Could probiotics help with acne or spots?

Kathy Wheddon Nutritional Therapist DipION

Acne and spots are caused by toxins in the body. Acne-causing toxins can build up due to factors such as air pollution, overactive hormones, and largely, from dysbiosis.

'Dysbiosis' describes an imbalance of good (probiotic) and bad (pathogenic) bacteria in the gut, and is caused by various environmental factors including stress, and prolonged antibiotic therapy. Symptoms of dysbiosis include low energy levels, Candida overgrowth, sluggish bowels, indigestion, and acne. Learn more about dysbiosis here.

Although evidence remains relatively sparse on the matter of probiotics and skin health, higher levels of probiotics such as acidophilus should a) decrease the body's production of toxins by improving digestion, as well as b) helping to neutralise the toxins which are already present in the system. Whether for an ongoing acne problem or the occasional spot, supplementing the body's levels of good bacteria (probiotics) could therefore have a beneficial long-term effect on skin health.

In depth

A comprehensive review written by W. Bowe & A. Logan and published in 20111 examined the link between acne, probiotics, the brain and the gut. This review referred to studies that showed probiotics and prebiotics to reduce systemic markers of inflammation and oxidative stress, as well as the ability of probiotics to regulate the release of inflammatory cytokines within the skin, and in particular reducing interleukin-1 alpha (IL-1-α), a protein linked to acne when found in unusually normal amounts. Reports2,3 have also shown probiotic lactic acid bacteria to provide antimicrobial activity against Propionibacterium acnes (a bacteria causing acne) under in vitro conditions. Bowe & Logan's conclusion states, 'there appears to be more than enough supportive evidence to suggest that gut microbes, and the integrity of the gastrointestinal tract itself, are contributing factors in the acne process', strongly supporting the theory that a healthy gut leads to healthy skin.

I seem to get spots when I'm stressed!

If this applies to you, it might be worth noting that the gut-skin connection is multi-fold. This can simply be about impaired digestion with a lack of necessary nutrients being available to your skin. This can, as mentioned be to do with a detoxification issue which is linked to dysbiosis of the gut flora. However the link between the gut, brain and skin is also a strong one4. The nervous system is embedded in the gut wall so acute or chronic stress has far reaching effects on the digestive system such as stress induced changes in gut motility, gastric secretion, and mucosal permeability and barrier function amongst other things5. There is also research to suggest that the gut micobiota responds to stress-related host signals. All in all this can lead to inflammation and gut permeability which then in turns increases the chances of systemic and local skin eruptions. However, on the flip side, there is growing evidence to link probiotics with a decrease in stress, anxiety and depression by reducing inflammation, increasing tryptophan levels and normalising brain neurotransmitters. Read more about this here.

The beauty industry is now raving about probiotics

It's not only those in the world of health and nutrition who are getting excited about probiotics for skin health. The world of fashion and beauty is raving about it too. In fact, Gisele B√ľndchen's make up artists are recommending probiotics for glowing skin. As quoted in a New York magazine:

"Whatever is going on in your gut shows on your face. You want to know how to cure acne? Probiotics by the megadose! I met a girl at ABC Kitchen and she had acne all over her face. Somehow it came up that I was a makeup artist and I told her these probiotics to get. She wrote me the other day, saying, 'Oh my God, you've saved my life. My skin is a million times better. There's hardly anything left'. But I told her that you've got to take mega doses; you've got to fix that whole intestinal tract."

Well known beauty bloggers are also now trying and reviewing probiotics and all love the results:

'The main positive outcome I have actually seen from taking these probiotics is that my skin has appeared much healthier! I have even had people compliment the fact that my skin appears more even and much healthier than it has been!' ~ be-you-tifulbeautyblog

Nichola Joss, holistic facialist for such clients as Meghan Markle, Kate Moss and Elle Macpherson, also recognises the importance of probiotics for skin- and body-care:

"...I have been taking probiotics for 20 years because I am always aware of how important it is to keep a good body internally. It is a life changer and I see better skin, I have higher energy levels, my whole internal system works well, and I function really well." 6

More and more people are starting to understand the link between the gut, the brain, and the skin. Whitney Bowe, a professor of dermatology and author of The Beauty of Dirty Skin, explains this connection:

"Anything the brain perceives as stressful activates a fight-or-flight response. Digestion in the body will slow down; blood is shunted to the extremities. When that happens for sustained periods of time, we get this overgrowth of unhealthy bacteria in the small intestine. This compromises the gut lining, so it becomes ‘leaky,’ and inflammatory molecules exit from the gut to the blood. This so-called leaky gut then leads to system-wide inflammation, which can manifest in the skin as acne, rosacea, or eczema." 7

General tips for skin health

  • Wear sun cream - sun damage on your face can be irreversible, and may lead to premature ageing of the skin, and even more severe cases could result in melanoma. This is why it's imperative to wear sun cream, especially on your face, to help keep your skin safe and healthy.
  • Try mixed nuts - walnuts are full of Omega-3 fatty acids, and can help prevent breakouts and inflammation, and brazil nuts contain selenium, which can help to improve skin elasticity. Do you skin a favour and opt for a bag of mixed nuts next time you get peckish.
  • Get plenty of sleep - a lack of sleep can make you look and feel washed-out, and moreover the nighttime is when your body undertakes the majority of its repairs, so it's important to get a good night's sleep of at least seven or eight hours if you're after glowing skin.
  • Drink enough water - many of us neglect to sufficiently hydrate our bodies, and this can be to the detriment of our skin. Water will flush out the toxins that cause inflammation, and can make skin appear fuller, as the hyaluronic acid that is present naturally in our skin will take up water. Make sure you drink at least two litres (eight glasses) a day.
  • Try a probiotic - as you will have seen above, there is hugely promising evidence in support of probiotics for skin health. Look after your gut and your skin, by trying a probiotic supplement.

Further reading

To find out more about the link between probiotics, skin health, and indeed stress, read:

Probiotics for skin: the next big thing?

Probiotics for eczema? More experts back friendly bacteria over steroids

Psychobiotics. Just a fad? Or here to stay?

Healthcare professionals can see: Probiotics & Eczema by Dr Georges Mouton

This FAQ has been answered by Joanna Scott-Lutyens, BA (hons), DipION, Nutritional Therapist.


1. Whitney P Bowe & Alan C Logan, Acne vulgaris, probiotics and the gut-brain-skin axis - back to the future? Gut Pathogens, Vol 3, No. 1, 1, DOI: 10.1186/1757-4749-3-1

2. Al-Ghazzewi FH, Tester RF: Effect of Konjac glucommanan hydrolysates and probiotics on the growth of the skin bacterium Propionibacterium acnes in vitro. Int J cosmet Sci 2010, 32:139-42

3. Kang BS, Seo JG, Lee GS, Kim JH, Kim SY, Han YW, et al: Antimicrobial activity of enterocins from Enterococcus faecalis SL-5 against Propionibacterium acnes, the causative agent in acne vulgaris, and its therapeutic effect. J Microbiol 2009, 47:101-9

4. W Bowe and A Logan (2011) Acne vulgaris, probiotics and the gut-brain-skin axis - back to the future? Gut Pathogens 2011, 3:1

5. PC Konturek, T Brrzozowski, SJ Konturek (2011)Stress and the Gut: Pathophysiology, clinical consequences, diagnositic approach and treatment options Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, 62, 6, 591-599

6. Studeman, K. (2017). Meghan Markle’s Facialist On Why Wedding Skin Prep Should Start Months Before the Big Day. W Magazine [published online]. Available at:

7. Chia, J. (2018). What Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Postbiotics Could Potentially Do For Your Skin. Allure [published online] Available at: