Is skin health the next frontier for probiotics?

19 Aug 2019

Most probiotic products are still sold based on the promise of gut health and immunity benefits, but interest in their potential for skin health is gaining traction, according to Lumina Intelligence.

The market research organisation has looked at probiotics sold online in 20 countries, and found that probiotics used for infant skin health, such as to improve eczema, are among those that receive the best customer reviews. It identified about 25 ingestible probiotics specifically targeted at those with allergies, eczema and other skin conditions like acne, as well as about 120 topical cosmetic probiotic products worldwide. In addition, pregnant and breastfeeding women increasingly are consuming probiotics to reduce the risk of allergies and eczema in infants – with products available in the UK, Australia and China, among others – and many swear by their effectiveness, even if research backing such claims so far has been inconclusive.

Is skin health the next frontier for probiotics?
More probiotic products promise improved infant skin health

The European market for probiotics has experienced some big setbacks, particularly as food and drink manufacturers are prohibited from making health claims, but the market continues to grow. The International Association for Probiotics has suggested that it would have grown at a faster rate under a more permissive regulatory system, considering that the European probiotics market was the largest in the world ten years ago, and is now the third largest behind China and the United States.

When it comes to more novel applications for probiotics, like skin health, repeat purchase is reliant on consumer perception of a product’s efficacy. The initial challenge for manufacturers – particularly in Europe – is to communicate the potential of such products without making any illegal claims. If consumers see an improvement in their skin health when taking probiotics, they are likely to continue taking them – and to leave positive reviews online.

Another possible route to market might be to use probiotics in combination with other ingredients already commonly associated with skin health, such as collagen or resveratrol.

Companies working in the probiotics space generally are keen to underline that different probiotic strains are effective for different benefits. For instance, in a partnership that aims to develop probiotic products targeting those with sensitive and dry skin, flavour and fragrance provider Symrise and Swedish probiotic firm Probi have focused on the Lactobacillus plantarum HEAL19 strain. The companies claim this particular strain has shown promise in several in vitro studies.

Lumina’s research found that just a few probiotic strains dominated skin health claims, either alone or in combination – although dosage varied widely between brands.

For consumers, the concept of using probiotics in skin health products may be more accessible than some manufacturers might imagine. The idea of promoting ‘good bacteria’ in the gut has become widely accepted, and with broader media coverage of the human microbiome in general, awareness of its importance beyond the gut is becoming increasingly mainstream – even though taking probiotics for the skin is still an idea in its infancy.

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