Probiotics: The History
We've all heard about probiotics. Supplements line store shelves, yogurt commercials are boasting of their "active cultures," and sauerkraut is advertised as having a "shocking probiotic count." How did this probiotic craze begin, and what does it all mean?
Before things get more complicated, let's get a few words straight. "Biotic" refers to something that is made up of living things, therefore, "pro-biotic" and "anti-biotic" refer to things that are pro-life or anti-life, things that support growth, or things that kill. The consideration of probiotics as positive and crucial components of health began as a reaction to the ever-increasing use of antibiotics in daily life.
For most of modern history, bacteria were thought to be pathogens, harmful -- entirely bad. This encouraged the idea that in order to be "clean," people needed to remove all living organisms from their bodies.
However, when research on the gut microbiome was released, the possibility that bacteria could be beneficial became a reality. Suddenly, not having bacteria around became very dangerous.
And thus, the probiotic was born. And, like many foods trends (think acai, chia, and sea salt) the skin care world was paying attention.
Caption: Live bacteria in your supermarket!
The skin and gut microbiomes are two vastly different ecosystems. Think of the gut as a jungle and the skin as a desert; both are rich and alive, but just as the same conservation methods could not be applied to save both environments, and likewise the same probiotics would not work effectively in both the skin and gut microbiomes.
To begin with, there is just more bacterial growth in the gut, with an estimated 100 trillion bacteria in your intestinal tract. The human skin is home to an estimated 1 trillion bacteria.
Additionally, the type of bacteria is different -- as are the functions. Gut bacteria are handling periodic influxes of food and drink that need to be efficiently digested, while skin bacteria are encountering a constant release of sweat and interactions with diverse environments (think air, clothes, other skin, weather). Many products that are developed to protect skin during these interactions harm the bacteria that are natural to our microbiome.
Here we see the first challenge to creating probiotic skincare. Most of the products on the market today contain bacteria that are good for your gut, but aren't at home in your skin microbiome. They might help your skin, but they aren't doing their best work because they don't quite fit into your skin's ecosystem. Other products contain only the enzymes generated by the good bacteria, but not the bacteria itself.
The next challenge lies in the extensive use of preservatives. In all the skin care products that we use, there are preservatives made specifically to kill bacteria and maintain shelf life. This isn't the case with the probiotic supplements and fermented foods that we eat, which have tons of live, growing bacteria in them. It is these active cultures of bacteria that are good for us!
So is creating a skin probiotic impossible?
We at Mother Dirt have been working on a solution. Our AO+ Mist has live bacteria in it, happily swimming around and waiting to help your skin. Learn more here!