Prebiotics and Probiotics in Skincare and the Difference Between Them

Lurking about in the skincare section may have introduced you to prebiotics and probiotics in skincare and chances are, you’re pretty much curious (or confused) about the differences between the two. Don’t worry, you are not alone. Well, there’s definitely more to it than a change from the letter “E” to the letter “O”.


rubbing in cream on a hand


The Microbiome

Before we can talk about prebiotics and probiotics, we need to understand what the microbiome is and how it essentially works. You see, our body is like a whole community in itself and it is home to trillions of tiny, microscopic elements like bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and lots of other things that are hard to pronounce. Kidding aside, it may sound scary at first but all these tiny organisms can actually work together to create the ideal setting for our skin to thrive and be protected from harmful factors. 

All is well in our skin microbiome as long as things are working in perfect balance. The variety of the microbes that populate this microbiome is quite crucial. As these organisms interact with each other, they can make or break the protective barrier they create in our skin. When this ecosystem breaks down, the skin’s defenses against infection and inflammation suffer. Our immunity against skin disorders such as hypersensitivity, allergies, eczema, rosacea, and acne is compromised. Our skin’s ability to soothe and repair itself weakens and it can cause premature skin aging and scarring.

Okay, enough with the scary thoughts. The bottom line is we need to take care of this colony of residents in our skin microbiome. We need to help them live a peaceful, happy life so that they can function well as our skin’s barrier against the threats. 

The skin microbiome is where prebiotic and probiotic skincare work their magic. Both play their respective functions to restore and maintain that ideal balance for our skin. The difference between the two is essentially in their form and how they work. So, let’s get down to the differences between prebiotics and probiotics in skincare.


Probiotics for Gut Health

It’s much nicer to the ear to hear “prebiotics and probiotics” in that order but I find it’s better to talk about probiotics first when it comes to skincare. Now that we’ve covered the skin microbiome, it’s now easy to say that bacteria is our friend. Hold on, that’s not entirely the case. Bacteria is our friend until it’s not. There is good bacteria and there is bad bacteria. The key to the skin microbiome (and life) is balance. If there is enough good bacteria present in the microbiome, then the bad ones can pretty much do no harm.

Probiotics have been used for so long to promote gut health. Yogurt, kefir, kombucha, and my personal favorite, kimchi have always been there for our tummies. Our gut has its very own ecosystem of bacteria and probiotic food and drinks are there to create the right balance in this separate microbiome. 

A healthy gut microbiome promotes a better breakdown and absorption of nutrients for our bodies. That is how probiotics work for our tummies. Yes, the skin and our gut both have their very own microbiomes. However, the very fact that the skin is exposed and that the stomach is internal makes these two biomes vastly different in terms of what microorganisms they host and how they are able to maintain the right balance within their respective microbiomes.

Probiotic Skincare

Once upon a time, people thought we needed to get rid of all bacteria. As in, there is a no bacteria policy in skincare. This has led to the production of harsh cleansers and antibacterial soaps and washes that are in the market today. These products strip away everything. Bad news, that squeaky clean feeling isn’t always great! Your skin shouldn’t even be making such noises. It should be soft and supple. That’s what healthy skin feels like and that’s what we should aim for. Luckily, more and more studies have led science to realize that we need to make bacteria our friend. We need not shoo all of it away! 

Splashing your face with yogurt is not the same as probiotic skincare, okay? Please put away your phone for a second and stop following those Tiktok hacks.

You know why those yogurt drinks come in tiny bottles? Because you’re meant to finish off the bottle right away! Popping open that bottle exposes the live microorganisms to potential risks that will make them less effective or even harmful. When you consume yogurt, it goes directly to your stomach and it does its thing fully intact and ready to fight bad bacteria. 

In topical skincare, however, this is clearly difficult to do since the surface is exposed. Based on studies, applying live good bacteria on the skin can actually lead to great effects. But these studies were done in controlled environments that ensured the best settings for the tests. It would be quite risky for now to entrust the safety of this process to at home skincare routines. We are dealing with live organisms here and ensuring that nothing goes wrong in the application and storage of such products is a must. Science is on its way there but it’s still a long way to go.

So how does probiotic skincare work? Is it even safe? Okay, this is where it gets a little confusing. Probiotic skincare actually does not contain live microorganisms. You will often see ingredients such as Bifida Ferment Lysate or Lactic Acid in probiotic skincare. To be able to ensure the safety of your topical products, these ingredients are not alive but processed in a special way to ensure that all of the live bacteria benefits are still passed on to your skin.

This is a very important step to make sure you get the benefits without the risks. Some vaccines work in this way to teach the body how to respond to external factors. Just the same, your skin’s immunity is trained by probiotic skincare through your microbiome to fight off your skin’s enemies.

Studies have shown that probiotic skincare has helped boost the skin’s production of ceramides that locks in moisture and helps maintain balance in the skin flora. It has also shown to help battle premature skin aging, soothe skin sensitivity, and prevent acne and inflammation. These may all sound so specific but overall, it will definitely help your skin look and feel its best because these both come when your skin is at its healthiest.

Prebiotics in Skincare

We now know how to make bacteria our friend and we want our friends to thrive, right? This is where prebiotics come in. Prebiotics are good food for good bacteria. These are usually in the form of complex carbohydrates but it can be anything that promotes the health of friendly bacteria in your skincare products. Lipids, for example, become helpful to the skin microbiome to allow good bacteria to thrive.

By adding prebiotics in your skincare, you get the maximum benefits of a healthy skin microbiome. Your skin is well hydrated and it retains moisture better. Because your skin microbiome is well taken care of, you also have a better barrier against harmful threats like sun damage and inflammation. As mentioned earlier, healthy skin is the best looking skin so you can expect your skin complexion to improve along with these benefits.

All in all, we need to take care of our skin flora and one of the best ways to do this is to teach our skin to allow and let the skin microbiome thrive with the beneficial and right types of bacteria. A lot more studies about prebiotics and probiotics in skincare are being done and this is an exciting time for skincare. There’s a lot more to look forward to in probiotic skincare and we would love to see more of it in our skincare routine!

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