Prebiotic, probiotic and postbiotic skincare – What do they do for the skin? | Ask Doctor Anne

Pre-, pro- and postbiotics have become increasingly popular in skincare products lately, but most people don’t have an exact idea what these terms stand for or if  they are actually beneficial for the skin.


What are prebiotic, probiotic and postbiotic ingredients?
What are prebiotic, probiotic and postbiotic ingredients?

One thing all biotics have in common is that they address the skins microbiome, so if you have not read my article about that, make sure you are all caught up before you keep reading.

Today we want to have a look what the term prebiotic, probiotic and postbiotic means and which effects they have on the skin.


What are prebiotics?

Prebiotics are defined as nondigestable food sources for the bacteria building our microbiom. Fibre and certain sugars are prebiotics for example, and the theory behind them is that you offer the „good bacteria“ the things it needs so it flourishes.

They have been used for a long time to help support the gut microbiome, but while it seems safe to assume that a diet rich in fibre is beneficial for gut health, we still don’t have exact numbers that show how much exactly we need from which prebiotic to achieve a certain benefit.

And if that is true for the gut microbiome, an area where we have quite a lot of data on, it is even more true for the skins microbiome:

We do know that these prebiotics are not harmful, we have a theory why they could be beneficial, but we do not have enough data to support this hypothesis.

Bottom line?

I am open to trying products with prebiotics as I think it is a very interesting concept, but I don’t think that as of yet they are an essential part of a good skincare routine.


What are probiotics?

Probiotics are defined as „alive microorganism“, and that alone should give you a clue about what is going to come next.

While there are ways to transfer alive bacteria from one persons gut to that of another person (it is called fecal transplantation and I do not recommend you google it if you are squeamish), we do not have similar means when it comes to the skin.

Applying alive bacteria to the skin via skincare products is not really an option either, as the things we use to preserve our skincare is specifically designed to either stop bacteria from growing or to kill it off. Totally a good thing, as no one wants bacterial overgrowth in their creams.

As far as I am aware there is only one brand that has managed to find a way around that, and that is Mother Dirt (I just read about them, so I can’t comment on their products in detail).

Every other brand that puts „probiotic skincare“ on their stuff usually uses a kind of ferment or lysate, like Bifidus Ferment or Saccharomyces Lysate, but as these bacteria are no longer alive, it would be more precise to call them postbiotics.

Bottom line?

While an interesting idea, you don’t really get true probiotic skincare at the moment (with the above mentioned exception), so…


What are postbiotics?

This is the term you rarely see, but actually the stuff you mostly get. Another example of how marketing affects the skincare labels.

Postbiotics are the leftovers of bacteria that have been either fermented or went through lysation, both methods were the bacterias membrane is destroyed and the inner parts are collected.

These inner parts of the bacteria act as antioxidants and humectants and as such are beneficial to the skin. But if they are superior to other humectants or antioxidants? There is no data supporting this claim, so I genuinely can’t tell.

Bottom line?

Postbiotics have antioxidant and humectant properties, so they are beneficial for the skin, but to what degree compared to other humectants or antioxidants is unclear.


So what does that mean in regards of skincare?

Before you throw out all your pots, rest assured that skincare DOES have an effect on the skins microbiome. Data suggests that applying a regular moisturizer, just a plain one without any additional biotic extras, protects the bacteria living on our skin.

As far as special prebiotic or probiotic products go, they are certainly interesting and will not be harmful for you, but aren’t something you immediately need. The main takeaway is that when a company says probiotic, they usually mean postbiotic and that this is a field that needs a lot more research.


Prebiotic, probiotic and postbiotic skincare - What can it do for your skin?
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