Probiotics for scalp health: what you should know

Written by Ross Goodhart

When you think of probiotics, the first thing that might come to mind is yogurt and kimchi. You’ve probably seen a few probiotic supplement options on the shelves, too - and these are a great way to get the good bacteria our bodies need to function.

What many people don't realize is that probiotics are good for more than internal health. In fact, topical probiotics can help address skin issues, hair loss, candida, dandruff, and other concerns. Here's what you should know about these handy bacteria.

What are probiotics?

Bacteria are not inherently bad. Your body contains trillions of bacteria, many of which are crucial to your survival. Health issues can occur when there’s an imbalance of these bacteria - i.e. too much of some species, and not enough of others. 

Probiotics are simply ‘healthy’ bacteria. Probiotic skin treatments deliver live, active bacteria that can help improve your skin’s health. This may sound odd, but the truth is that our skin barrier stops these organisms from going any further than they should and allows them to bring our skin back into balance. This may help resolve the issues that cause itchy skin, and excessive dead skin cells.

Supporting your health via internal probiotics can also be deeply helpful. Products like probiotic yogurt and prebiotics can address problems from the inside of your body, which may allow your natural healing mechanisms to improve your overall scalp health and perhaps minimize the impact of issues like severe dandruff.

At the same time, probiotic bacteria contained in shampoos and similar products can help alleviate an itchy scalp, minimize the impact of skin conditions, and may even help address issues like inflammation and lactic acid buildup. This tends to be great for acne, especially with probiotic strains that help deal with oily skin. In some cases, probiotics like Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG can even promote overall hair growth and cover old acne scars.

The risk of home remedies

You might find the idea of tinkering with your own microbiome appealing. Many people who have dry skin, atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, or yeast infections turn to products like coconut oil and apple cider vinegar as attempted probiotic remedies. Unfortunately, these treatments on their own aren’t always effective - and they can even worsen problems like dandruff, dry scalp, and candida yeast overgrowth, if not appropriately administered.

When bacteria threaten your scalp health, you may need to use scalp and hair products that treat a wide variety of issues, rather than limiting yourself to a single treatment plan. Tea tree and aloe vera, for example, may help some people in some ways, but they're rarely enough on their own.

Can probiotics treat dandruff & other scalp issues?

Your scalp is a complete ecosystem. Think of it as a forest, with each hair acting like a tree. Small creatures live in that forest and contribute to its overall health. We can also suffer if there are intruders, such as lice, so it's essential to care for our skin and support the way our hair works if we want to maintain optimal health.

So do probiotics really help improve your skin health and fight dandruff? The answer is complex. Some evidence suggests that probiotics are helpful in reducing dandruff. One study, for instance, found that dandruff improved more in a group of otherwise healthy volunteers who took probiotics than in a control group. It’s important to note, however, that this research is fairly preliminary and more data is needed before doctors will begin recommending probiotics as a first-line response to dandruff. 

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