truth about probiotics in skincare

Remember the good old days when you were running away from bacteria as fast as your little legs would carry you, lest they kill you off? Now you’re all rushing to eat them up, gobble them down, slather them on your skin…

My, how times have changed! There’s no doubt probiotics are the future of skincare. But, are we there yet? Or are all the probiotic creams that are flooding the skincare aisles atm surfing on a trend too quickly?

Mmm, the truth is somewhere in the middle. Here’s what you need to know in order to reap the benefits of probiotics skincare:

What Are Probiotics?

Did you know that your skin is covered in bacteria? Your body has more bacteria than cells! Eww, I know.

“You may not want to think of it, but your skin is not sterile,” adds dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner, M.D. “It is loaded with organisms like bacteria and yeast that are essential for proper functioning of the skin itself. We know disruptions of the microbiome is associated with altered skin barrier function. It is associated with dryness, premature aging, and even acne breakouts.”

Some of these bacteria are good. Some are bad. What matters is that they’re in balance. When a certain bacteria reproduces and spreads too much, you get acne, dandruff and other annoying stuff like that.

Up until now, we’ve dealt with them with antibiotics, ie stuff that kills the bad bacteria. But, lately, someone thought, “Mmmm, why not take the opposite approach? Why not give skin more of the good bacteria?”

Probiotics are ‘micro-organisms that can benefit their host’, says Marie Drago, founder of probiotic skincare brand, Gallinée, ‘but I just tend to call them good bacteria!’ They’re microorganisms that occur naturally within and on your skin. Each person has their own distinctive, ever-changing combination of these microorganisms (microbiome). Their job is to strengthen your skin and restore or maintain a good balance of bacteria.

Struggling to put together a skincare routine that minimises wrinkles, prevents premature aging, and gives your complexion a youthful glow? Download your FREE “Best Anti-Aging Skincare Routine” to get started (it features product recommendations + right application order):

How Do Probiotics In Skincare Work?

Quick science lesson: your skin has a natural pH of 4.7. At this pH, it’s perfectly healthy and well-equipped to fight off the bad bacteria and all the havoc they cause (think acne or eczema).

When you mess with your skin’s pH, bad things happen. Take cleansing. You can’t not wash your face but most cleansers on the market have a high pH that ranges between 7 and 12! Harsh cleansers destroy the protective barrier on your skin (you know when this happens: your skin turns all dry and red). This changes your microbiome (the population of bacteria on your skin): the good bacteria slowly disappear and the bad ones take hold.

It’s not just harsh cleansing that can change your skin’s microbiome and cause havoc on your skin. Sun damage, pollutants, a diet full of processed foods, and irritating skin care products can all have the same damaging effect.

That’s where probiotics come in. Probiotics can lower your skin’s pH and restore the balance that allows the good bacteria to flourish.

Related: Why You Should Switch To A Low Ph Cleanser (Plus My Fave Picks)

Benefits Of Probiotics For Skin

Probiotics are vital for skin health. Now you know how they work, here are all the ways they benefit your skin:

Probiotic Skincare For Sensitive Skin: Does It Work?

Sensitive skin usually has a compromised skin barrier that lets moisture out and irritants in. Probiotics can rebuild and strengthen your skin’s protective barrier, repairing the damage and soothing irritations. They also help build skin’s natural immunity against the germs, irritants, and other skin enemies that try to harm it.

A lot of sensitivities are also caused by a bacteria imbalance. People with atopic dermatitis, for example, have a high amount of the bacteria Staphylococcus Aureus in their skin microbiome. Applying Lactobacillus Johnson regularly reduces the number of S. Aureus, decreases atomic dermatitis symptoms, and helped skin heal faster.

If you have sensitive skin, it makes sense to add probiotics to your skincare routine.

Probiotic Skincare For Anti-Aging: Does It Work?

Pollutants are one of the main causes of free radicals, the nasty molecules that make your skin age faster, give you wrinkles, and create dark spots. Probiotics are able to boost your skin’s natural defences, making it more resilient to the attacks of pollutants, helping to prevent free radicals damage. So no, they don’t reduce the wrinkles and dark spots you already have. But they can help prevent new ones from forming.

2016 study summarised the scientific literature on probiotics and found they “can restore acidic skin pH, alleviate oxidative stress, attenuate photoaging, improve skin barrier function, and enhance hair quality.” Oxidative stress means free radicals damage. Attenuating photoaging means reducing sun damage. Put them together and probiotics help you reduce skin damage and age slowly.

Probiotic Skincare For Acne: Does It Work?

Some emerging studies show that Lactobacillus (a type of bacteria usually found in yoghurt) can help treat acne. “By calming and balancing the inflammatory response within the skin, probiotics can also help to soothe acne-prone skin from within,” says Claire Vero, founder of Aurelia Probiotic Skincare. Acne is an inflammatory disease, so anything that can bring down the inflammation helps to heal it faster. I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the future, we saw more acne treatments using probiotics. It’s a gentler way than current acne treatments (think Benzoyl Peroxide and sulfur) to starve acne and get your clear skin back too.

How To Make The Most Of Probiotics In Skincare

In skincare, there’s no silver bullet. No single active can give you amazing-looking skin on its own. Probiotics are no exception. They work better when used with PREbiotics. Prebiotics boost the growth of PRObiotics and helps them do a better job. Plus, as mentioned above, probiotics also break down into probiotics, like Hyaluronic Acid, that further support skin’s health. For best results, look for a moisturiser that contains pre-, pro-, and post- biotics.

What Are The Best Probiotics For Skincare?

Just like you can’t single out an antioxidant for being better than all the rest, you can’t single out a single probiotics over others. Here’s what you should be looking for on the ingredient list:

Xylitol Lactobacillus Hyaluronic Acid Lysates (derivatives of probiotics)
Rhamnose Bifidabacterium Peptides
Glucomannan Vitreoscilla Ceramides

Let’s take a closer look at two of the most common probiotics in skincare products.

Bifida Ferment Lysate

Most of the research on Bifida Ferment Lysate has been done by L’Oreal. Of course, they say it’s a miracle worker that can repair DNA damage, hydrate your skin and turn the clock back 20 years. If only!

But, I’ve found an independent study that shows Bifidobacterium Longum Lysate soothes inflammation, reduces dryness and increases “skin resistance against physical and chemical aggression“.

If your skin is very dry or becomes irritated and throws a tantrum every time it comes in contact with something new, this bacteria could save the day.


Lactobacillus Plantarum is a bacteria that works by creating antimicrobial peptides. According to a 2012 study, it can reduce erythema, repair skin’s barrier and help treat acne. But, only in concentrations of 5% or higher. Lower amounts are useless. Guess what? Skincare companies don’t usually use that much. 🙁

NOTE: Skincare products don’t usually contain living microorganisms. There’s no point. The preservative system in the formula would simply kill them off. Instead, brands use probiotic lysates or ferments, non-living ingredients derived from probiotics that deliver the same benefits. But they spoil easily, so choose products packaged in opaque tubes and bottles that keeps them safe from the light and air that’d make them go bad.

Do Probiotics In Skincare Really Work?

It’s important to understand there are still big gaps in research on probiotics for skin. These gaps make a lot of experts sceptical about their use in skincare.

For starters, probiotics in skincare are dead. That’s a problem. The good bacteria on your skin are alive. If you want to replenish them and rebalance your microflora, you need live bacteria. But how can live bacteria live in a skincare product? What can they eat there? Atm, you simply can’t put live bacteria in skincare creams. 🙁

“Live bacteria require certain conditions to ensure they stay alive, for example, adequate nutrients, correct oxygen levels and temperature. These are not generally easy to provide in the context of a skincare product,” says Laura Marinelli, PhD, a scientific advisor at Ellis Day Skin Science.

So, are probiotics useless? We don’t know yet. “There is simply not enough evidence to be able to confidently establish whether probiotics in skincare actually work or have any significant or valuable benefit when applied topically to the skin,” says Dr Ana.

“[Probiotic skincare] can have moisturising and skin calming benefits,” says dermatologist Dr Anjali Mahto, “but it’s questionable whether it’s the lysate or the other ingredients contributing to that effect. The science is interesting but I don’t think we are ready to manipulate [probiotics] for our skin just yet.”

And yet… There are a handful of studies that show benefits. So what’s going on here? My friend Cheryl of Honesty For Your Skin explains it perfectly on her blog:

“In the same way a flu vaccine uses dead bacteria to teach your immune system to build resilience, dead-probiotic cultures also directly teach your skin’s immune system to be healthier.” Simple, right?

Probiotics Side Effects

Probiotics are generally considered to be safe. However, if you have sensitive skin, there’s always the small chance you can develop redness, itchiness, dryness, and irritation. As always, do a patch test before using anything new on your skin, just to be on the safe side.

What Are The Best Skincare Products With Probiotics?

If you have dry or sensitive skin that gets irritated easily or are dealing with eczema, here are the best probiotics skincare products that can help:

  • Allies Of Skin PSA Goals Multi Acids & Probiotics Perfecting Night Serum (£45.00): An exfoliating serum to brighten skin. It’s enriched with probiotics to soothe the potential irritation of exfoliation and reduce redness. Available at Cult Beauty, Liberty, and Revolve.
  • Aurelia The Probiotic Concentrate (£42.00): A hydrated serum loaded with probiotics to plump up skin and soothe redness. Available at Aurelia London, Beauty Bay, Cult Beauty, Sephora, and SpaceNK.
  • Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair Synchronized Multi-Recovery Complex Serum ($80.00): A soothing serum with probiotics to soothe redness and calm down irritations. Hydrating, it’s most suitable for sensitive skin. Available at Boots, Estee Lauder, Net-A-Porter, Sephora, and Ulta.
  • Juice Beauty Freshly Squeezed Glow 20% Vitamin C Serum ($65.00): An antioxidant-rich serum with 20% Vitamin C to brighten skin and prevent wrinkles. It also has probiotics to counteract the drying effect of Vitamin C for younger-looking skin without irritation. Available at Credo Beauty, Juice Beauty, Sephora, and Ulta.
  • Missha Time Revolution Night Repair Ampoule 5X ($54.00): A hydrating serum with soothing probiotics and antioxidants for younger-looking skin. Available at Soko Glam, Stylevana and Yes Style.
  • Neogen Real Ferment Micro Mist ($28.00): A hydrating mist enriched with probiotics and niacinamide to deeply soothe skin and plump up fine lines and wrinkles. Available at Soko Glam.

The Bottom Line

Probiotics aren’t a must. It’ll take a long time before we can put live bacteria in a cream or serum. Until then, they can only train your immune system not to throw a tantrum so often. If you have dry or sensitive skin, they’re worth a try.