics and prebiotics potential for the care of skin, female urogenital tract, and respiratory tract.Folia Microbiol (Praha) 65, 245–264 (2020).

7. Yu, Y., Dunaway, S., Champer, J., Kim, J. & Alikhan, A. Changing our microbiome: probiotics in dermatology.Br J Dermatol 182, 39–46 (2020).

8. Knackstedt, R., Knackstedt, T. & Gatherwright, J. The role of topical probiotics in skin conditions: A systematic review of animal and human studies and implications for future therapies.Exp Dermatol 29, 15–21 (2020).