Does your complexion seem dry, red, or plain out of sorts? The good bacteria known as probiotics may be able to help.

By Deanna Pai
June 04, 2019
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Bacteria live in your pores and every layer of skin. Some bacteria are bad, like the ones that contribute to acne. But there are also good bacteria that help take care of your skin. Like therapists for your complexion, “These bacteria keep our skin cells calm and happy,” says Whitney Bowe, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City and the author of The Beauty of Dirty Skin ($15.37, Amazon). Tasked with keeping skin moisturized, stimulating collagen production, and defending against infections, good bacteria are essential for maintaining plump, healthy skin.

Image courtesy of Getty.

So where can things go wrong? Anything that removes bacteria—harsh cleansers, frequent exfoliation, or antibacterial ingredients—leads to imbalance in the many strains present in skin. In fact, our hygiene habits often hurt the more delicate good bacteria and spare the hardier bad bacteria.

“When one or two types of bacteria start to overgrow, they end up crowding out the other bacteria and create a shift in the natural balance,” Bowe says. “When that happens, inflammation sets in.” This can lead to skin conditions such as acne, rosacea, and eczema. An imbalance also reduces the natural anti-aging benefits of bacteria, such as increased moisture and the production of hydrating molecules called ceramides.

Restoring balance takes a two-pronged approach. First, cleanse with care. Wash only with a gentle formula, meaning one that doesn’t leave skin feeling tight or squeaky-clean like Tula Purifying Face Cleanser ($28, Ulta), and limit exfoliation with scrubs or chemical exfoliants (like acids and enzymes) to twice a week. Second, reintroduce good bacteria with prebiotic or probiotic skin-care products; we recommend Algenist Alive Prebiotic Balancing Mask ($38, Sephora). “Probiotics are the living strains [of good bacteria],” Bowe says. “And prebiotics are the food those living strains like to eat. You can think of them as the fertilizer for probiotics.”

In addition to beauty products with prebiotics and probiotics, try Bowe’s DIY mask: Combine a cup of plain, full-fat Greek yogurt (with live probiotics); half an avocado; and 1 Tbsp. honey. Mash together and apply to clean skin. Leave on 15 minutes then rinse off. Pat skin dry and apply moisturizer. Or, you can try out Yes To Superblueberries Recharging Greek Yogurt and Probiotics Mask ($8, Ulta) for a store-bought version.


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