Your skin and your gut

Want Perfect Skin? Take Excellent Care of Your Gut

If you’ve ever suffered from dullness or pesky breakouts (or still do), you’ve probably tried your fair share of cleansers, serums and spot treatments. Sometimes, they help revitalize your skin; other times, no matter how much you slather on, the zits and lackluster tone persist. If the latter is your life right now, you might want to starting paying attention to your gut.

Changes in your gut can directly influence your skin. That’s right—it's not just what you eat, but also the bacteria in your stomach and intestines that impact the state of your complexion, making the difference between clear and smooth or acne-ridden. The gut and skin connection was made over 75 years ago by John H. Stokes and Donald M. Pillsbury, who also proposed a link between intestinal microflora and disorders like depression and anxiety.[1] 

In recent years, evidence has mounted in this department, forging an even stronger link between the gut and skin health. It usually has to do with an imbalance of gut bacteria (less good bacteria and more bad), which leads to inflammation of the skin. Eating foods rich in fat and sugar and regularly taking antibiotics can significantly alter the balance of bacteria in the gut. But fear not! Probiotics can help restore this balance, leading to healthier, clearer skin.

The Gut Microbiome

Gut microbiota, the community of microorganisms residing in your gastrointestinal tract, are essential for good health. A healthy microbiome aids in digestion by breaking down food, helps absorb nutrients and fights off pathogens that cause certain illnesses. Hundreds of species of bacteria, and trillions of microbes, co-exist in your gut, and any imbalance can cause health concerns.[2] In addition to issues like bloating, diarrhea, stomach pain and constipation, an imbalance of gut microbiota can also influence the immune system, making one more susceptible to illness and disease.[3]

There is evidence that many metabolic diseases begin in the gut, when bacteria known as endotoxins actually “leak” through into the rest of your system. Evidence has also linked certain gut microbiota to obesity, insulin resistance and chronic inflammation.[4] Gut microbiota is best when it's diverse, as a variety of bacteria allows for better resilience.  

When it comes to skin health, bacteria either prevent or enhance inflammation. Good bacteria, like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria, strengthen the lining of your gut, preventing microbial toxins from passing into your system. Meanwhile, bad bacteria, like Enterobacteriaceae (associated with inflammation), as well as fungi (yeast) and certain pathogens and viruses, increase gut permeability, essentially increasing the space between gut cells. When the microbial toxins are able to successfully pass into the rest of your body, it puts your immune system on high alert. Once the immune system gets going trying to fight off those toxins, it causes inflammation, resulting in acne flare-ups. In fact, inflammation markers called cytokines have been found to be especially high in people with acne.[5] Overall, it’s a recipe for disaster.

The Importance of Probiotics

There is a solution to the gut-acne problem – probiotics. Probiotics are considered crucial in helping to restore good bacteria in the intestines. Alternatively, antibiotics kill bad bacteria, but they also wipe out good bacteria, leading to an imbalance in the gut.

Yogurt and kefir are two examples of probiotics that have been proven to increase good bacteria in the gut, thereby also providing certain health benefits. Fermented foods like kimchi, tempeh and sauerkraut are also known for containing good bacteria. However, it is important to note that plain yogurt and kefir are best, as flavored versions include a lot of added sugars. Furthermore, some grocery store yogurts only contain bacteria like L. bulgaricus and S. thermophilus, which are not quite the type of good bacteria you want in your system. Many grocery store yogurts have also been pasteurized, and pasteurization kills a lot of that good, friendly bacteria essential for better health. Instead, look for yogurts that say “live, active cultures” on the label.[6] If fermented foods and drinks aren’t really your thing, though, try taking probiotics in supplement form.

Science backs up the use of probiotics in helping improve skin clarity.  For example, it’s been found that people who consume more yogurt have more Lactobacilli in their intestines and fewer Enterobacteriaceae.[7] Incidentally, one study involving 56 participants found that consuming a Lactobacillus-fermented dairy drink improved signs of acne over the course of 12 weeks.[8] Other studies have shown that probiotic supplements reduce systemic inflammation markers and oxidative stress.[9] By fighting inflammation-causing bacteria like Enterobacteriaceae, probiotics help reduce inflammation in the skin, which in turn results in far less acne breakouts and flare-ups.

How To Use Probiotics For Clearer

A bit of experimentation is in order if you want to determine whether probiotics can help improve the quality of your skin. Like many treatment options, it might not necessarily work for everyone. Aim to take probiotic supplements that contain 20 to 50 billion live organisms per dose and also contain the essential Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria.[10]

Monitor yourself to see if symptoms improve. It may take several weeks before your skin begins to clear up. In addition to ingesting probiotics daily (either via supplement or by drinking a glass of kefir, and preferably with food), you can try to clear up your diet by removing excess fats, artificial sweeteners and sugars, and loading up on fiber.

The gut-skin connection is real, and any shift in the delicate balance of bacteria can have an impact on your looks. To substantially improve your skin health, making probiotics a regular part of your diet can do wonders.