At 13, my face was a warzone. The friendly dermatologist swore to me that the chocolate-acne connection was purely a myth—and that the food we eat does not cause breakouts. Yet, with that “wisdom” in mind, plus endless treatments ranging from prescription pills to over-the-counter cleansers and creams, my pimples persisted for almost 20 years.
Yet, when I cut back on dairy on a whim last year, all of a sudden, my chronic acne breakouts vanished. Contrary to what I was told as a miserably self-conscious teen, my diet definitely had an effect on my skin and acne all along.
The link between our insides and outsides runs even deeper than food intolerances, though—all the way to the digestive system. Here, hundreds of trillions of good and bad bacteria play a role in everything from body fat to even mental wellness. They even affect our skin—taking probiotics to promote healthy gut flora has shown potential to fight acne breakouts. After all, our intestinal microbes defend against inflammation—one root cause of acne.
And the skin hosts tons of natural bacteria, as well. Though these strains are mostly intended to keep pathogens from penetrating our bodies, they may also have something to do with acne breakouts. In one study from the University of California, Los Angeles, scientists examined both “good” and “bad” microbes from the pores of 49 acne-prone and 52 pimple-free subjects. They found that certain strains of bad bacteria were more prevalent in those with problem skin, and clear-skinned participants had a certain strain of good bacteria that their counterparts lacked.
Some experts, like functional medical practitioner Chris Kresser, believe that antibiotics, harsh chemicals, sun exposure, and over-exfoliating may deplete these good guys. But luckily, multiple studies are starting to show that probiotics, used topically, can work the same magic for the skin that they do in the gut. Kresser writes on his blog: “Restoring beneficial bacteria through probiotic lotions or spot treatments appears to reduce skin inflammation from the outside, thus improving acne.” These microbes can even run interference—shielding skin cells from bad bacteria and preventing an immune reaction that could trigger flare-ups.
Here’s a three-ingredient acne-fighting DIY face mask that harnesses the power of bacteria. Just combine your favorite probiotic (ideally one with lactobacillus) with jojoba oil to help balance oil production, and raw honey, which is anti-inflammatory and helps exfoliate skin with beneficial enzymes.
In a small bowl, combine jojoba oil and raw honey. Open probiotic capsules, empty contents into bowl, and mix well. Apply all over face, leave on for 15 to 20 minutes, then rinse. Moisturize with a skin-balancing oil like rosehip seed immediately afterwards.
If you follow a plant-based diet, you can still enjoy all the benefits of this DIY face mask. Swap the raw honey with one of these ingredients:
Photo credit: Alicia Cho
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