The Unknown Impact of Probiotics on Acne

By Natalie Collier, MScN, June 6, 2019

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Ditching the Bumps

Acne is the most common skin condition in America. The majority of acne occurs in teenagers and young adults, but acne can occur at any point in life from infancy to adulthood in both men and women. Symptoms of acne may include whiteheads, blackheads, small red, tender bumps, pimples, nodules and/or cystic lesions. It often occurs on the face, neck, chest and back, and shoulders.

If you have suffered from acne outbreaks, you know how deflating these bouts can be. As a result, we’ve looked high and low for acne solutions. Some strange, some ridiculous, and some just straight made up. So which can we trust and which should we ignore? And do all solutions work the same for everyone? Well, in order to first understand how to stop acne, we need to figure out how it starts.

What is happening to my skin?

The skin has a natural microbiome and is host to a variety of microorganisms. A microbiome is a collection of microorganisms (think bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites) in a particular place.

When sebum, oil that keeps our skin naturally moisturized, traps dead skin cells inside a pore, it becomes clogged. As a result, acne appears. Sometimes bacteria that live on your skin as part of the skin microbiome get trapped inside the clogged pore where they can proliferate and intensify acne.

‘Propionibacterium acnes’ sounds like a type of acne but it is a type of bacteria that lives on the skin that, in excess, can contribute to pimples. Of course, the root cause of acne is not ever one-size-fits-all and will vary by the individual. A lot of the time, people have different hormone imbalances which will make people susceptible to acne in different ways.

Causes of acne can include:

  • Clogged pores
  • Increased hormone production
  • Hormone imbalance
  • Increased sebum (oil production)
  • Overgrowth of particular strains of bacteria or imbalance in the skin or gut microbiome

Other possible contributors to acne:

The Milk Mystery

Emerging research is also linking skin health to the health of the gut microbiome. The gut microbiome is home to a combination of organisms that may include bacteria, parasites, yeast and viruses. And it turns out humans have more bacteria in our body then we have human cells.

Crazy to think about but we are really 90% bacteria and only 10% human cells. With so many bacteria involved it should be no surprise that acne can be traced back to imbalances in the microbiome of the skin and gut.

Another important mention on the topic of acne is the link between milk consumption and acne. In a study by Harvard Health, it was found that teenage boys drinking skim milk had a higher occurrence of acne. This finding suggests that milk contains hormonal constituents that have an influence on endogenous hormones or is dairy consumption influencing the gut microbiome?

Several other similar studies also link dairy consumption with hormonal imbalances and acne but specific reasons why dairy has this impact currently remain unclear. 

Medications May Involve Side Effects

Microbiome imbalances of both the gut and skin can greatly impact skin health and may be a key factor in addressing acne. Standard treatment for acne may include retinoids and topical and/or oral antibiotics. However, the side effects of certain medications used for acne can range from mild to severe.

The risks of antibiotic therapy often used in the treatment for acne are well-known and may include antibiotic resistance, yeast infections and infection with a bacterium, Clostridioides difficile., also known as C. difficile. While topical antibiotics can dry out the skin and contribute to skin microbiome imbalance. The last resort medication used to treat acne is Accutane, a Vitamin A derivative known to have more serious side effects including:

  • Suicidal ideation
  • Irritable bowel disease
  • Psychosis
  • Depression
  • Hearing impairment
  • Liver dysfunction

Probiotics, Hormones, and Acne - A New Solution?

The research is showing that specific probiotics have been found especially beneficial in acne cases. An Italian study of 40 individuals on standard acne treatment studied the benefits of probiotics on acne as an adjunct to their standard treatment. Half of participants received 250mg of freeze-dried Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum as adjunct to standard acne treatment.

The results showed that the group receiving probiotics as an acne treatment improved clinical outcome and lesions. Other studies also reveal that the use of targeted probiotic therapy is effective to treat skin conditions such as acne. These treatments further suggest the link between microbial balance and acne.

Our Take on Probiotics and Acne

At Wellnicity, we suggest increasing beneficial bacteria in the gut microbiome by supplementing with a professional-grade probiotic. We advise our clients to include foods that are fermented and naturally rich in beneficial strains of bacteria such as kimchi, fermented pickles, sauerkraut, coconut water kefir and kombucha.

Another strain of bacteria that's been shown to be helpful for acne is streptococcus salivarius, a prominent member of the oral microbiota of healthy humans. Streptococcus salivarius has been shown to secrete a substance capable of inhibiting P. acnes, the bacteria often responsible for acne.

Other beneficial strain of bacteria include:

  1. Lactobacillus paracasei
  2. Enterococcus faecalis
  3. Lactobacillus plantarum
  4. Streptococcus salivarius
  5. Lactobacillus acidophilus
  6. Bifidobacterium bifidum

Topical application of probiotics has also been shown to modify the barrier function of the skin increasing antimicrobial properties of the skin.

Steps to addressing acne now:

  1. Now that you know the link between a healthy microbiome and skin, keep your gut healthy! Test your gut health and correct microbiome imbalances. GI support supplementation can also be included if the results show you need it.
  2. Supplement with targeted probiotics. Both oral and topical probiotics are also being utilized to help prevent acne symptoms. Probiotics have been shown to directly inhibit Propionibacterium acnes (the bacteria that can overgrow on your skin) through the production of antibacterial proteins.
  3. Ditch dairy. Even though cheese and milk are delicious, they may impact your skin, specifically acne. Whether it’s because of hormone imbalances or the impact it has on certain people’s microbiome, we aren’t exactly sure how dairy. What we do know are the results of the studies conducted on the impact of dairy on acne, and that there is certainly a correlation.

Other thoughtful considerations in acne care:

  • Love your liver. A distressed liver can impact your skin health including acne. Include liver-loving foods like cabbage, grapefruit, and ginger. Incorporating a professional-grade liver support product may also be helpful.
  • See your dermatologist and practice good skin care. This may include specific cleansers or serums to treat excess oil. Topical probiotics and spot treatments can also be helpful. If you are working with a healthcare practitioner to treat acne, consider how addressing these additional factors may be a helpful adjunct to further increase the outcome of your current treatment.
  • Balance hormones. Test your male or female hormones and take supplements such as DIM to help the body detoxify dirty hormones. DIM, which is present in cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts, will aid in healthy hormone balance. DIM will also mitigate some effect of excess environmental estrogen (xenoestrogens) from plastics, tap water and pesticides.

Contact your Wellnicity Clinical Nutritionists for easy suggestions on how to avoid dairy and/or to develop a customized supplement plan that includes a probiotic, liver support and DIM to support skin health.

No one should have to suffer through acne. Stop searching the internet for solutions that will never work and get in touch with someone who knows how to put a stop to skin irritation.