Lady Smarts The surprising factor that might be messing up your skin

Studies suggest that changes in skin bacteria play a significant role in conditions such as atopic dermatitis and psoriasis.

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Supplement for beautiful skin

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The term microbiome refers to the landscape of bacteria inside our bodies—it plays an integral role in the health of the gut, which in turn affects nearly every other system, including the largest organ, your skin.

But widespread (and increased) antibiotic use is killing off our good microbe populations.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 266.1 million courses of antibiotics were prescribed in 2014—and researchers say at least 30 percent of those prescriptions were unnecessary.

This reckless pill popping is bad news for the skin: Studies suggest that changes in skin bacteria play a significant role in conditions such as atopic dermatitis and psoriasis.

Antibiotics aren't the only offender throwing off our microbiome. "Certain common ingredients in personal care products, like the zinc pyrithione found in dandruff shampoos, and some alcohols found in products like toners, can also kill off good bacteria," says Matthew Zirwas, M.D., director of the Ohio Contact Dermatitis Center, who says he has seen an increase in irritating skin issues related to yeast overgrowth, which can result from a dearth of good microbes.

Check your gut.

Swapping out processed foods and sugar for a fiber-rich diet with lots of fermented fare (like kimchi and kombucha tea) will go a long way toward getting your gut and skin in a happier place.

Furthermore, "I have most of my patients take a probiotic, a supplement that supports the growth of healthy bacteria in our bodies. My basic rule of thumb is: the more strains of bacteria, the better," says Zirwas, who recommends Now Probiotic-10 100 Billion.

Add these 7 foods to your diet for beautiful skin:

Bug out.

Avoid products that totally annihilate bacteria—Zirwas says sensitive types with dandruff should opt for Neutrogena T/Sal Therapeutic Shampoo, which sloughs away flakes on the scalp using salicylic acid instead of zinc pyrithione. In fact, spread some bacteria on your face: probiotics, in addition to being taken internally, have major benefits topically.

In recent years, skin-care companies have started adding bacteria to products, as in Tula Hydrating Day & Night Cream with Probiotic Technology—a development many derms, including New York City dermatologist Dendy Engelman, M.D., endorse.

"Studies show they have a calming effect, which can be helpful in the treatment of inflammatory conditions like acne and rosacea," she says.

Research indicates that besides reducing swelling and pimples, topical probiotics can help treat sensitive skin by increasing ceramide levels (these strengthen the skin barrier).

This article originally appeared in the June 2017 issue of Women's Health. For more great advice, pick up a copy of the issue on newsstands now!

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