I Tried Putting Bacteria On My Skin To Cure Acne

March 8, 2017

One of the more innovative recent trends in skincare is the use of topical probiotics to treat acne. Given the great interest in probiotic supplements and probiotic-rich foods (like sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, and kombucha), it’s no wonder that beauty companies wanted to harness these powerful (benevolent) bacteria to more directly treat skin issues.

While probiotic supplements (taken internally) have been associated with improved digestive and immune health (and their attendant beauty boons—mainly, a clearer, more radiant complexion), topical probiotics, which come in the form of creams, serums, and sprays, are designed to reestablish and maintain a healthy skin microbiome. When healthy, this delicate skin “ecosystem” helps protect skin from environmental toxins (which cause inflammation), contact dermatitis, eczema, and, of course, acne. Some probiotic skincare companies design products that target body odor. (As it turns out, certain good bacteria can eat odor-causing bacteria. But more on that later.)

In short, probiotic-infused skincare is designed to take the skin microbiome back its healthy state—before we interfered with overly harsh, alkalinizing soaps and antibacterial anti-acne treatments.

Being the skincare-junkie that I am, I had to try topical probiotics. Also, I’ve had a good relationship with probiotic supplements and probiotic-rich foods. I religiously pop one of these every morning before food, and it’s safe to say that I’m a raw sauerkraut addict.

I Tried It: Topical Probiotics for Acne

There’s an ever-lengthening list of probiotic-infused products, but I was immediately interested in AOBiome’s Mother Dirt AO+ Mist. This mist is packed with ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOBs), which feed on ammonia. Present in our sweat, ammonia can alkalinize skin, making it drier (yet more likely to overcompensate with too much sebum) and more vulnerable to inflammation. Here’s my experience.

The Packaging

One afternoon, a large package showed up at my front door. After wading through multiple layers of packaging, including a few cool packs, I unearthed my bottle of Mother Dirt mist. While this packaging was necessary to keep the bottle chilled (and the probiotics alive), I felt incredibly guilty about how much material was required to transport a little bottle of mist. (I did, however, save the cool packs to use in the cooler during our next road trip. Woohoo, upcycling!)

The Storage

So yes, the product needed to be refrigerated or else those little bacteria would die off in a matter of weeks. (Still, the product only lasts in the fridge for about four months before expiring.) I once read about a natural beauty guru who has a mini-fridge in her bathroom to extend the life of her preservative-free products. I enjoy teasing my husband with the possibility that a bathroom mini-fridge could occur in our future.

The Application

Wash face. Pat dry. Trot into the kitchen. Spray face. Trot back to the bathroom. Apply moisturizer and serum.

While I don’t mind the little trek to the kitchen and back, I find that I tend to forget misting myself with probiotics simply because the bottle isn’t nested with my other skincare products. I’ve taken to spraying myself with probiotics at various times during the day—or at least before I go to bed—to make sure I’ve got some little guys hanging out on my face.

The Puzzlement

After learning that many products (particularly soaps) are the enemy of the skin microbiome, I become obsessed with protecting my the nice bacteria on my skin and analyzing all of the ingredients in my current line up of products. Mother Dirt has a very helpful science section where I happily learned that the skin microbiome loves pure oils (like coconut) rather than water-based moisturizers that often contain preservatives.

I was concerned that my favorite essential oil blends may not be good for my skin microbiome given that virtually all essential oils have some antimicrobial properties. I emailed the company to find out more. A very helpful representative explained that citrus oils (those that contain limonene) are not good for AOBs. This lead to me to do more on research essential oils—and I found out some less than great stuff about two of my favorite oils. Florals, like rose, however, do not destroy the AOBs, according to the representative.

Not every oil (or skincare ingredient) can be tested with the AO+ Mist, of course. There are also certain limitations about wearing the product with makeup and sunscreen. Hhmrf.

The Results

I was curious about the claims that the Mother Dirt spray could nix body odor. Given that the bottle is a bit costly compared to most toners (not that it’s a traditional toner), I’m not interested in trying to use it as a replacement deodorant (especially when I’m in love with this far cheaper natural and effective deodorant). I certainly gave these BO-busting claims a test, though, and was very surprised by how effectively the mist prevented body odor. To put the spray to the most rigorous test, I used it under my arms on a day when I was traveling by plane and knew I would be running around airports and crammed in a stuffy plane or two. And no odor.

But on to perhaps more pressing matters, my skin. Perhaps it’s partly the greater attention I’ve paid to nurturing my skin microbiome, but I do feel that my skin is healthier. Since using the product (about a month now), I haven’t had any medium or large bumps, just a few tiny, 24-hour imperfections. Interestingly, my skin has also felt more balanced as far as oil-production is concerned. But again, this may be in part because I’ve tried to eliminate products that would interfere with my skin microbiome. Given the product’s expense, packaging, fast expiry, and contraindications (if I can call them that), I may not restock my supply of Mother Dirt mist. I am convinced, however, that the product is healthy for skin, and I look forward to seeing how the world of topical probiotics evolves!

I Tried It: Topical Probiotics for Acne

Have you tried topical probiotics? What was your experience with them? 

Related: Organic India and Supplements Review

7 Must-Follow Essential Oil Safety Tips

Does Stress Really Cause Skin Problems?

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Photos: Mary Hood Luttrell

Peaceful Dumpling Beauty Editor and creator of Bisou du Jour, Mary Hood Luttrell lives with her husband in Corpus Christi, Texas. Mary is a freelance writer and writing and blogging consultant. A lover of whole foods, Mary delights in learning new ways to prepare vegan dishes. Mary also enjoys reading and writing poetry, art journaling, running, and practicing yoga and ballet. Follow Mary on her blog Bisou du Jour, Instagram and Pinterest.


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