Naturally, the microbiome and the role that diet and supplementation play in optimizing microbial balance has been a hot topic for consumers and brands alike. In light of continuing demand for holistic, preventive wellness solutions, opportunities for targeted nutritional products have proliferated.
To discuss the progression of scientific understanding, which nutrients can influence health from the inside/out, and formulation considerations, we recently caught up with nutricosmetic expert Paula Simpson, who is the founder of Nutribloom Consulting and author of Good Bacteria for Healthy Skin: Nurturing Your Skin Microbiome for Clear & Luminous Skin (2019, Ulysses Press).
Simpson is a holistic beauty expert who has integrated her expertise in biochemistry, nutrition, natural health and beauty to drive innovation within the medical, wellness and personal care sectors. With global recognition as a formulation expert for nutrition-based skin care (nutricosmetics) Simpson has dedicated her time to educating both the medical aesthetic and personal care industries on the importance of nutrition to promote healthy skin.
Formally recognized as a leading innovator in natural beauty, she has combined her scientific and holistic background to create successful nutricosmetic and beauty wellness brands.
Beauty IO: How has scientific understanding of the microbiome evolved in recent years?
Paula Simpson: Scientific advancement on the microbiome has evolved more rapidly in recent years due to improved technologies and research in genetic sequencing techniques that have helped identify, isolate, and research microbes. The Human Microbiome Project was initiated in 2007 (with support from the National Institutes of Health) with the intent to discover the intricate relationship and influence microbes have on human health.
With the discoveries made on how microbes affect our health, the skin microbiome has also become an area of interest. The skin is the largest organ in the human body and functions as a first line of defense as a shielding protective barrier. Your skin microbiome plays a large part in this defense and is most active on the outer skin surface (stratum corneum). Skin harbors a diverse ecosystem of microorganisms (including bacteria, fungi, and viruses) that protect the body from invasion of pathogens. Microbial communities on the skin vary across different body sites and across individuals, influenced by age, diet, hygiene practices/products, lifestyle and the environment. A diverse skin microbiome is a key component in keeping your skin healthy. Commensal bacterial communities can provide nourishment, stimulate ceramide production, strengthen skin barrier, calm inflammation and support skin immunity for example. Several clinical studies have shown that a less diverse and/or shift in skin microbiota is associated with various conditions including acne, psoriasis, atopic dermatitis and dandruff.
Beauty IO: What role does nutrition play? How does the gut impact and reflect outward appearance?
Simpson: The gastrointestinal system is the gateway to how we access nutrition and as an eliminative organ, expel toxins from the body. Your gut microbiome helps as well; this dynamic ecosystem strives to maintain balance or a state of “symbiosis” to support digestion, protect against pathogens, support immunity and manage bio-communicative pathways to organs such as the brain and skin (gut-brain-skin axis).
For example, pre- and probiotics, and microbiome friendly foods, influence the skin through the immune system, regulating inflammation, supporting skin metabolism and barrier function that promotes balanced healthy skin.
Probiotics can also detoxify and rid the body of pathogens or bad bacteria in the gut (before they are absorbed into the bloodstream and reach skin tissue). This bio-communicative process between the gut and skin is dependent upon trillions of microbes living within the gut barrier that signal immune and communicative receptors and influence skin metabolism (known as the gut-skin axis). Systemic health and skin effects of probiotics is superior through diet and supplementation over topical skin care alone. Consuming a variety of pre- and probiotic rich foods, and potentially supplementation of a formulation appropriate for the targeted skin health condition is clinically validated to encourage healthy, balanced and resilient skin.
Beauty IO: What other foods or supplements may benefit beauty from within?
Simpson: Nutrition lays the groundwork for our outer “aesthetic” appearance. The combination and synergy of nutrients found in whole foods, along with certain nutraceutical formulations, functional foods and beverages can influence the structure, function and ultimately the appearance of the skin. But this is also dependent on the health and function of the gastrointestinal system, including the gut microbiome. This intricate relationship between gut-skin, that includes microbiome health is important for “beauty from within” results.
Beauty IO: What foods might disrupt the skin’s microbial balance?
Simpson: The Western diet has profound effects on the diversity and populations of microbial species that make up gut flora.1
The typical modern and westernized diet lacks naturally present probiotic bacteria and fiber compared to more traditional diets. Modern food technologies and processing have replaced traditional preserving methods, and although this is to protect us from food borne pathogens, it has also stripped away the good bacteria and enzymes that promote and build a healthy gut microflora.
Clinical studies have shown there are certain foods that have a negative impact on residential or “health” promoting gut microflora that also increased the incidence of chronic skin conditions associated with “dysbiosis” of the gut microbiome.2
A diet found to encourage healthy and diverse gut microbiota include plant-based polyphenols, prebiotics and fiber-dense foods, fermented foods, omega-3 fatty acids, black and green tea, red wine, certain spices such as ginger, turmeric, clove for example. Look for probiotics found naturally in foods such as active cultured yogurts, kefir, tempeh, miso, kimchi, or kombucha tea to balance pH and microbiome health. These natural detoxifiers also build healthy gut microflora that destroy harmful bacteria and toxins before they reach and irritate your skin. Fermented foods often contain prebiotic fiber. Raw Jerusalem artichokes, dandelion, leeks, asparagus, bananas, garlic, and onion are also excellent sources. Prebiotics feed the residential probiotic bacteria to help them colonize, so while these foods do not contain residential strains, their prebiotics can increase the colonization of your own residential strains.
Ultra-processed and restrictive diets that lack pre- and probiotics and contain artificial sweeteners and preservatives, discourage microbial diversity, promote chronic low-grade inflammation and encourage pathogenic bacterial overgrowth.2 Over time, this will impact the structure, function and appearance of the skin (including the health and balance of skin microbiota).
Nutrition, hygiene/personal care practices, lifestyle and our environment play a dominant role in microbiome health. Antibiotic use, over sanitation, processed diets, topical and environmental chemicals contribute to a weakened and less diverse gut and skin microbiome. Skin microbiota are most stressed and susceptible to abuse from diet and environment; thus, taking an integrated approach through nutrition, supplementation and skin care may be the best defense in maintaining a balanced skin microbiome.3
Beauty IO: What advice would you give brands when it comes to formulating effective products?
Simpson: Specificity of strain to claim. Not all probiotics function the same; even within the same species, different strains have varying mechanisms on how they work within gut and skin. This should also be matched with the appropriate health claim.
Move beyond probiotics—synbiotic formulations containing prebiotics such as GOS and FOS have been shown to improve microbial profiles, enhance product stability of formulations and offer their own skin health benefit. Postbiotics (beneficial chemicals or “waste products” produced by probiotic bacteria that have fed on prebiotics) are also showing their own unique health benefits.
- Hills RD Jr, Pontefract BA, Mishcon HR, Black CA, Sutton SC, Theberge CR. Gut Microbiome: Profound Implications for Diet and Disease. Nutrients. 2019;11(7):1613. Published 2019 Jul 16. doi:10.3390/nu11071613
- Zhernakova, A.; Kurilshikov, A.; Bonder, M.J.; Tigchelaar, E.F.; Schirmer, M.; Vatanen, T.; Mujagic, Z.; Vila, A.V.; Falony, G.; Vieira-Silva, S.; et al. Population-based metagenomics analysis reveals markers for gut microbiome composition and diversity. Science 2016, 352, 565–569.
- O’Toole, P.W.; Je_ery, I.B. Gut microbiota and aging. Science 2015, 350, 1214–1215.