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A Closer Look: Prebiotics, Probiotics and Postbiotics


With a scientific understanding of the skin microbiome taking the potential for modulation into new territories, now is the time for understanding, applying and developing products that influence the skin’s health through the microbiome.

This is part 2 of a 2-part series

Part 1: The Microbiome & Implications in Aesthetics

Pre-, pro- and postbiotics, are derived from the gut, skin, soil or water. While there is no consensus as to which particular products we should recommend to patients, biotics are present in some, such as thermal spring water. Thermal spring water from La Roche-Posay contains high levels of selenium, which has anti-inflammatory properties, protects against UVB-induced skin damage and enhances the microbial diversity in the skin through probiotic benefits. Avene’s thermal spring water contains Aquaphilus dolomiae bacteria which is anti-inflammatory, anti-pruritic and immunomodulatory, making it valuable as an ingredient in topical preparations for cosmetic products.

Colloidal oatmeal, a prebiotic, contains proteins, vitamins B and E, lipids and polysaccharides, and has both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which help it serve as a skin protectant and useful in restoring the skin barrier and soothing the skin. It increases skin hydration, decreases skin pH, and improves microbial diversity, exhibiting prebiotic benefits to enhance the growth of healthy bacteria on the skin.


According to the journal Foods,1 Dr. Dorna Davani-Davari explains that prebiotics are a group of nutrients that are degraded by gut microbiota and their relationship with human health has been an area of increased interest. They can feed the intestinal microbiota, and their degradation products are short-chain fatty acids that are released into blood circulation, consequently affecting not only the digestive tract but also other distant organs, including the skin.

Two important groups of prebiotics are fructo-oligosaccharides and galacto-oligosaccharides with beneficial effects on human health. Since most foods have very low levels of these two groups, scientists are attempting to produce prebiotics on a mass level, at an industrial scale. Considering their potential health benefits and safety, as well as their advantages regarding production and storage compared to probiotics, prebiotics appear to be a promising candidate for promoting health as a replacement or in association with probiotics.


According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, a probiotic is a live microorganism intended to have health benefits when consumed or applied to the body.2

Probiotics can be found in yogurt and other fermented foods, dietary supplements and beauty products. Probiotics demonstrate that many bacteria and microorganisms are actually helpful, not harmful.

Some bacteria help digest food, destroy cells which contribute to disease and produce useful vitamins. Probiotic extracts also contain beneficial byproducts. Many microorganisms in probiotics are actually very similar to microorganisms that live in our bodies. Although their nomenclature sound similar, prebiotics and probiotics are not the same. Prebiotics are non-digestible food components that selectively stimulate the growth or activity of desirable microorganisms.


Lastly, postbiotics are functional bioactive compounds generated in a matrix during fermentation which may be used to promote health, according to the International Journal of Molecular Sciences.3

Postbiotics is an umbrella term for everything related to microbial fermentation components, however, there is no clear consensus on the definition yet. Current research indicates that postbiotics can have direct immunomodulatory and clinically relevant effects, and evidence can be found for the use of postbiotics in healthy patients to improve overall health and to relieve symptoms of a range of conditions, like atopic dermatitis. Postbiotics have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that help improve physiological functions.

Can their positive effects also be used to help our patients look better, and feel better?

The conversation of skin and the microbiome creates a deeper understanding of how to not only make the skin look good, but also healthy.


1. Davani-davari D, Negahdaripour M, Karimzadeh I, et al. Prebiotics: Definition, Types, Sources, Mechanisms, and Clinical Applications. Foods. 2019;8(3)

2. Degnan FH. The US Food and Drug Administration and probiotics: regulatory categorization. Clin Infect Dis. 2008;46 Suppl 2:S133-

3. Wegh CAM, Geerlings SY, Knol J, Roeselers G, Belzer C. Postbiotics and Their Potential Applications in Early Life Nutrition and Beyond. Int J Mol Sci. 2019;20(19).

Anna H. Chacon, M.D., is a dermatologist at Cleveland Clinic Florida. She is a Miami native and a graduate of Brown University's Program in Liberal Medical Education. She completed her dermatology residency at LAC + USC Medical Center and loves all aspects of dermatology.
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