We connected with one of our community members - Luiza Brabo-Catala, a researcher in biofuels and biomasses at University of South Florida. We asked her to demystify prebiotics and probiotics and how they can positively (or negatively) affect our skin.
Our bodies don’t solely belong to ourselves, but there’s no need to worry: beneficial microorganisms co-live in and on us, serving many different functions. For example, the microbiota (a group of different microorganisms in a specific place) present in our intestines help us digest food, and they even affect our brain health. Our skin also has a microbiota: a good balance helps in preventing the growth of harmful microorganisms.
The words “prebiotic” and “probiotic” are very popular these days, but many don’t know what they actually mean. Referring specifically to the skin, researcher Jean Krutmann affirmed that a “manipulation of the composition and/or function of the skin microflora by prebiotic strategies, In contrast to antibiotics, they may selectively inhibit detrimental bacteria while preserving and/or stimulating beneficial bacteria” . That means that prebiotics change the conditions (like the nutrients) in order to select beneficial microorganisms and minimize the presence of “bad ones." This concept is not only limited to the skin but the rest of our body as well. Probiotics refer to the use of the actual favorable living cultures that benefit the health of the organism beyond nutrition, causing changes that may affect many systems in the body, in addition to the targeted organ itself [1–2].
Our largest organ can benefit from probiotics in different forms: eating fermented foods and/or ingesting pills with cultures may assist with specific cases since research has suggested that the consumption of living microorganisms can help with skin issues such as hypersensitivity, acne and eczema [3–5]. Some delicious and popular fermented foods contain living microorganisms, and they can be easily included to our daily meals, including pickles, sauerkraut, miso and kimchi. Make sure they are not pasteurized, since the process kills the microorganisms.
Yogurt, cheese and kefir are traditional dairy products which contain live cultures. Fortunately, there are many fermented vegan options which also contain beneficial microorganisms. Kombucha, a fermented tea beverage, is a popular probiotic drink, and it is easy to find in most grocery stores. Be sure to purchase the probiotic products from trustworthy sources with the highest hygiene standards, as homemade fermented food present the risk of having potentially pathogenic microorganisms that can make you sick.
Believe it or not, the microorganisms on our skin have the ability protect our bodies against general infections by enhancing our immune system, and they may even present anti-tumor activities . The environment in which we live plays a huge role regarding which specific strains of microorganisms we have, and simple habits such as our hydration can also alter them. Changes in the activity or composition of that microbiota can affect our well-being and health .
In the future, I believe we will see the cosmetics industry developing more products focused on our skin microbiota. Prebiotic cosmetics can be much better than antibiotic ones, since the latter also jeopardize the good strains . Even live cultures can be directly added to cosmetics, which can potentially enhance some desired qualities on the skin while minimizing the growth of skin pathogens [1–2]. Meanwhile, get a sip of kombucha and a spoonful of fermented almond yogurt in order to maintain a great skin and general health while you celebrate your microorganisms!
 J. Krutmann, “Pre- and probiotics for human skin,” J. Dermatol. Sci., vol. 54, no. 1, pp. 1–5, 2009.
 A. C. Ouwehand, A. Båtsman, and S. Salminen, “Probiotics for the skin: A new area of potential application?,” Lett. Appl. Microbiol., vol. 36, no. 5, pp. 327–331, 2003.
 C. Rubin, “Can good gut health lead to glowing skin?,” Pretoria News, Pretoria, pp. 8–9, 18-Sep-2018.
 Harvard Medical School, “Health benefits of taking probiotics,” 2018. [Online]. Available: https://www.health.harvard.edu/vitamins-and-supplements/health-benefits-of-taking-probiotics. [Accessed: 04-Apr-2020].
 G. Caramia, A. Atzei, and V. Fanos, “Probiotics and the skin,” Clin. Dermatol., vol. 26, no. 1, pp. 4–11, 2008. S. Parvez, K. A. Malik, S. Ah Kang, and H. Y. Kim, “Probiotics and their fermented food products are beneficial for health,” J. Appl. Microbiol., vol. 100, no. 6, pp. 1171–1185, 2006.