When I was a teenager, we had very few acne treatment options. The most popular ingredient among them was the all-too-familiar Benzoyl Peroxide. They were strong as hell and, I’m sure, soaked in salicylic acid and denatured alcohol. They were better than nothing.
Or were they?
I'd be surprised to learn now if there was anything else in these old-school formulas — anything that actually soothed and rebalanced acne-prone skin. Not only did they dry out blemishes, they also stripped my skin of every trace of oil — drying and dehydrating the skin everywhere else on my face.
Of course, today, I know that what I was doing back then was causing my skin to overreact and produce more oil, which attracted more bacteria, dirt, and grime to my skin and clogged my pores. Instead of treating my skin and the underlying condition, I was only prolonging the acne cycle. In fact, a quick look at the ingredient list of the some of the current versions of drug store acne products and I see nothing much has changed. These couldn't possibly be more aggravating to skin than what I was using in the last century — but they could easily be just as irritating with a high level of denatured alcohol in addition to fragrance and even lavender oil!
Modern Acne Treatment with Probiotics
While on the face of it you could be forgiven for thinking that acne treatments haven’t come very far, they actually have. While millions of people everywhere — from teenagers to acne-sufferers in their 40s — are still making the mistake of over-drying their skin with alcohol, more and more of us are discovering that there are far more effective options. Among the promising new acne treatment options are a number of skincare products and even entire brands with a whole new approach to acne: probiotics.
Over the last year, I’ve been on somewhat of a journey of discovery, seeking to harness the power of probiotics — central to my overall health — in my skin care. Each morning, I take a probiotic supplement from Nutrition Now called PB-8 that’s purported to contain 14 billion good bacteria in the form of lacto-bacillus and bifidodbacterium species. (Shouldn’t they call it PB-14 BILLION?!) For a solid understanding of the role probiotics are believed to play in skin health, as with all my research in regards to skin and skin care, I must turn to my muse, Paula Begoun, the founder of the groundbreaking skincare brand Paula’s Choice.
Says Paula, “Probiotics include various strains of uniquely helpful bacteria that occur naturally on skin and that can be applied via probiotic skincare products. Probiotics work with prebiotics, carbohydrates that serve as a food source so the probiotics can optimally do their job of protecting and nurturing your skin."
Paula always nails it.
Probiotics for Acne
Probiotics in skincare for the treatment of acne prone skin is an exciting trend that’s increasingly supported by science. It’s predicated on the premise that the root cause of acne is an imbalance in the skin’s microbiome — the ecosystem of microorganisms on our skin which protects us against germs, disease, infection and, yes, acne. The body’s microbiome is composed of complex communities of bacteria, viruses and fungi that includes 100 trillion microbes, most of which live in our gut. On the skin, any imbalance is manifested when harmful bacteria go unchecked and are allowed to spread, leading to the formation of acne blemishes.
According to Dr. Whitney Bowe, a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, promising studies are establishing evidence that probiotics are a viable option for treating acne and rosacea. “Preliminary studies of topical probiotics for acne have shown they may help reduce the number of active skin lesions,” says Dr. Bowe. “Probiotics applied to the skin might help acne by forming a protective shield that prevents harmful pimple-causing bacteria from reaching the skin, aggravating the immune system and triggering inflammation.”
Probiotics For Fungal Acne
Fungal acne is a type of acne that is caused by, as the name would suggest, fungus. Your skin's microbiome consists of good and bad bacteria, and can also contain yeast and fungus. When a hair follicle becomes irritated or damaged it becomes inflamed which in turns allows germs to cause an infection. This infection can lead to an overgrowth of the fungus which then produce the symptoms of fungal acne.
The symptoms for fungal acne can look similar to acne vulgaris so it can therefore be mistaken for regular acne. The symptoms include clusters of small red bumps, itchiness, and pus filled bumps on the arms, chest, back and face.
By applying probiotics to the skin you can help your skin barrier by balancing out the good and the bad bacteria which will in turn help with fungi and toxins. Studies have shown that probiotics reduce fungal pathogens.
Brands like AMPERNA® are blazing the trail — moving the treatment of acne from the absurd alcohol attack method to a more holistic approach that uses probiotics to restore balance in skin’s microbiome.
Which Ingredients are Best for Acne and Good Skin Health?
Diet, lifestyle, stress and medication are a few common factors that can have a big impact on your skin. For example, high histamine foods such as fish, tomatoes, nuts and strawberries may trigger inflammation for people with a histamine intolerance. Another example is stress, which when elevated can lead to higher cortisol production and trigger a flare up.
Antioxidants such as vitamin C, E, A (retinol), niacinamide, green tea extract and polyphenols, can help to protect the skin by limiting free radicals which are known to cause damage. They can also help to calm inflammation and decrease the appearance of sunspots, fine lines and wrinkles.
When it comes to vitamin C, look out for L-ascorbic acid which has superior benefits versus other forms. It can boost collagen production to tighten fine lines, smooth uneven skin and is powerful in hydrating, brightening and calming your skin. You can find the powers of this antioxidant in AMPERNA® PRO+ Vitamin C Hyaluronic Serum.
When searching for green tea, look out for camellia sinensis leaf extract in the list of ingredients. The polyphenols found in green tea can be helpful for people suffering with acne, rosacea, psoriasis and are gentle enough for sensitive skin.
These are the healthy bacteria naturally occurring in the gut and are known to support digestive health and keep the immune system strong. These “good bacteria” can also help skin problems when applied topically. The hero ingredient in the AMPERNA® range is the active probiotic complex, Lactococcus ferment lysate. This probiotic complex helps support the skin barrier; helping to protect you from aggressions such as environmental pollutants, helps keep your immune system in check and helps reduce inflammation.
Plant oils such as sage, cucumber, white willow bark and Canadian willowherb have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that can help to strengthen the skin's outer barrier and prevent irritants from penetrating. Look out for these ingredients in cleansers and moisturizing lotions. AMPERNA® Ultra Gentle Soothing Cleanser contains a number of plant oils including sage and cucumber oil to help cool, soothe and nourish skin.
Glycolic, lactic, tartaric, and citric acids are found in many creams and lotions. These ingredients can help with fine lines and wrinkles and hyperpigmentation, as well as help with skin turnover to assist acne sufferers. When using AHAs always apply in small doses in the evening and ensure you wear a sunscreen to avoid your skin being exposed to harmful UV rays.
Ingredients to Watch Out For
Products that contain high levels of alcohol such as ethanol, methanol, benzyl, denatured or isopropyl, are best avoided. Alcohol is often used as the base ingredient in skin care products to thicken them and allow them to penetrate the skin more effectively. The issue can be that it breaks down the skin's natural barriers and can lead to dryness and irritation.
Whilst most alcohol-based products can cause issues, cetyl alcohol is an exception. You may find this listed on products as hexadecan-1-ol or palmityl alcohol. This fatty alcohol is often as an emulsifier, emollient or thickener and can help to soften and smooth skin. It is not known to cause irritation.
There are five different paraben esters to look out for; methyl-, ethyl-, propyl-, butyl- and benzyl-parahydroxybenzoate. They are often used in skin care products and cosmetics as a preservative and can cause problems such as contact dermatitis or a flare or spread of an existing treated rash. They are a particular watch out for people with sensitive skin.
Skincare and cosmetics featuring man-made fragrances can aggravate allergies and trigger side effects. In particular fragrances created with Phtalates are wise to steer clear of. These are a group of chemicals considered to be endocrine disruptors.
Iodopropynyl butylcarbamate (IPBC) is often used as a preservative in lotions due to its effectiveness at preventing fungal growth in topical products. Both IPBC and lanolin are common allergens found in a high percentage of moisturizers. If you are allergy prone, these are best avoided.
Tea tree oil
This essential oil is often considered by people with a range of skin conditions. Whilst is it beneficial to some, for others it can cause irritation such as redness, scaly skin, burning or stinging. For a few, it can cause a more serious allergic reaction - contact dermatitis.
Whilst the above guide provides examples of ingredients that may support good skin health and those that might cause an issue, prior to introducing any new products into your skincare routine, it is recommend the first step is to perform a patch test. This will help you identify any signs of a reaction such as redness, itching, burning or rashes. You can read more about AMPERNA® and how to conduct a patch test here.
Many people believe natural ingredients are better; however the truth is that all ingredients are chemicals. Even natural ones.