When you hear about probiotics, it’s usually in reference to gut health. After a round of antibiotics, or when you want to increase immunity, it’s important to build up all the good bacteria in there. They keep the body in perfect harmony, and help fend off the bad bacteria. And, in a year where we’re hellbent on killing germs and sanitizing everything, the topic of probiotics and “healthy biomes” is more important than ever.
However, it’s not just the gut where these good bacteria reside. These microorganisms also live on our skin, where they have a similar task of maintaining equilibrium, thus keeping skin clear and healthy. And between over-washing our hands and applying dozens of different products to our body—with little care for this skin biome and its balance—most of us are walking around with an out-of-whack biome. And that’s often why your skin breaks out, turns reddish, or becomes inflamed.
But in what way do they promote that strength and good health? “The biome has a very delicate balance, controlled both by the organisms on our skin but also our skin’s pH,” says board-certified dermatologist Heather Rogers, founder of Doctor Rogers skincare. You’ve probably heard about pH balance before—it often refers to how something reacts with our skin, by measuring how acidic or basic that product or thing is, on a scale of 14: “Zero is the most acidic, and 7 is neutral, while 14 is the most basic,” says Rogers. “A pH around 5.5 is the healthiest for our skin, with the best barrier of natural oils and microorganisms. This creates a wonderfully protective shield or acid mantle for the skin.”
Because of this, we often discuss the skin’s biome and pH balance in the same breath, since they’re so commonly tied together. “They are both affected, for better or for worse, by what we consume, what we put on our skin, how we treat our skin, and how we feel,” says Rogers. And when the skin is especially red, inflamed, irritated, or breaking out, then it’s often because it lacks that pH/biome harmony.
As an example, Rogers points to over-washing your face with too much soap: “This can increase the pH of your skin because soap is basic (high pH) and raises the pH of your skin. This will change the microenvironment of the skin barrier, making the natural oils work less well and harder for the good microbes to live and help the skin. This leads to the skin shield becoming less protective, and increases the risk of irritation and inflammation.” It’s a lot to wrap your head around, but think of it in simpler terms—that certain products are too harsh on your skin, and aggravate these kinds of problems—then you can start to take steps toward rebuilding this biome harmony and improving your complexion in the process.
“To stop this cycle, you have to be very thoughtful and selective in what you are doing with your skin,” Rogers says. “People often make the mistake that their skin needs more, furthering the irritation.” Instead, this is when you should stop using most of your usual products, and focus on doing less.
The Biome-Rebalancing Probiotic Skincare Regimen
Here is a simple, minimalist regimen that Rogers prescribes to her patients when their skin needs rebalancing—in that the skin is inflamed, irritated, and likely stripped of all good bacteria, as well as out of whack on the pH front.
Follow these steps to help you rebuild, promote, and protect the skin biome, and steadily get your skin back to its naturally balanced, harmonious state.
- Splash your face with lukewarm water, in lieu of using a full-on cleanser.
- Apply a thick, hypoallergenic face cream. Pick one with ingredients that nourish and calm the skin, she says. These include squalane, shea butter, and niacinamide. We like Ghost Democracy daily probiotic moisturizer with niacinamide ($28; ghostdemocracy.com).
- After that, apply a mineral sunscreen (one with zinc or titanium), and reapply during the day, as needed. (Every two hours if you’re exposed to direct sun.) Try Salt & Stone mineral SPF 30 sunscreen ($18; saltandstone.com).
- “Wash your face with a pH-balanced gentle cleanser (something less than 6),” she says. If that’s confusing to you, just know that it keeps your skin balanced by gently cleansing it without any stripping, biting agents. “Remember, no scrubbing, exfoliating, or anti-aging treatments,” she adds. “Your skin can only tolerate these when it is strong, doing it now will only cause irritation, aging the skin.” We recommend Dr. Brandt pH-balanced probiotic yogurt cleanser ($35; sephora.com).
- Just as you did in the morning, apply a thick hypoallergenic face cream, with calming, harmonious ingredients like squalane, shea butter, and niacinamide.
- Rogers also suggests avoiding foods that give you inflammation (which varies from one person to the next), and to consider taking oral probiotics. “Pick one especially formulated for skin flora, and not just the gut,” she says. Try HUM skin and gut probiotic supplement ($40; amazon.com).
5 More Probiotic Grooming Products to Add to Your Regimen
1. Zents Probiotic Shea Butter Hand Cream
What better time than now to deliver extra nourishment (not to mention, promote good bacterial growth). Zents’ hand cream has hydrating hyaluronic acid, smoothing shea butter, and probiotic peptides.
2. Mother Dirt Probiotic Mist
This body spray contains water, salt, and live ‘ammonia-oxidizing bacteria’ which settle into the skin to fend off bad bacteria, while also preserving skin’s healthy pH balance.
3. Zero Taboos Prebiotic Foam Body Wash
As a prebiotic body cleanser, Zero Taboos’ product helps feed the natural, good bacteria in your skin. You get clean, they get stronger.
4. Gallinée Prebiotic Hair and Scalp Serum
Spritz this serum into the hair and onto the scalp. It uses fermented rice water to fuel the good bacteria. In turn, that promotes healthy, strong hair, while preventing dandruff and itching.
5. Tom’s of Maine Prebiotic Deodorant
By using xylitol and yogurt extract, this refreshing deodorant delivers biome-friendly ingredients while also promising 48 hours of odor protection.
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