One thing health professionals are almost certain of is the extraordinary healing power of gut bacteria. Having the right bacteria in your gut is associated with improved insulin resistance, improved mental health, mitigation of autoimmune diseases, overcoming sugar cravings, and weight loss. The benefits do not stop there.
Every month new studies emerge highlighting a new gut flora function. I won’t call good gut bugs a miracle, but if any aspect of healing comes close, it’s these guys.
People who regularly consume fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, unpasteurized yogurt, kefir, kombucha, or natto, or those who take a probiotic supplement, often see a reduction in their acne.
Can we apply the same principles to our skin?
The dermatologist’s premise
Very few dermatologists believe that the food you eat is important for the quality of your skin. This is mad! Bodies are literally made out of the food that goes into them. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure Dante reserved the fifth level of hell in Inferno for medical professionals deliberately blind to this fact.
According to standard dermatological wisdom, acne is caused by bacteria. To an extent, this is true. Bad bacteria in the skin can cause mini-infections in pores, which then become inflamed. Dermatologists noticed this phenomena and began developing antibiotic pills and antibiotic creams like Benzoyl Peroxide to wipe out the infectious bacteria on the skin. This works, to an extent. Benzoyl Peroxide may decrease antioxidant power in the skin and cause more acne in the long run, but the antibiotic method does sometimes work.
The standard response to the dermatological premise
Smart health practitioners (like me!) call bullshit on dermatology, and they recommend that food is medicine. Correcting hormone imbalances and reducing inflammation via a healthy, paleo-type diet works wonders for the skin. This is the right — or, at least, healthiest — way to fight the acne battle.
Going one step further
What if, some researchers have asked, our skins are like our guts? What if the problem isn’t bacteria in the first place, but an imbalance?
Researchers led by Dr. Huiling Li at UCLA lifted P. acnes bacteria from the pores of 49 acne-prone and 52 clear-complexioned volunteers. They found were more than 1,000 strains of the bacteria, from which they were able to identify genes unique to each strain.
Of these 1000 strains, some appear to be bad, some good, and others superheroes.
This research did find certain strains of “negative” P. acnes that are more common in acne-prone skin than in clear-skin. This lends credence to the theory that bacteria cause acne. Negative bacteria seem to appear slightly more often in acne-prone skin than in clear skin.
More importantly and interestingly, however, they also found a strain of P. acnes bacteria that is common in healthy skin, yet rarely ever found on acne prone skin.
Perhaps you should go back and read that last sentence again. It is that important.
It means that those with clear skin have “good” bacteria that appeared to keep the “bad” pimple-triggering bacteria at bay. The good bacteria reduce inflammation. They promote healthy skin function. They prevent acne.
Who has good bacteria versus bad on their skin? Genetics play a crucial role in who gets doled out the lucky hand. Other factors probably have to do with lifestyle choices. Taking antibiotics in the past may have killed off the important P. Acnes strain. Harsh chemicals, over-drying soaps, sun exposure, and over-exfoliating the skin can also deplete P. acnes populations.
C’mon… does that really work?
Well. The science on this is new, and the availability of treatment is limited. There’s not a whole lot of discussion out there on acne forums or anything. No one seems to be saying much of anything. Though Chris Kresser recommends topical probiotics, so I’m sure they’ll become popular soon.
More importantly for me – I have tried them. The first time I sprayed on my P. Acnes, I noticed a difference within days. I simply got fewer breakouts. I did this in the fall of 2013 for a few months, continuing through January 2014. At this point my skin was pretty great, so I stopped treatment.
My skin started acting up again over the summer of 2014. I ordered more P. Acnes. Lo and behold, that was one week ago, and I haven’t had a new pimple since.
I also started to get acne on my shoulders and shoulder blades in the spring of 2014. It’s been an incredible pain – both literally and figuratively. Since I sprayed my back, my bumps have levelled out, and I haven’t gotten a new breakout. It’s worked so well, even I am sceptical, but I cannot doubt what good it’s done.
I can’t promise miracles, but I can promise a good chance of reducing inflammation on your skin, which in all likelihood will at least help with your acne. It won’t fix hormone imbalance or systemic inflammation, but it can help.
What to do about it
Fortunately, even though this science is quite new, some companies have caught wind of this really cool phenomenon.
A serum like this one.
Or, what I personally use, a probiotic spray by the company Probiotic Action. Treatment that lasts (in my experience) about 8 weeks costs less than $15, and I (again, personally) notice a difference right away. Give them a try if you like here.
ALSO, Probiotic Action has been kind enough to provide us with a discount code!
Enter J3J74P5V7TQI at checkout and get 18% off!!