Naturopath Rebecca Edwards looks at the reasons why natural skincare companies are considering good bacteria an essential part of their latest products.
Probiotics: this is a word usually applied to ‘beneficial’ bacteria. Cell for cell humans are technically more bacterial than human! We have bacteria in our mouth, our intestines, our reproductive tracts and on our skin. The word ‘bacteria’ has come to be associated with the idea of ‘germs’, disease, contamination, infection. However, if we didn’t have the beneficial (or probiotic) bacteria we will not be able to function. Society is now starting to realise this, and sales of probiotic drinks and supplements are soaring.
People understand the need to keep our digestive systems balanced and stocked with healthy bacteria. But probiotic bacteria also exist on the skin. Our skin is the largest part of our immune system. It provides a barrier between our organs and the outside world. It also acts to make our bodies inhospitable hosts to any invading pathogens. In order to do this it is covered in beneficial bacteria. These bacteria are responsible for maintaining the acid mantle of the skin (or the pH balance), keeping skin supple and healthy rather than overly dry or oily.
Prebiotics: these are substances which beneficial bacteria ‘feed’ on. They are substances which encourage the growth of probiotic bacteria. A good probiotic supplement should always include some prebiotic matter in order to assist in colony-forming in the digestive tract. Prebiotics found in food are usually microscopic fibres. Bananas and artichokes are both good sources of prebiotics, as is human breastmilk (but not cows milk. As cows contain vastly different bacteria in their digestive systems their milk does not encourage the growth of the bacteria we need in our system).
Likewise, prebiotic substances can also help to maintain the delicately-balanced bacterial environment on our skin, keeping up our natural immunity. Use of antibacterial wipes and other harsh cleaning products can destroy the skin’s probiotic bacteria, resulting in skin more prone to conditions such as eczema and contact dermatitis, and reducing our immunity to communicable diseases.
Rebecca Edwards is a lecturer at the College of Naturopathic Medicine – read more