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Could your face really be too clean?

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We're taught from a young age that bacteria = bad germs. While there is such a thing as bad bacteria—like the kind that can lead to sickness or infection—there are also thousands of good bacteria that live on our body and are beneficial. When they're stripped away by overly harsh cleansing habits, our skin barrier can become vulnerable, which can lead to breakouts and a dull complexion.

"Probiotics naturally live on the surface of skin, creating a protective veil referred to as the skin’s microbiome," says Sandy Skotnicki, MD, a dermatologist in Toronto and author of Beyond Soap, which takes a deep dive into this topic. Dr. Skotnicki recommends applying topical probiotics and prebiotics to help feed existing bacteria and balance the skin that is often left defenseless from over-cleansing. When the microbiome is balanced, she explains, "it helps offset factors that can negatively influence skin, such as factors that lead to redness, dryness, and a weakened surface that more quickly shows signs of aging from environmental attack."

In addition to topical products, you can preserve the microbiome by not cleansing as much, she says. Unless you have acneic or oily skin, you can get away with just rinsing with water in the morning. Dr. Skotnicki​​​​​​​ recommends micellar water, which is super gentle (we like Bioderma Sensibo H20 Micellar Water). Cleansers to avoid: those that can be stripping, such as foamy or soap-based formulas that lather. These often have harsh surfactants that can disrupt the good bacteria.

Here are some of our favorite probiotic and prebiotic skincare products that will help get your skin in tip-top shape.

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