Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist - Written by Rithi Choudhary (Journalist) on 04th Feb 2021
Inulin: A Great Prebiotic For Skin
If you are a skincare addict, you would be no stranger to the bizarre ingredients used in cosmetic formulations and the surprising benefits they offer to our skin. One such example of an ingredient is bacteria.
Yes, you read it right - bacteria that has an infamous reputation. It turns out there are several types of bacteria, and not all of them are nasty and acne-causing. There are naturally occurring good bacteria in the human gut and skin that protect the gut and skin from infection and inflammation.
You would be surprised to know that this microbiome (the bacterial flora in the human skin) is present in numbers of about a thousand to a million per square centimeter. This microbiome is the first line of defense in the skin barrier. Any disruption in its balance causes the skin barrier to get weaker and leads to various skin problems like acne, eczema, inflammation, etc.
What Disrupts the Microbiome?
Taking antibiotics, hot showers, eating processed food, UV exposure, over-exfoliating, over washing, oxidative stress disrupts the ideal environment in which the microbiome thrives and, as a result, kills the natural flora. But this is where science steps in and brings you the good microbes called Probiotics (in skincare formulations), which are closest in resemblance to the natural human skin flora.
Probiotics are good, friendly bacteria similar to the natural microflora present in the gut and the skin. Probiotic comes from two Greek words and means "for life."
Probiotics enriched foods and supplements lead to better gut health by helping with the metabolic process and beautiful skin by strengthening the skin barrier. They also hinder bad bacteria from proliferation and causing infection or inflammation in the body.
Fermented foods like yogurt/curd, dosa, kombucha, kimchi, cheese, etc., are probiotics sources.
Though they sound similar, prebiotics are not bacteria but substances (dietary fibers) that help maintain the activity and stimulate healthy flora. In simple words, they are the food or fuel consumed by Probiotics for their optimal function. While all prebiotics are dietary fibers, the reverse is not true for all nutritional fibers. In general, fiber has a thermogenic effect, which means that your metabolism speeds up when your body tries to digest it.
Prebiotics also promote the growth of bacteria that kills the acne-causing bacteria. Using Prebiotics in topical skincare can significantly reduce the inflammation of the bacteria without eliminating good bacteria. This allows the skin to return to its natural, healthy equilibrium.
Food sources of Prebiotics include oats, barley, flaxseeds, wheat bran, asparagus, onions, garlic, apples, tomato, soybean, beans, etc. The special fibers present in prebiotics support digestive health and support the flora of friendly gut bacteria.
What is Inulin?
One excellent prebiotic ingredient in skincare formulations is Inulin (derived from Chicory root), which balances the skin's microbiome and helps preserve its healthy appearance.
In a study, the extracts of Chicory root and Jerusalem artichoke have been found to have a high free radical scavenging ability due to their antioxidant properties. It was also observed that Inulin isolated from both Chicory roots and Jerusalem artichoke is a safe and non-toxic raw material. When Inulin was added to a model body wash gel formulation, it dramatically reduces its potential to cause skin irritation and sensitization.
Inulin for Skincare
Inulin is a natural humectant that is a water drawing magnet that pulls moisture from the environment into the skin and keeps it hydrated.
Inulin also acts as a skin-conditioning agent by forming a protective thin film layer on the skin, which leaves the skin smooth and supple.
It also helps to offset factors that lead to redness, dryness, and aging.
When applied topically, Inulin helps the probiotics thrive, keeps the skin youthful, and makes the barrier strong.
How Do Probiotics Work?
When the number of good bacteria increases, they can hinder harmful bacteria thriving and reduce their presence on the skin. Since the threat of the harmful, acne-causing bacteria is less, the skin can heal quickly from any existing inflammation, and also, the chances of future acne flare-ups are reduced. This is why yogurt or curd as an ingredient in DIYs is frequently recommended. Because curd or yogurt has the right bacteria' Lactobacillus'.
Benefits of Probiotics In Skin Care
When applied topically on the skin, probiotics directly affect the site of application by enhancing the skin's natural defense barriers.
1. Treats Acne:
Since probiotics and prebiotics work together, they help restore the healthy microbiome balance on the skin. The good bacteria outnumber the nasty acne-causing bacteria and therefore helps in treating acne. Probiotics also produce antimicrobial peptides (amino acid chains) that help eliminate pathogens and keep skin infections at bay. Prebiotics enhance the activity or functioning of the probiotics.
2. Reduces Inflammation:
Skin inflammation is often a result of a compromised skin barrier. By maintaining a healthy and strong skin barrier, Prebiotics and probiotics lessen the chances of inflammation. As they also help restore a damaged skin barrier and help reduce existing inflammation in the process. This works when foreign substances (bacteria/pathogens) come in contact with our skin and body. As a means of defense, the immune system reacts to fight them off. An after-effect of this immune response is inflamed skin and redness. The immune system also views the microbiome as foreign. It does not act as aggressively (when the nasty bacteria comes in contact), and therefore there is less inflammation.
3. Helps Treat Eczema and Psoriasis:
Although there is no strong evidence, few studies have shown that Probiotics help treat inflammatory skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis (red, itchy, inflamed, flaky skin). This may be because of its anti-inflammatory properties.
4. Delays Signs Of Ageing:
Topical application of probiotics helps boost collagen production, which is the main protein responsible for skin elasticity and suppleness. With age, collagen production decreases, and the skin develops lines and wrinkles along with losing its plumpness. Probiotics and Prebiotics, therefore, come to the rescue by aiding in the production of additional collagen.
5. Repairs Sun Damage:
Studies also show that probiotics can help repair skin damaged by UV rays. They help heal the broken skin acting at the epidermis and dermis level and stimulate beta-defensins production, which increases the skin's natural immunity.
Are Oral Supplements of Inulin Recommended?
If you are not getting enough prebiotics from your diet, then an oral supplement can be a good option provided you consult with your physician or dietician. Inulin (dietary fiber) helps control diabetes and also aids in weight loss.
When taken as oral supplements Inulin:
It slows down the digestion of carbohydrates, which allows the sugar to be released slowly without spiking the blood glucose levels, promoting healthy blood sugar levels.
Fights infection and diseases.
Since it is a fiber, it can soak up fat and calories from other foods you eat with it and ushers it out of the body.
Also, it is pointless to take these without probiotics as both of them work together in synergy. Probiotics and Prebiotics are together known as Synbiotics. While probiotics enhance skin health, Prebiotics improve the efficacy of probiotics.
You should consider taking a probiotics supplement if you take antibiotics, which kills the good bacteria and the harmful bacteria. Consuming probiotics will thus help restore the flora of the good bacteria.
Points To Remember
But not all probiotic supplements are equal or beneficial. They do not all have the same types of bacteria or the same concentration that are effective.
People with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth or people sensitive to ingredients in the supplement should also avoid the same supplements.
Other Prebiotics in Skincare Products
While Inulin is a great prebiotic in itself, skincare formulations also use other great Prebiotics such as:
- Colloidal oatmeal
Plant sugars such as:
Who Should Use Probiotics and Prebiotics in Skincare?
Anyone can use probiotics and prebiotics products topically. Those with inflammatory skin conditions will find the combination of pre and probiotics products to calm down inflammation and, subsequently, restore the skin barrier.
However, those with sensitive skin should always check the whole ingredient list to check for any irritating ingredients, especially fragrance that usually sensitive skin cannot tolerate.
Always use a pH balancing cleanser to maintain the ideal pH 4.5-5 of the skin and ensure the microbiome flourishing.
Storing Probiotic Products
Because probiotics are living bacteria, it is important that storing and packaging is done in the right way to ensure the products deliver maximum benefits. Most of them come with a short life span and need to be stored in a cool, dark environment.