Facts Checked By Freewill Beauty Experts - Written by Rithi Choudhury (Journalist) on 12th Oct 2020

Prebiotics And Probiotics In Skincare Products 

Prebiotics And Probiotics In Skincare Products

II you are unfamiliar with the terms like Prebiotics and Probiotics, welcome to the right place where you will not only acquaint yourself with these ingredients but learn why it might be your skin-saviors in jars and tubs. 

What are Probiotics and Prebiotics?

Probiotics are bacteria. You must be wondering what is bacteria even doing in skincare when it is something we strive to steer clear of throughout the day. Indeed, you do not want the harmful bacteria that lead to acne and infection. But Probiotics are the good, friendly bacteria that contribute to better gut health and beautiful skin.  

Did You Know:

Probiotic comes from two Greek words and means "for life." 

Our gut and intestines naturally have a flora of good bacteria that helps with the metabolic processes. Similarly, the skin's surface, that is, the skin barrier, also has a flora of good bacteria that helps keep the skin barrier in an optimal state.

You would ask how? Well, in the world of bacteria, a majority matters. When the number of good bacteria increases, they quickly check the number of harmful bacteria and help diminish them, which means - goodbye, acne! Now you know why putting yogurt or curd is frequently recommended in DIYs. Because curd or yogurt has the right bacteria' Lactobacillus'.


Prebiotics, though sounds similar, are not bacteria but are substances (dietary fibers) that help to maintain the activity and stimulate the growth of a healthy flora of Probiotics. In simple words, they are the food or fuel consumed by Probiotics for their optimal function.  

What Probiotics And Prebiotics Do In Skin Care

Probiotics and Prebiotics, when applied topically on the skin, have a direct effect at the site of application by enhancing the skin natural defense barriers.  

To list a few benefits of this super potent skincare duo: 

  • Treats Acne: Since probiotics and prebiotics work together, they help restore the healthy microbiome balance on the skin. The good bacteria outnumber the nasty acne causing bacteria and therefore helps in treating acne. Probiotics also produce antimicrobial peptides (amino acid chains) that help eliminate pathogens and keep skin infections at bay. Prebiotics enhance the activity or functioning of the probiotics.
  • Reduces Inflammation: Skin inflammation is often a result of a compromised skin barrier. By maintaining a healthy and strong skin barrier, prebiotics and probiotics lessen the chances of inflammation. As they also help restore a damaged skin barrier and help reduce existing inflammation in the process. This works when foreign substances (bacteria/pathogens) come in contact with our skin and body. As a means of defense, the immune system reacts to fight them off. An after-effect of this immune response is inflamed skin and redness, because the immune system also views the microbiome as foreign, it does not act as aggressively (when the nasty bacteria comes in contact), and therefore there is less inflammation. 
  • Helps Treat Eczema and Psoriasis: Although there is no strong evidence, few studies have shown that Probiotics help treat inflammatory skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis (red, itchy, inflamed, flaky skin). This may be because of its anti-inflammatory properties.  
  • Delays Signs Of Ageing: Topical application of probiotics help in boosting collagen production, which is the main protein responsible for skin elasticity and suppleness. With age, collagen production decreases, and skin develops lines and wrinkles along with losing its plumpness. Probiotics and prebiotics, therefore, come to the rescue by aiding in the production of additional collagen. 
  • Repairs Sun Damage: Studies also show that probiotics can help repair the skin's damaging UV rays. They help heal the broken skin acting at the epidermis and dermis level and stimulate beta-defensins production, which increases the skin's natural immunity. 

Probiotics And Prebiotics Oral Supplement 

You would be surprised to find the everyday food items that you must have been already consuming are loaded with probiotics (living good bacteria) and are prebiotics.

As we mentioned earlier, all prebiotics are dietary fibers, but the reverse is not true for all nutritional fibers. Food sources of prebiotics include oats, barley, flaxseeds, wheat bran, asparagus, onions, garlic, apples, tomato, soybean, beans, etc.

When taken orally, they help in aiding digestion, fighting infection and diseases, boosting immunity, reducing inflammation, and contributing to beautiful skin from within. They also hinder the bad bacteria from proliferation and causing infection or inflammation in the body.

Fermented foods like yogurt/curd, dosa, kombucha, kimchi, cheese, etc. are sources of probiotics. While bananas, garlic, onions, oats, apples are sources of prebiotics. The special fibers present in prebiotics support the digestive health and support the flora of friendly gut bacteria.

While it is good to consume your prebiotics and probiotics from your regular diet, if you cannot eat them regularly, then supplements are a good idea to reap the pre and probiotic benefits.

Also, if you are taking antibiotics, which kills the good bacteria along with the harmful bacteria, taking or probiotics will help restore the flora of the good bacteria.  

Did You Know:

Probiotics and Prebiotics are together known as Synbiotics. 

But not all of the probiotic supplements are equal or beneficial. They do not all have the same types of bacteria or the same concentrations that are effective. Also, individuals who may experience worsened symptoms if they take probiotics supplements should discontinue and consult a doctor.

People with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth or people sensitive to ingredients in the supplement should also avoid the same supplements.

Even with prebiotic supplements, look for the type of fibers used. Inulin is an effective prebiotic fiber obtained from plants.  

How To Identify Probiotics And Prebiotics In Your Skin Care 

Now you know that probiotics are good bacteria and host many benefits for the skin and gut.

For skin, they are useful even when applied topically in the form of creams/lotions/face washes, etc.

But the question is, how do you identify probiotics and prebiotics used in your skincare? Because if you look at the ingredient list, they are not merely labeled as probiotics and prebiotics.
Worry no more because we have done the hard work for you.

Here are some common and excellent probiotic species that you should look for: 

  • Bifidobacteria: These species of bacteria are found in the small intestines and stomach. They help the body fight infection-causing pathogens, starve the harmful bacteria, skin infections, and conditions such as eczema, etc.

    Sources of Bifidobacteria are cultured yogurt, fermented foods like tempeh, kimchi, sourdough bread, buttermilk (lassi), cured meats, etc. 
  • Lactobacillus: These bacteria species are naturally found in the small intestines, mouth, and vagina. The enzyme lactase present in this bacteria helps break down the lactose sugar in milk into lactic acid. Lactic acid is the mildest yet potent AHA that controls acne, breaks down dead skin cells, and the best part about it is that it is a hydrating exfoliant. The benefits of lactic acid are not limited to the skin solely but also increase the body’s absorption of minerals and help prevent vaginal and urinary tract infections. 

Sources of Lactobacillus are yogurt, tempeh (fermented soybeans), cheese, sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), kefir, etc. 

  • Vitreoscilla: These bacteria help in cellular detoxification and protein synthesis. This bacteria is the famous microflora present in France's popular thermal spring waters, which calms down inflamed and irritated skin. 

Prebiotics In Skin Care Products 

Your skincare products might already contain these common prebiotics: 

  • Colloidal oatmeal 
  • Avocado 
  • Honey 
  • Plant sugars such as:
                     1. Xylitol
                     2. Rhamnose 
  • Oligosaccharides 
  • Fructooligosaccharides  
  • Fructooligosaccharides  

Should You Use Probiotics And Prebiotics Together?

It is not a must that you must use both probiotics and prebiotics together in your skincare products. But using them both together is usually recommended because together they form a golden duo. While probiotics enhance skin health, prebiotics enhance the efficacy of probiotics.

The same holds true for oral ingestion of pro and prebiotics.  

Who Should Use Probiotics and Prebiotics In Skin Care?

Anyone can use probiotics and prebiotics products topically. Those with inflammatory skin conditions will find the combination of pre and probiotics products to calm down inflammation and, subsequently, to restore the skin barrier.

However, those with sensitive skin should always check the whole ingredient list to check for any irritating ingredients, especially fragrance that usually sensitive skin cannot tolerate.  

If Microbiome Is Naturally Present In The Skin, Why Should You Apply It Additionally?

Naturally, you would be wondering why you have to spend your money on the bacteria naturally present on your skin barrier? The answer is because of their short life. We are always washing our face with face washes and cleansers, often with the pH disrupting ones that alter our ideal acidic mantle of the skin and make it alkaline.

Since the microbiome needs an acidic medium for survival, they often perish when this mantle is disrupted. This is where topical application of probiotics comes to the rescue.  

Tip:

Always use a pH balancing cleanser to maintain the ideal pH 4.5-5 of the skin and ensure the flourishing of microbiome. 

Similarly, because of antibiotics or the junk food that we eat, oxidative stress disrupts our gut's ideal environment and kills the natural flora, which is where supplements come to aid the lost flora of probiotics.  

Storing Probiotic Products 

Because probiotics are living bacteria, it is important that the storing and packaging is done in the right way to ensure the products deliver maximum benefits. Most of them come with a short life span and need to be stored in a cool, dark environment.