Have you ever had a flare-up of acne or experienced itchy, flaky skin when you were stressed or not eating as well as you should? You’re not alone. One in four Americans suffer from some form of skin disease, but emerging research suggests that focusing on gut health could improve symptoms and restore healthy, vibrant skin.
What are the most common skin conditions?
- Acne vulgaris, affecting up to 50 million Americans, involves inflammation and blockage of hair follicles and sebaceous glands. It may be associated with the activity of a microbe called Cutibacterium acnes, which can trigger an inflammatory response.
- Atopic dermatitis, a form of eczema, affects about 5 million adults and 9.6 million children in the U.S. An overactive immune system causes the dry, itchy, inflamed skin associated with this condition.
- Psoriasis flares cause skin cells to multiply 10 times faster than normal. The resulting itchy, flaky plaques affect about 8 million Americans, 10% to 30% of whom also suffer from psoriatic arthritis.
- Rosacea is common in light-skinned people between the ages of 30 and 50 and may affect up to 20% of the population. Blood vessel abnormalities result in the characteristic reddish appearance of the skin, which may be accompanied by bumps and swelling.
If you experience symptoms of any of these conditions, it could indicate that something isn’t quite right in your gut.
Gut health and skin health
Although the connection between the gut and the skin isn’t well-understood, scientists have begun to explore how imbalances in the complex community of microbes in the gut – called the microbiota – may result in uncomfortable skin conditions.
Compounds produced in the gut – including vitamins, neurotransmitters and short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) – can directly affect what goes on in other parts of your body, including your brain and the immune, endocrine and nervous systems. Your skin also has a diverse microbial community that communicates with the same systems. This crosstalk may be responsible for some of the ways gut health appears to affect skin.
The problem of inflammation
Inflammation lies at the heart of most major skin conditions, and what goes on in the gut has a big impact on the inflammatory response. Interleukin-10 (IL-10) is a good example. The gut is one point of origin for this anti-inflammatory compound. From there, it can be transported to the skin, where it works to modulate inflammatory immune responses.
SCFAs may have similar effects. Higher SCFA production in the gut is associated with a more balanced immune response and less inflammation, which could be due to the role SCFAs play in maintaining a healthy gut wall. Damage to the gut can result in a “leaky” barrier, allowing bacteria and other gut contents to cross into the bloodstream and trigger an immune response. SCFAs strengthen the gut lining to prevent this from happening.
Gut imbalances, known as dysbiosis, have also been associated with skin conditions. An overgrowth of pathogenic or “bad” microbes can contribute to inflammation in the gut and elsewhere in the body, including the skin. Some evidence suggests dysbiosis may also result in excess synthesis of fatty acids and triglycerides in skin serum, resulting in acne breakouts.
Improving gut health to fix skin problems
Diet and lifestyle directly affect gut health – and, therefore, skin health. If you’re suffering from an inflammatory skin condition, these simple changes could help reduce the symptoms:
- Replace processed foods with whole foods to encourage microbial balance and increase SCFA production.
- Garnish meals with fermented probiotic foods like sauerkraut and kimchi for a boost of beneficial microbes.
- Identify and address food allergies and intolerances to remove sources of inflammation.
- Employ positive stress management techniques to reduce your overall stress load.
- Minimize antibiotic use to preserve microbial balance.
Taking a probiotic supplement containing a combination of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains may also be beneficial, especially if your skin condition is accompanied by digestive distress.†
What about probiotic skincare products?
Imbalances in the skin’s unique microbiome may also contribute to irritation, inflammation and breakouts. Using too many antibacterial or chemical skincare products can upset the balance and create an environment in which pathogenic microbes thrive.
Probiotic skincare products have the potential to restore balance. Just like gut microbes produce beneficial SCFAs, skin microbes produce compounds like enzymes, organic acids, polysaccharides and peptides, all of which play a role in skin health. Adding topical “good bugs” to your daily personal care routine may reduce inflammation and combat damage that can cause premature aging.
When shopping for probiotic skincare, look for products formulated for your skin type and the condition you’re addressing. Prioritize gentle, chemical-free options for the best results.
So, if you’ve ever wondered, “Will improving gut health clear up my skin?”, you could see benefits from modifying your diet, your lifestyle and your skincare routine. Combining gut-healing practices with therapeutic topical probiotics may improve common skin conditions over time. If skin problems persist or new symptoms appear, see your dermatologist to discuss other possible causes and treatment options.
†These statements have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.