Fight bacteria with bacteria.

By Hana Hong
Updated March 27, 2020
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With all the heightened hygiene hype in the air lately, you're probably tempted to scrub yourself down with as many cleaning products as possible. As you’re dialing up the washing, you may also want to consider implementing more bacteria into your skincare routine.

I know what you’re thinking: You’re saying we should put more bacteria into our skin? Like, on purpose?

Yes, and here’s why. Bacteria has a bad stigma. Your skin’s microbiome is a bustling, delicate ecosystem composed of more than 1 trillion bacteria crawling on our skin. But not all bacteria is bad—think of it like a vital blanket of beneficial bacteria. These essential bugs are the good guys—they exist to ward off infections, thwart environmental stress, boost immunity, and regulate pH levels. When these bugs are stripped, say, from over-washing, you compromise the microbiome by throwing off the eclectic mix of microflora that’s required for a healthy barrier. In other words, the good bacteria is no longer able to keep the bad bacteria in check.

This concept isn’t new. Probiotics have long reigned over food shelves, and ingested via dishes like yogurt, kombucha, and kimchi for their gut-balancing properties. Studies have shown them to block pathogens and balance bacteria in the digestive system, warding off bloating, stomach cramps, and other issues in the process.

These probiotics have skin biome-balancing properties when applied topically. In the same vein, prebiotics—compounds that feed existing skin bugs—help these good bacteria thrive. This is especially needed these days with all the hand washing and disinfecting we're doing; the microbiome is really taking a beating.

According to Kavita Mariwalla, MD, board-certified dermatologist in New York City, when your mix of bacterial flora is compromised, your skin will take a toll. Unhealthy microbes can trigger a slew of skin troubles, like acne, eczema, rosacea, and inflamed skin. “Think about prebiotic skincare as skincare that is harnessing your skin’s natural properties to act,” says Dr. Mariwalla. “It is normal for bacteria to live on our skin in a symbiotic way, but when the balance of the types of bacteria tips, you can change it to a healthier mix with prebiotics.”

Fortunately, this concept has already started to spill over into beauty products—from cleansers and masks to serums and creams—that are packed with all kinds of friendly bacteria to restore your “bacterial blanket."

With all this information, another question comes to mind: Can it help kill viruses? Not exactly. Both prebiotic and probiotic skincare products produce peptides to fight pathogens, and we need those peptides to defend against viruses. That being said, Dr. Mariwalla notes that it’s not changing your body’s immune response, “Ii’s more that it is competitively pushing out the bacteria that can cause inflammation and infection out of the way.”

If you want to give your stripped skin a boost and keep your microbiome flourishing, we compiled the best of prebiotic and probiotic skincare that touts scientifically-tested bacterial benefits for every part of your body. Some of these add to the skin’s innate supply of bacteria (probiotics), while others include prebiotics to feed those existing skin bugs and help them thrive.

Credit: Courtesy of brand

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Wash your hands right with this all-natural, sulfate-free, and pH-friendly hand soap made with the microbiome in mind. Just one wash helps rid your skin of germs while retaining its natural moisture and promoting the growth of good bacteria.

To buy: $7, cvs.com.

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This cream deodorant will make you completely rethink the sticks you've been using. The aluminum-free, lavender-scented formula has a cream-to-powder consistency that allows for fingertip application. In addition to its antibacterial properties, it's infused with a blend of poweful plant-based botanicals, like arrowroot and kaolin, that sit invisibly on the skin and work hard to absorb swear throughout the day. Meanwhile, shea butter soothes any existing razor bumps for super smooth and hydrated pits. 

To buy: $27, aureliaskincare.com.

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“I love this moisturizer for dry to extra dry skin because it features a unique prebiotic action on the skin microbiome,” says Dr. Mariwalla. The hydrating formula is so gentle that it can be used on infants and eczema sufferers.

To buy: $20, ulta.com.

Credit: Courtesy of brand

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LaFlore’s aloe-based serum is chock-full of live probiotics that can be applied on your face or hands to help increase your body’s immune response. Maya Ivanjesku, clinical chemist, chief scientific officer, and founder of LaFlore, recommends using it after cleansing to boost the count of your good bacteria.

To buy: $140; laflore.com.

RELATED: These New Probiotic-Powered Cleaning Supplies Are the Next Step Toward Healthier Housekeeping