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The Misnomer of "Probiotics:" What Does This Buzzword Mean For Your Skin?

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Probiotic skincare is trending.

More and more companies are coming out with skincare products claiming probiotic properties, from facial masks to skin creams to face cleansers and gels. While probiotics in food have become widely accepted as a healthy option, the personal care industry has faced some challenges implementing the probiotic trend.

Defining Probiotic

First, let’s define the word: "probiotic" refers to a live culture of bacteria that promotes the growth of other beneficial microorganisms. (The key word here is that it’s live.) Cultures of beneficial bacteria are found in products like yogurt, dairy, or in the refrigerated section of supplements. This is because probiotics contain live microorganisms, which stay healthy in temperature controlled environments.

As a reference, the Mother Dirt AO+ Mist contains a live culture of Ammonia-Oxidizing Bacteria, which consumes the ammonia in your sweat and balances your skin naturally. This is why the Mist has a shelf life of weeks, not years, and why we recommend it be refrigerated until it's ready to be used.

Probiotics in Skincare

The reality of conventional skin care is that it’s pretty difficult to find a product with effective probiotic properties, as the industry faces more than a few hurdles when adding live bacteria to their formulations.

Shelf-stable skincare (essentially anything you buy off the shelf) contains preservatives. Preservatives are formulations intended specifically to prevent bacteria from thriving so that the products they preserve last longer on the shelf, which is important from a safety and convenience perspective. But preservatives are therefore definitely not good for products made to return good bacteria to your skin! It’s now a “non living” probiotic.

To avoid the stability issue, many companies use either bacteria byproducts or extracts in their "probiotic" skincare products. While those components may have benefits of their own (amino acids, vitamins, etc), they don’t contain a “living” culture, though their name might imply otherwise.

You’ll see ingredients like these:

  • A Lysate (ie: Bifidum ferment lysate) – quite literally chopped up cells (dead and inactive)
  • Lactose – a sugar
  • Yogurt extract – primarily protein (and some vitamins)
  • Milk extract – primarily protein (and some vitamins)

This isn’t to say that any of these ingredients are bad for you or don’t help your skin. The ingredients commonly used in these kinds of products and marketed as probiotics might not contain living bacteria but may present their own distinct benefits.

Bacteria for the Gut Isn’t Bacteria for the Skin

Another important thing to consider when looking for probiotic skincare is that the gut microbiome and the skin microbiome are very different environments. Bacteria sold as gut probiotics have adapted to the gut microbiome, and have properties that are beneficial internally. But they aren’t necessarily adapted to thrive on the skin, and they might not even have a food source or a role in the skin microbiome. Bacteria that are happy in the gut are very different from the bacteria that thrive on the skin.

Most probiotics target the gut biome, and many of the new probiotic skincare products contain gut probiotics instead of skin probiotics. This doesn’t mean they’re bad for you or that you won’t see good results, but whether or not our bodies recognize these bacteria as beneficial to the skin microbiome is a different story.

The Future of Probiotic Skincare

The field of probiotic skincare is incredibly exciting - and incredibly new. We know from recent probiotic research that the microbiome is an integral part of a healthy body. The bacteria in our AO+ Mist isn’t anything new. It’s a bacteria that once lived on our skin naturally up until about 100 years ago, but we’ve since literally washed it away with modern chemistry. We firmly believe that bacteria serves a very important purpose and that’s why we’re working hard to get it back on everyone’s skin.

But in order to make a probiotic skincare line that adheres to principles we believe in, we’ve had to get real about our constraints. The fact is, the personal care industry just wasn’t ready for the complex challenge of incorporating live bacteria into skincare products. It required experimentation with temperature, timing, ingredients...the sort of answers best found in a lab.

Mother Dirt has worked hard to create products that are made rich with bacteria and nurture good bacteria, that work with the skin and are alive and happy in their preservative-free environment. Preservative-free formulation is no walk in the park these days, either. We know the shelf life and expiration dates on our skincare products may inconvenience users, and we’re searching every day for even more stable, versatile formulations.

We will continue to grow and evolve our product line, manufacturing process, and packaging to make healthy bacteria more readily and easily available to all :)


 
 
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