It is commonly believed that conventional treatments and medications are the answer to combatting acne. A visit to the doctor to discuss our acne typically ends with a prescription for birth control, a heavily medicated skin cream or if all else fails, a course of gut microbiome destroying antibiotics.
I must preface this article by stating that antibiotics have provided us with incredible advances in health and can be lifesaving, when necessary. However, overuse for chronic conditions have led to antibiotic resistance and further health ailments (which we’ll save for another article).
The gut microbiome has only developed mainstream interest in the past several years, with studies increasingly linking a healthy and diverse microbiome to good health.
Our gut microbiome is incredibly complex, and many parts of it are still relatively unknown and undiscovered. What we do know from research is that gut dysbiosis (aka a compromised gut microbiome) leads to many chronic health issues, with acne being no exception.
Most antibiotics are broad spectrum, meaning that they eradicate ALL bacteria in the gut, both good and bad. This unfortunately leaves the terrain in the gut vulnerable to an over proliferation of bad bacteria, who just love to thrive in a non-competitive environment.
I can speak from personal experience, having tried the conventional route for my acne for over a decade before seeking a holistic approach.
My first experience with antibiotics was during infancy. I took rounds of antibiotics due to tonsilitis until eventually my tonsils were taken out. What we didn’t know back then, was the effects of taking courses of antibiotics, especially during infancy, hinders opportunity for the gut microbiome to develop, grow and mature. I’d always had minor gut issues as a child and as children do, never paid much attention. Well…until puberty hit. Once I had reached my teen years, an already impaired microbiome plus a surge in hormones created the ‘perfect’ conditions for acne.
I then spent the next thirteen years trying every skin medication and antibiotic that the doctor prescribed, to find that it temporarily ‘worked’ to then develop acne again once I stopped. With every new round of ‘acne-fighting’ antibiotics, both orally and topically, my skin became increasingly more inflamed and unhappy. Very disheartening and quite frankly, frustrating and upsetting.
How do antibiotics affect your skin microbiome?
Interestingly, recent research has emphasised the link between the gut microbiome and skin microbiome through a process called the ‘gut-skin axis’. If our gut microbiome is compromised with an over proliferation of bad bacteria, toxin load is increased due to the by-products excreted from bad bacteria. The increase in toxic load needs to be detoxified, usually via the liver. However, if our liver is overwhelmed with detoxifying other environmental pollutants, a processed food rich diet, antibiotics, and other medications (to name a few), then the skin will help with the detoxifying process. These toxic by-products exit via the skin, congesting our epidermis and negatively impacting our skin microbiome.
This can result in inflammatory reactions in the skin causing conditions like acne, eczema and psoriasis.
How to heal your gut & skin microbiome after antibiotics
Probiotics are a great supplement to include immediately post-antibiotic or in general (it is never too late to rebalance your microbiome!). Gut probiotics are great after courses of oral antibiotics, however, if you’ve also applied topical antibiotics, then topical probiotics go straight to the source. Your skin microbiome is a little different than your gut bacteria, therefore it is vital to seek a topical skin probiotic that targets the unique balance of microbes living on the skin to rebalance the skin barrier.
Many probiotic skincare formulas contain bacteria that mimics the gut microbiome; therefore, it is important to use a formula that actually nourishes and replenishes the skin microbiome. Antibiotics kill all bacteria; living on the skin or in the gut, therefore, they will wipe out any beneficial bacteria from probiotic formulas.
Fibre can’t be digested by the body; however it is perfect food for beneficial bacteria, helping them to grow and thrive. Aim to increase daily fibre intake to 25g.
It is also important to focus on increasing the colour on your plate, to feed the good guys. Focus on approximately 4+ colours in ever meal to help cultivate your gut bacteria with the nutrients it requires to proliferate and nourish the gut.
If you have had chronic acne for years, consider a functional stool test to help gain a snapshot of your microbiome. These tests are fantastic for identifying what may be driving your acne. Ensure that you choose a reputable comprehensive stool test, if you need help with this, please do seek a qualified practitioner.
Stephanie is a registered (mBANT) nutritionist and specialises in acne and other inflammatory skin conditions. She gives those who have tried the conventional route, a natural road map to help heal their acne.
If you’d like to explore a more holistic approach to treating your acne, then do get in touch to discuss whether working with Stephanie is right for you: