Gut (bacteria) and the skin

I am often asked if there are more interesting discoveries in the field of skin. And although magazines would lead us to believe that the latest ingredients and equipment can make you look ten years younger, there is little news to tell. Having said that, I am closely following a development which I think is pretty revolutionary. And that is the research into the role the intestines play in relation to the skin. It is, in fact, an old principle with a new approach, many doctors are not yet applying it and more research is still required for all the pieces in the puzzle to fall into place. I would still, however, like to share some of these insights with you, because I know that your skin (and your health) can benefit tremendously from them.

In the past (and in oriental medicine) the skin was looked at very closely to see if someone had a deficiency. But, nowadays, that has changed. Do you suffer with eczema? Then we will apply a rich cream and corticosteroids. Do you have an acne problem? Then we will prescribe antibiotics to kill the bacteria. Apart from the fact that an antibiotic doesn’t differentiate between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria, which causes a disruption to the balance in your body, there is the danger of resistance. I am becoming more and more at odds with this approach and therefore feel that we should be very cautious and more restrained in prescribing antibiotics.

Underlying cause

More importantly: it is, in my opinion, a mistake to only consider a skin condition from the outside. Because if your skin reflects your health, then prescribing a cream is merely a band-aid solution. And that is precisely what has emerged out of literature in recent years; even though skincare products and medicinal creams can help the skin become healthy again, there is often an underlying cause of the skin problems.

A very good example is acne. Research has shown that acne is an inflammatory process of the skin and an intensified immune response. Put more simply; you have, as it were, an ‘allergic’ and extreme reaction to things that someone else can handle. Acne, for example, is our way of killing bacteria while someone without acne can live with it. The same phenomenon actually occurs with rosacea. Even though rosacea is associated with the presence of demodex mites, they live on almost everyone. But they cause actual problems for people with rosacea; their skin reacts excessively!

Although it is sometimes worthwhile switching off these triggers, it is perhaps even more beneficial if you can help your body to react less severely. You can, for instance, help your skin regain its strength and firmness so that it can protect itself. You can do this by restoring its natural balance, for instance, by rehydrating it and by using anti-inflammatory and barrier repairing ingredients. In many cases, however, that isn’t enough. Research shows that the exaggerated severe immune response not only occurs in the skin, but in the whole body. And the same study has found that in many cases it is chronic inflammation and an intensified immune response in the body.

Where does the chronic inflammation come from?

There may be a number of reasons for a disruption to the balance in your immune system with the presence of a chronic inflammatory state and, with that, skin problems too. An unsuitable diet, antibiotics, obesity, smoking, sleep deprivation and high levels of stress can all contribute to this situation. I would like to delve a bit deeper into one cause though. And that cause is concerned with the gut; an imbalance between the good and bad bacteria in the gut (dysbiosis or SIBO) and the so-called ‘leaky gut’ can cause a lot of problems. Time after time it has been demonstrated that these gut problems are often found in people with acne and rosacea.

It’s complicated to explain, but if there are problems in your bowel then a whole series of events can cause your body (and skin) to react excessively to anything and everything. Furthermore, that can also have an impact on your hormone functioning, with all its associated consequences.

It is really worthwhile paying attention to this, certainly because research has shown that after treatment for the bowel, the skin also sees an improvement. Even though there are still few doctors who look specifically at this, I do have advice for you. If you suffer from acne or rosacea, don’t just treat the outside, but also try to get your insides back in order…

These are my tips

Check the gut

If you have skin issues and lots of bowel problems, get it checked out to see if there is an underlying reason for your bowel complaints.

Diet and lifestyle

Even without bowel complaints your body may still be in a chronic inflammatory state; caused or not caused by the condition of your bowel. Try and make your body relaxed. For example such as:

  • Avoid simple carbohydrates as much as possible in your diet, and leave out alcohol for a while
  • Gluten and milk products can be a problem for some people. Try and cut down on these for a while to see how you react
  • Make sure that you get enough sleep, exercise and relaxation
  • Choose good fats and avoid bad fats (saturated fatty acids and trans-fatty acids). You can if necessary have omega 3 fatty acids
  • Include enough vegetables and fibre in your diet
  • If you feel that you are not getting enough vitamins and beneficial substances in your current diet, then extra vitamin D, probiotics and, for example, astaxanthin can do a lot for your body and your skin and have an anti-inflammatory effect. Try it! We know from studies that it can help

Be patient

If you want to attempt to get back on track, try and follow this for at least four weeks but, better still, a little longer and in the meantime look carefully at how your plan affects your skin (and your body). If you are serious about doing this and combine it with a barrier repairing and anti-inflammatory skincare plan, I think you will be pleased that you dared to try. Not only for your skin but also for your health!

Wish you great skin!


(Research Physician Cosmetic Dermatology)

Related articles

Is there a link between diet and acne?

Diet and rosacea

Nutrients that enhance your skin