The (seemingly never-ending) quest for a flawless complexion involves much more than your serums and spot treatments. Rather, the secret to clear skin lies in your gut. (What doesn’t it affect?)
Essentially, getting a glowy complexion is a battle that must be fought above and below the surface—both topically, with the right (natural) oils and cleansers, and internally, through what you eat and, just as important, how you digest it.
Because time to get real: Eating the right foods for your skin—like leafy greens and healthy fats, for starters—won’t clear up your blemishes if you don’t absorb their powerful nutrients. And this is where paying attention to your gut and making sure it’s functioning is essential to your health. (After all, it’s been tied to depression, chronic fatigue, and sleep problems.)
“Using digestive enzymes and probiotics to help with the proper absorption and breakdown of foods can be really helpful for fighting acne,” Dr. Merrell says. “Skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, or acne are mostly an internal problem coming out. Putting topical ointments on your skin can be helpful, but the most important component of your skin health is what happens to it from the inside.”
Both supplements help the body reduce inflammation (one of the major enemies of blemish-free skin) and promote tissue repair—which can lead to better skin health. “Though they work in quite different ways, they’re very synergistic and critically important for the processes in your body that take place,” says Dr. Merrell.
Ready to get your gut in great-skin shape? Here’s what you need to know.
How do digestive enzymes and probiotics work?
Digestive enzymes have two key roles, according to Dr. Merrell: They’re absorbed into the body to promote healing elsewhere, and they stay in the gut to help with digestion.
“Enzymes taken with food make the macro-molecules from proteins, fats, carbs, and other starches break down so they can be absorbed,” he says. “If you don’t have sufficient enzymes, you cannot fully digest your food—which means vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients like essential fatty acids won’t be absorbed by the body and available at the cellular level. They’re very important for making sure nutrients can reach your skin for skin repair.”
“By taking specific strains of healthy bacteria, like the kind in yogurt, you can actually increase skin elasticity, reduced wrinkles, and get clearer skin.”
If you take enzymes between meals, they go into the body to help with tissue repair and skin rejuvenation, adds Dr. Merrell.
As far as probiotics go, the beneficial bacteria play a major part in chronic skin conditions. Not only that, but “there’s a direct link between the gut microbiome and the skin,” says Dr. Merrell. “By taking specific strains of healthy bacteria, like the kind in yogurt, you can actually increase skin elasticity, reduced wrinkles, and get clearer skin,” he says.
What to look for in your gut-health supplements
The number of probiotics and digestive enzymes on the market is pretty overwhelming. How is one supposed to navigate them all? Dr. Merrell has some tips.
- Look for lactobacillus and bifidophilus: “Lactobacillus strains are the most reliable, with bifidophilus also being important and easy to find,” he advises.
- Make sure the manufacturer is trustworthy: “It’s important to make sure they have tested for the bacteria being able to be reconstituted to an alive, active form once taken into the body—many yogurts may have bacteria that are no longer viable,” explains Dr. Merrell. “Most legitimate brands are willing to share their testing protocols with their consumers. If these protocols aren’t otherwise stated on their website, the consumer can reach out to the brand to ask them.”
For digestive enzymes:
- Look for specified units rather than ingredient weight: “Specialized units show the activity of an enzyme,” says Dr. Merrell. “Some examples of these might include things like DU (for amylase), HUT (for protease), ALU (for lactase) and FIP (for lipase). Ingredient weight—like milligrams or grams—mean very little for the quality of an enzyme.”
- Opt for wide pH ranges: “Most enzymes offer different levels of activity within specific pH ranges,” he says. “The best formulas will indicate that they are blended for maximum effectiveness across wide pH ranges. Look on the supplement facts panel for manufacturers to call out unique blends that may offer more comprehensive digestive support.”
- The wider the range of enzymes, the better: Papain (from papaya) or bromelain (from pineapple) alone are each very effective, but “they don’t break down nearly as many things as enzymes in a well-balanced formula,” he says.
How else to achieve clear skin? Sip on these nine delish smoothies for a healthy glow. Plus, what happens if you get a monthly facial? One of our editors tried it out to see if it would boost her complexion.