Medically reviewed by Vicky Davis, FNP Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 5/24/2022
If you’ve spent time browsing the skin care aisle recently, you’ve almost certainly seen creams, lotions and other products that contain probiotics.
Probiotics are healthy bacteria that can be found in some foods, drinks and supplements. They play an important role in helping your digestive system to function. They’re also involved in the function of your skin.
The idea behind probiotics for skin is simple: by adding beneficial bacteria to your skin, you can “rebalance” its microbiome and improve its appearance.
While probiotics may offer some benefits for your skin, scientific research on their effects is very limited at the moment.
Below, we’ve explained what probiotics are, as well as the potential benefits they could have for your skin’s texture, appearance and general health.
We’ve also shared some simple tips that you can use to keep your skin’s bacterial balance ideal and avoid common issues.
Probiotics are a type of good bacteria, or friendly bacteria, that live on the surface layer of your skin, inside your digestive system and in other areas of your body. They play a key role in your ability to digest food, fight infections and maintain proper bacterial balance.
Although we usually think of bacteria as harmful, the reality is that our bodies are crawling with both good and bad bacteria.
Probiotics bacteria are an essential part of our skin microbiome — the collection of bacteria and other substances that live on and inside our skin. They live off the sparse nutrients supplied to the skin and provide defense against other, more harmful microorganisms.
In a way, you can think of your skin’s probiotic bacteria as your first line of defense — a sort of invisible army — that shields you from potentially harmful bacteria, fungi and other substances that can invade and infect your skin.
You can find probiotics in many foods, drinks and cooking ingredients. Fermented foods, such as yogurt, sauerkraut, miso, kombucha and certain types of cheese, are rich in good bacteria, although their effectiveness for skin care hasn’t been well studied.
You can also take in beneficial bacteria from probiotic supplements and care products, such as oral probiotics and topical probiotic creams, lotions and masks.
So, why are probiotics important for skin? The idea behind many probiotic skin care products is that they replace the good bacteria your skin loses throughout the day, such as when you wash your hands with antibacterial soaps or other personal hygiene products.
This day-to-day bacterial loss, many manufacturers of skin probiotic products claim, can play a part in skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis, dry skin, and even premature aging symptoms such as lines and wrinkles.
By replacing these lost bacteria, probiotics can supposedly repair damage to your skin and stop common skin issues from affecting your health and appearance.
Over the years, researchers have studied probiotics for their potential health effects. While most studies have produced mixed results, we do know that probiotics offer some health benefits.
For example, studies have found that probiotics may help to prevent diarrhea caused by the use of antibiotics and reduce the severity of ulcerative colitis. There’s also some evidence that certain probiotics may be effective for treating necrotizing enterocolitis and sepsis in infants.
However, research on probiotics for skin hasn’t yet produced any firm findings. One reason for this is that studying probiotics is extremely challenging, as there are so many different types of beneficial bacteria for researchers to investigate.
With this said, some research does suggest that certain probiotic strains may offer benefits for some skin issues, including a few chronic skin conditions.
Probiotics may also offer benefits for more common skin problems, such as sensitive skin that becomes inflamed and irritated easily.
Other research has found that certain probiotics might help to restore acidic skin pH, reduce the severity of oxidative stress, improve skin barrier function and provide protection against intrinsic and extrinsic skin aging.
These findings are certainly interesting, but it’s important to keep in mind that we don’t yet have a full understanding of how to most effectively use probiotics for smooth, healthy skin.
This means that using probiotics can involve some experimentation and “dialing in” before you find the specific products and habits that work best for your needs.
A variety of different probiotic bacteria are used in skin care products. Some common bacteria extracts that you might see on product labels include:
Lactobacillus. This lactic acid bacteria is linked to improvements in the skin’s ability to function as a protective barrier, as well as reductions in skin erythema (a skin rash that can develop due to inflamed or injured blood capillaries) and acne.
Bifidobacterium. Some types of bifidobacterium, such as Bifidobacterium longum, have been found to reduce skin sensitivity and improve the skin’s protective barrier function in people with reactive skin.
Streptococcus thermophilus. This bacteria may help increase ceramide production and promote skin hydration.
Vitreoscilla. This probiotic bacteria works similarly to digestive probiotics, with research showing that it can improve skin barrier function and reduce the severity of symptoms in people with atopic dermatitis (eczema).
Probiotics are available over the counter, meaning you can try them without having to visit your primary care provider.
Use the following tips to get the best results from probiotic skin products:
Start by increasing your dietary probiotic intake. Research suggests that oral use of probiotics may also provide benefits for your skin, as your gut and skin health are closely linked.
As a first step, try to increase your natural probiotic intake by eating yogurt, tempeh and other probiotic-rich food types. In addition to containing helpful probiotics, many of these foods are also rich in vitamins, minerals and other important nutrients.
Try using a probiotic supplement. Before you add a probiotic cream to your skin care routine, try taking a daily probiotic supplement. You can find probiotic capsules, powders and other products online and from most health food stores.
Try a probiotic face cream. If you’d prefer to apply probiotics directly to your skin, try to start with a probiotic face cream, mask or moisturizer. Test the product by applying it to a small patch of skin before applying it to other areas you’d like to target.
Don’t use probiotics as a replacement for skin medication. If you’ve been diagnosed with a skin condition, such as eczema, psoriasis or inflammatory acne lesions, probiotics may be helpful.
However, it’s important not to use skin probiotics as a replacement for medication. If you are prescribed medication, talk to your primary care provider or dermatologist before you use any probiotics as part of your skin care routine.
Understand that everyone’s skin is slightly different. Skin microbiota can vary from person to person, meaning the precise composition of bacteria on your skin will usually vary from that of your friends.
This means that probiotic supplements for glowing skin, acne or other skin worries that work for your friends or others may not produce the same results on your skin.
Our list of dermatologist-recommended skin care tips shares other techniques that you can use to keep your skin smooth, healthy and free of common issues such as acne.
Probiotics are a promising class of skin care ingredients, with studies suggesting that they may offer benefits for acne, dry skin and conditions such as atopic dermatitis.
However, research findings on probiotics for skin are mixed, and there’s not yet a standardized dosage or treatment plan for most probiotic skin care treatments. As such, adding probiotics to your skin care routine may involve some experimentation.
If you’re starting to get serious about skin care and want to find out how you can give your skin the nutrients and support it needs to look its best, you can access expert advice in our guide to building a face care routine.
You can also stock your skin care toolkit with effective, evidence-based products with our range of prescription skin care treatments for women.