‘Gut health’ and ‘microbiome’ have become trigger phrases in health and wellness circles.
But many of us struggle to conceptualise how the tiny bugs living it up in our guts have anything to do with achieving radiant skin.
Last year, the skincare industry grossed $USD141.3 billion, but the answer to getting that glow might be a little less glamorous (and less expensive) than luxury skincare brands would have us believe.
It turns out the hoards of expensive products you’re storing in your bathroom cabinet may be child’s play when it comes to one of the biggest influences on skin health: The gut.
Gut health expert Dr Joanna McMillan, who is one of Australia’s most well known nutritionists and dieticians, said gut health is a critical element of maintaining healthy skin.
“Your gut is intricately involved in getting nutrition from food into your body,” Dr McMillan told The New Daily.
We are turning over and creating new skin cells all the time, so the skin needs nutrition … if your gut isn’t working properly, it impedes that transfer of nutrients from foods into the body.
“For most of us who want that glowing, radiant skin, we know we need those antioxidants, we need particular fats, we need the protection of skin cells and the ability the body to keep producing them.
“Your microbiome changes very quickly and responds to your diet, even if you just eat badly for a few days you’re going to get this shift in your microbiome.“
Eating your way to better skin…
One of the secrets to achieving better skin may be as simple as the age-old saying, ‘You are what you eat’.
Since the gut helps to carry nutrients to the skin, ensuring well-functioning microbiome is crucial – and microbiologists believe there are two main ways to do that.
“The two things that stand out as being associated with a healthy microbiome are diversity – so lots of different bugs – and what microbiologists call evenness, so there’s a real balance between all the different types of bugs,” Dr McMillan said.
“That idea that there is good or bad bacteria is actually not quite correct, most of them are not bad, it’s just that when they get out of whack and get to dominate over everyone else it disrupts the ecosystem.”
Dry, dehydrated and flakey skin, as well as redness and inflammation, can be linked to poor gut health and upsetting in the gut’s microbiome.
But rest assured, there are ways to enhance our skin health that don’t require dropping $250 on a La Mer moisturiser.
Dr McMillan advises to include as many different types of plant foods as possible, and ensure your diet is varied and well-rounded.
One thing I would say for skin, particularly in relation to acne, is that we know that high GI diets worsen acne, so for most people if you’re looking for better skin then follow a Low GI diet.
“Legumes, wholegrain and lots of fibre and diversity of plant foods is pretty much going to give you a low GI diet.”
Probiotics: Internal or topical?
Those who feel that changing your diet to include such a wide variety of foods is too difficult may be intrigued by the promise of probiotic supplements.
Probiotics are often marketed as an easy fix for poor gut health, and while the right probiotic strains can work well for those suffering conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, taking them as an oral supplement probably won’t do much for your skin.
“Taking a probiotic is not going to do you any favours if you’re then just eating a bad diet,” Dr McMillan said.
But applying a probiotic moisturiser might just do the trick.
“We talk about the microbiome as just being a gut microbiome, but actually, you have a skin microbiome.”
Homegrown skincare brand, Esmi Skin Minerals, is the first brand to include 100 per cent Australian made topical probiotic.
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Esmi founder Evette Hess said introducing the Probiotic Skin Mylck aims to help “balance the skin’s microflora, replenish skin moisture, speed up skin recovery and strengthen the skin barrier.”
“Our skin naturally has good bacteria living on it, it also has a natural oil layer forming a barrier between our skin and the outside world,” Ms Hess told The New Daily.
“When we over-cleanse or cleanse with harsh ingredients (that leave our skin tight and dry) this can destroy the good bacteria and barrier, compromising the skin, leaving the skin open to outside infections and potential damage. “
Topical probiotics, Dr McMillan agrees, may be the answer to those at risk of stripping away their hard-working, external microbiome.
“We are overly cleaning our skin, and for people with sensitive skin and people with particular skin conditions, one of the problems might be that we are continually washing away the natural skin microbiome,” Dr McMillan said.
“What these topical probiotic treatments are trying to do is put good bugs over the skin to help … it makes sense to replace the skin microbiome with what are known to be beneficial organisms.”
For this reason, Esmi Skin Minerals are looking to develop a probiotic cleanser into their range in 2021.
“What’s important is to find a cleanser that supports the good bacteria and natural skin barrier whilst removing the bits and pieces not designed to live there, such as dirt, debris and makeup,” Ms Hess said.