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Probiotics and Prebiotics: The Newest Cosmetic “It-Words”

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Just in case you got bored from hearing the words “natural and organic” or “preservative-free”, here comes a brand new catch phrase courtesy of the marketing departments of skin care companies: Probiotic. This word is borrowed from medicine, in which live bacteria are used for the gastro-intestinal (GI) system to accelerate recovery from antibiotics and other general problems. The skincare industry has no problem using a word that doesn’t apply in any way to skin care to sell you their old products as something brand new.

An Interesting Dilemma

Probiotics in medicine involve the delivery of live bacteria that may help change the bacterial flora of your GI system. However, bacteria are not allowed in skin care. They would lead to changes in the product that would vary depending on different environmental conditions. This is why we must use preservatives. The law demands testing for bacteria and allows for only a few  innocuous (harmless) bacteria and NO disease-causing bacteria. How does the industry plan on getting away with selling bacteria filled skin care products? It doesn’t. At most, the industry can add dead bacteria or extracts that are free from bacteria. But, with a bit of chutzpah, they call these “probiotics” and “prebiotics”, which does not apply in any way.

We will always warn you to distrust misguided marketing, so don’t buy skin care products that are advertised as probiotic. If you want a probiotic skin care treatment, do it yourself! Give yourself a yogurt facial.

Our May/June bonus celebrates this do-it-yourself idea. It features a kit that you simply add to a plain (full fat) yogurt from your local grocery store. It’s easier than making a salad, and is a real probiotic mask!


In a diet, a prebiotic is an ingredient obtained by fermentation. It modifies the GI environment and changes the bacterial composition in a beneficial way. In nutrition, the following  polysaccharides have been shown to change the GI flora: trans-galactooligosaccharide and inulin, larch arabinogalactan, pectin, beta-glucans, and xylooligosaccharides.
We use some of these polysaccharides in our products, but we would not call them prebiotic. There is no published research showing that they actually change the skin’s bacterial flora. We use them because they have been shown to provide other benefits, usually an improvement of the immune response of the skin.  Skin Actives sea kelp bioferment could be called a “prebiotic” since it contains metabolites made by the lactic bacteria while cultivated in the sea kelp extract.

What will you find in “probiotic” skin products?

Below are some ingredient lists of “probiotic” skin care products. In bold you will find ingredients related to bacteria, but they are definitely bacteria-free! Bacteria have been killed using heat or UV radiation.

Tula Hydrating Day & Night Cream, 1.7oz $52

Ingredients: Water, Butylene Glycol, Ethylhexyl Palmitate, Squalane, Glycerin, Caprylic/Capric Triglycerides, Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil, Dimethicone, Glyceryl Stearate, PEG-100 Stearate, Lactose, Milk Protein, Bifida Ferment Lysate, Yogurt Extract, Hydrolyzed Rice Protein, Chicory Root Extract, Blueberry Fruit Extract, Vegetable Oil, Camelina Sativa Seed Oil, Tea Extract, Turmeric Root Extract, Tocopheryl Acetate, Retinyl Palmitate, Ascorbyl Palmitate, Tocopherol, Ascorbic Acid, Safflower Seed Oil, Olive Oil, Watermelon Extract, Apple  Extract, Lentil Fruit Extract, Palo Santo Wood Oil, Lemon Fruit Oil, Orange Oil, Texas Cedarwood Oil, Ylang-Yalang Flower Oil, Sodium Lactate, Sodium PCA, Sodium Carbonate, Polysorbate 80, Polysorbate 20, Beeswax, Carbomer, Sodium Hydroxide, Tetrasodium EDTA, Disodium EDTA, Pentylene Glycol, Caprylyl Glycol, Hexylene Glycol, Ethylhexylglycerin, Phenoxyethanol.

mybody FUTURE IS BRIGHT Probiotic Anti-Aging Hydrator, 1.7oz $85
Nothing probiotic (or very useful either) in this list

Ingredients: Water, Lauryl Lactate, Emulsifying Wax, Pentaerythrityl Tetracaprylate/ Tetracaprate, Cetyl Alcohol, Dimethicone, Glycerin, PPG-2 Myristyl Ether Propionate, Cetearyl Alcohol, Cyclopentasiloxane,  Cyclohexasiloxane,  Myristoyl Nonapeptide-3,  Dimethylmethoxy Chromanyl Palmitate,  Undecylenoyl Phenylalanine, Beta Glucan, Arginine, Panthenol, Sodium Hyaluronate, Tea Extract, Matricaria Flower Extract, Borage Seed Oil, Tocopheryl Acetate, Behentrimonium Methosulfate, Retinyl Palmitate, Disodium EDTA, Methyl Gluceth-20, Polyacrylamide, C13-14 Isoparaffin, Laureth-17, Xanthan Gum, Caprylyl Glycol, Phenoxyethanol, Fragrance.

Eminence Clear Skin Probiotic Masque, 2oz $54

Ingredients: Cucumber Juice, Corn Germ Oil, Shea Butter, Marigold Oil, Yogurt*, Vegetable Glycerin, Kaolin Clay, Stone Crop Juice, Tea Tree Oil, Cyclodextrin, Soybean Oil, Corn Starch, Xanthan Gum, Squalane, Ubiquinone, Tocopheryl Acetate (synthetic Vitamin E), Ascorbyl Palmitate (synthetic Vitamin C Ester).

*Yogurt can’t be used in skin care because it contains millions of bacteria. Dead yogurt, by definition, is NOT a probiotic.

Mother Dirt Cleanser, 3.4oz $15

Water, Lauramidopropyl Betaine (synthetic detergent), Rose Flower Water, Decyl Glucoside (synthetic detergent), Apple Fruit Extract, Glycerin, Hydrolyzed Quinoa, Hydroxypropylcellulose  (synthetic thickener), Citric Acid (pH adjuster).

Note that there are no preservatives listed (very unlikely because there is good food for bacteria and mold in this formulation!)

And, from the same company that produces Mother Dirt skin care, AO + Mist, a product actively defying FDA regulations, and containing “Live cultured ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) is our patented strain of live cultured Nitrosomonas bacteria (Nitrosomonas D23), a type of Ammonia-Oxidizing-Bacteria.”
I could not find information regarding Nitrosomonas D23. I would not volunteer for this experiment in which you agree to be a Guinea pig!