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January 11, 2022
When people talk about probiotics, gut health is probably the first thing that comes to mind. What many people do not realize is that the surface of the skin is home to an equally diverse array of microorganisms, such as bacteria. These microorganisms, both good and bad ones, form our skin microbiome that provides the first line of defense against environmental aggressors, toxic substances, and harmful organisms.
Unfortunately, when this balance is off, which can be caused by genetics, pollution, products that damage the skin barrier such as foaming cleansers, toners with alcohol and benzoyl peroxide, or even household cleansers, etc., a lot of skin issues will arise.
For instance, researches have found that people with eczema, rosacea, dermatitis and chronic acne are missing the good bacteria on their skin that help prevent inflammation, and have an overgrowth of bad bacterias, resulting in inflammations and disrupted skin immune function.
Another example is P. acnes, a type of bacteria associated with acne. There are actually 36 different bacterial strains in this group, and while one of them is known to cause acne, the other 35 are considered “good” bacteria that help the skin carry out necessary functions. The problem is, traditional acne treatments like benzoyl peroxide wipe out all bacteria on the skin surface, instead of targeting that one specific strain. The result, is an unbalanced microbiome and a whole lot more acne (on top of dryness).
As scientists understand more about how the skin’s microbiome affect skin health, there are a lot of products on the market that start to claim contain probiotics. Here’s what important to know——99%+ of these products do NOT actually contain probiotics. Yes, you read that right. In fact, class actions have been brought against skincare brands including Clinique and Tula for making false claims.
Let us first explain the differences between prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics.
Just like you need to eat to stay healthy and strong, the good bacteria also need to eat to thrive. In short, prebiotics are food for these good bacteria. Ingredients such as baobab, stevia, oat, dandelion and various berries are all prebiotics; and because they aren’t living organisms, they won’t be harmed by preservatives or anti-bacterial / anti-microbial agents.
Now, not all products would highlight this specific aspect in their product descriptions, but know that these ingredients do support the microbiome’s health, and thus are beneficial to have your skincare routine.
MARIE REYNOLDS LONDON
Butter Balm <- Click to shop
Brilliant Light Multi-Correction Repair Serum <- Click to shop
Smooth Operator Purifying Cleanser Gel <- Click to shop
MARIE REYNOLDS LONDON
Goji Mallow Cleanse™ <- Click to shop
Definition of Probiotics
In 2001, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the WHO officially defined probiotic as “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host”. The definition was further reinforced in 2013 by the International Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (“ISAPP”).
This essentially means, the widely accepted scientific definition around the world for probiotics equal live cultures, and thus if a product does not contain live cultures, it simply does not contain probiotics.
Benefits of Probiotics
Topical probiotics, aka the “good” live bacteria cultures, work by secreting anti-bacterial, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory substances that penetrate bad bacteria and kill them before they trigger an inflammation, whilst providing a protective shield to keep bad bacteria from reaching skin cells, inhibit the growth of bacteria, yeasts, fungi, and viruses, as well as calming parts of the skin cells that want to react to the bad bacteria, thus stopping them from sending an “attack” message to the skin’s immune system that leads to redness, swelling, patchy skin, or acne-like bumps.
This is why probiotics are excellent for skin with issues such as eczema, rosacea, psoriasis, topical dermatitis, and acne.
However, treating inflammations is not the only skincare benefit probiotics can provide.
For example, probiotics use different mechanisms, such as by lowering pH, to preserve skin health and to inhibit the growth of pathogens——an acidic skin environment is very important as it discourages bacterial colonization and provides a moisture barrier.
Studies have also demonstrated that used on wounds, probiotics can exert an immunomodulatory effect by inducing “wound healing-promoting substances”, such as cytokines and growth factors, and produce certain bacteriocins that can sustain a wound-healing process.
There are also studies that have shown probiotics to signiﬁcantly enhance skin elasticity by increasing self hyaluronic acid and collagen production, as well as reinforce the barrier function, and increase ceramide levels.
MARIE REYNOLDS LONDON
Restore <- Click to shop
False Claims of Products Containing Probiotics
Here is the problematic part——99%+ of products that claim to contain probiotics do not contain live cultures. This is because unless a product is in powder form or anhydrous, preservatives or antimicrobial agents are needed to keep products stable and prevent the proliferation of harmful microbes. This would render any probiotic cultures inert and therefore useless, as at the moment, there is no preservative system sophisticated enough to differentiate between “good” and “bad” bacteria.
In other words, only products that contain live cultures will be able to provide the activities and benefits mentioned above. As a consumer you WILL know, because they are ALWAYS specified and listed clearly by strains, and never ambiguous.
Class actions have been brought against companies including Clinique (for its Redness Solutions line) and Tula (for all of its products) over false advertising of their products containing probiotics and probiotic technology, when in fact, live cultures are absent. While Clinique’s trial is still ongoing, Tula has recently reached a US$5 million settlement.
A relatively newly defined category, the term refers to soluble, non-living factors (products or metabolic byproducts), secreted by live bacteria, or released after bacterial lysis, such as enzymes, peptides, teichoic acids, peptidoglycan-derived muropeptides, polysaccharides, cell surface proteins, and organic acids. They do not work like probiotics, but they may contribute to the improvement of skin health by improving specific physiological functions, even though the exact mechanisms have not been entirely elucidated.
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The answer is ﬁltrates, ferments, lysates, or ingredients that went through a combination of these processes, and they are non-living. Depending on how they are processed, some may contain bacteria cell components, which then make them postbiotics; whilst, those without are not even considered postbiotics. An example would be filtrates that have the bacterial cells removed along with potentially some other larger weight molecules (e.g., peptides). This might rid the end product of some of the bioactive compounds required to provide specific benefits, and therefore, are neither postbiotics nor probiotics.
In the ingredient list, they will appear as “xxx ferment”, “xxx lysate”, “xxx ferment lysate”, “xxx ferment filtrate”, or “xxx ferment lysate filtrate”, such as:
Now, although these ingredients do offer certain benefits, such as soothing, barrier-strengthening, and antimicrobial activities, they do NOT contain live bacteria and thus do NOT offer the aforementioned skin benefits that the full life cycle of live cultures can provide.
In conclusion, remember, a product that contains no live cultures but claims to contain probiotics is false advertising. And if a brand or retailer claims their product(s) without live cultures to be probiotic, then it simply shows their lack of knowledge and research, ignorance and integrity. Be a smart consumer!
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