Are friendly bacteria the secret to ageless skin?

In our pandemic-addled world, the notion that bacteria can be our best friends might sound rather counter-intuitive, but it’s the truth. Every surface of your body is covered in gazillions of microscopic critters that form a delicate ecosystem called the microbiome – a sort of microbial Eden Project.

Far from bringing disease, it maintains balance, fights off infection, and is instrumental in all kinds of regenerative processes.

The gut microbiome has a particularly massive impact on our health, from physical ailments to even mental health. But skin also has its own surface population of billions of microbes now known to be vital in regulating countless skin cell processes.

"Even two years ago, bacterial boffins scoffed at the idea of probiotic topicals," says Rob Calcraft, creator of Cultured Biomecare, a new 'microbiology first' skin range. "Today, tons of new research shows that protecting and feeding the skin microbiome has far-reaching benefits."

How do friendly bacteria help our skin?

“The skin microbiome helps modulate the immune system, 'teaching' it to kill bad bacteria and free radicals, and quelling inflammation,” says doctor of pharmacy and Gallinée founder, Marie Drago. “Friendly bacteria also secrete acids and ceramides that fortify the skin’s protective, moisture-preserving layer.”

And that means skin will age more slowly, says Georgie Cleeve, founder of Oskia skincare. “A strong barrier better withstands environmental ageing factors such as pollution, dehydration and stress, all of which can cause hyperpigmentation and fine lines.”

How else can it make my skin look better?

The benefits of nurturing the microbiome go deeper than the exterior barrier. “The bacteria on the surface communicate with skin’s deeper layers, triggering changes on a cellular level,” says Calcraft. “They ‘order’ increased production of collagen (the protein responsible for keeping skin plump and bouncy), so they are effectively anti-ageing.”

Friendly bacteria also dial up production of acne-fighting antibacterial peptides, and there's evidence they’re involved in fighting UV damage as well.

This all means that consistent use of a good probiotic-based product could plump fine lines, soften age spots, and curb outbreaks. “I’m convinced we’re looking at the future of anti-ageing, and skincare in general – without the irritating side effects,” says Calcraft.

How to boost your bugs

So what should a microbiome-loving skin regime involve? "One: it should never upset the buggy ecosystem, and two: it should fertilise it, like plant food for your skin," says Calcraft.

Protect it

• Avoid acid mantle-stripping sulphates, soap, alcohol or bactericides, and instead use cleansers with mild, plant-derived surfactants. These remove filth and bad bacteria but leave the friendly ones and essential lipids at peace.

• Check labels: high levels of preservatives like phenoxyethanol and parabens aren’t great for your microbiome.

• Beware aggressive exfoliants such as glycolic acid or harsh grainy scrubs. These may give ‘glowing’ skin, but as well as getting rid of dead skin cells they tear into the live ones underneath. This causes inflammation which ages skin, and may also trigger inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema, rosacea, and adult acne. Try milder acids like lactic and malic instead, and never to go overboard. "A once-a-week acid exfoliation is ideal," says Cleeve.

Feed it

• Probiotics are actual friendly bacteria in your skincare. They are usually served up ‘cooked’ but recognised by skin cells as live organisms, setting off regenerative processes. Specially selected probiotic strains can regulate ageing inflammation and suppress collagen-destroying enzymes, among other things.

• Prebiotics are another division of the bio-army. These are the plant fibres and sugars that friendly bacteria love to feed on to proliferate. Look out for a vegan feast of chicory, oats and xylitol.

• Postbiotics are probiotic ‘output’ (poo, really) such as lactic acid, ceramides, hyaluronic acid and peptides that can be added for their skin-transforming powers. Hyaluronic acid, for example, tops up moisture, while specific postbiotic peptides can help boost elasticity.

All work synergistically so the more of these you find in your probiotic skincare, the better.

The best biotic boosters

Gallinée Prebiotic Face Oil, £35 here

A fast-absorbing super-soother featuring lipids from an ancient volcanic probiotic species shown to strengthen skin’s defences against environmental damage.

Cultured Biome One Mask, £48 here

A blend of mild succinic, malic and lactic acids plus pre and postbiotics that will remove dead skin cells, letting plump, fresh ones come to the surface, while also nurturing the skin barrier.

Liz Earle Pro-Biotic Balancing Milk Cleanser, £18 here

Preserves the good, youthful skin-preserving guys and feeds them with probiotic lactobacillus and fermented oats.

Oskia Rest Day Comfort Cream, £58 here

Settles besieged, irritated skin with barrier-healing lipids, soothing vitamins, microalgae and probiotics. Remember: calm skin is slow-ageing skin.

La Roche-Posay Lipikar Baume AP+M Triple-Action Balm, £20 here


This combats skin-ageing eczema by limiting the proliferation of inflammatory bacteria while helping beneficial ones thrive.

Meder Circa-Night Overnight Restorative Biohack Cream, £98 here


Features a deep-sea probiotic that activates wrinkle-softening collagen production.

Inge is author of Great Skin: Secrets the Beauty Industry Doesn’t Tell You (Gibson Square, £9 here). For all the latest beauty launches, trends and hacks, sign up to the OK! Daily Newsletter now

Source: Read Full Article