Pre, pro and postbiotics: Do they live up to the hype?

Pre, pro and postbiotics are one of the most searched topics on The Secret Life of Skin, but what are they and what potential do they offer for skin care? We’ve got the download here for you.

While there are still a lot of questions about the blossoming field of research that is the skin microbiome, we do know that there is not one ‘right’ skin microbiome. Instead, it’s all about balance – perhaps frustrating for those of us that like a quick-fix or all-in-one solution. Talk of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria feels like a relic from the past as we further understand the intricate ecosystem and biodiversity of our microbiome. This is where our family of ‘biotics’ (pre, pro and post) come in.

As a group, pre, pro and postbiotics are naturally-inspired approaches to gently rebalancing the skin microbiome. The mode of action for each is slightly different. Prebiotics selectively feed key microbes, probiotics provide key microbes to the body, and postbiotics deliver the material that microbiomes produce which stabilises the skin microbiome.


The gut-skin axis

Before we dive deeper into pre, pro and postbiotics, one more thing we should talk about is the ‘gut-skin axis’.

As you read on, you will see that a lot of ‘biotics’ actually come in an ingestible form – most notably for pre and probiotics. It is even thought that the reported health benefits of fermented milk products, such as live yogurts, are due more to the products of fermentation than live microbes surviving digestion and exerting beneficial effects.

So, how does this benefit the skin? This is where gut-skin axis comes into play. The intimate relationship between the gut (or gastrointestinal health) and skin has been linked in numerous studies. One of the main methods of communication between the two organs is thought to be interactions via the immune system that regulates systemic and local inflammation. More specifically, ‘leaky gut’ due to an impaired intestinal barrier can also create a more direct impact, as intestinal bacteria (and the metabolites) can enter the bloodstream and ultimately accumulate in the skin and disrupt the skin microbiome. Common skin conditions such as acne, psoriasis and eczema can all be linked to the gut – this isn’t the case for all though.

Now, back to the biotics, we’ll run through the different types with some ingestible examples…



Looking in a bit more detail, prebiotics refers to non-digestible food ingredients that, by definition, have a health benefit by feeding key microbes in the body. Typically, we eat prebiotic foods. Think: wholegrains, bananas, green, garlic, soybeans and artichokes. These foods feed key microbes in the body and in turn they promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the intestine.



Probiotics are perhaps the most well-known of the three. Kombucha, sauerkraut, live yoghurt and kefir have all helped to make a name for probiotics. By introducing these foods into our diets, we deliver live microorganisms to the body, and key microbes to our microbiome, with beneficial qualities.



Finally, postbiotics. They are the newly emerging ‘biotic’ as the scientific evidence on their benefits grows. Postbiotics are non-viable bacterial products or metabolites that are released by beneficial bacteria. In other words, postbiotics arise from the breakdown (or fermentation) of bacteria – such as some vitamins or lactic acid. Although postbiotics are perhaps more common in cosmetics and skincare products, many are also available in the form of ingestible supplements.


Skincare ingredients and the microbiome

While the presence of skin conditions is often multifaceted, the gut microbiome and nutrition can be a central factor. The increased popularity in supplements and changes in diet to nurture the gut microbiome is a testament to this. But, where do ‘biotics’ fit within cosmetics?

 Each year, there is a growing number of skincare products on the shelves that promise to support a healthy microbiome.

For example, topical products containing the prebiotic inulin can hydrate and soften skin, and provide antioxidant and collagen-boosting properties. Lactobacillus ferment functions as a probiotic ingredient that helps maintain a healthy mix of skin microbiome – it is thought that this can help to restore your skin’s protective barrier and may reduce the risk or effects of some skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis, also offering anti-inflammatory properties. Cosmetics boasting postbiotic ingredients such as lactic acid can also be found on shop shelves; and with the strict definition of postbiotics in mind, many microbial ferment lysates and extracts present in probiotic cosmetics can actually be thought of as postbiotics.

Yet, the evolution of pre, pro and postbiotics into cosmetic and skincare products is not with challenges.

Probiotics spring to mind when thinking about such challenges. As probiotics are defined as live microorganisms, many questions surface over the safety and stability for products – they mustn’t cause harm to the user and must also survive long enough to sit in warehouses or on cupboard shelves. Regulatory bodies are also scrutinising associated claims, with very few claims to date receiving authorisation by regulatory bodies. No doubt, this is an area ripe for innovation and scrutiny in equal measures.

But, what is on offer today?  The Secret Life of Skin recently partnered with Zoe Woodhouse, otherwise known at the Skin Scientist, to explore the ingredients on offer and her favourite products. Read the full article here.

Browse the Content Hub for more and follow us on Instagram if you are interested in reading more about current and emerging trends in the skin microbiome.


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