Our moms taught us to fear bacteria – we learned to sanitize our hands with antibacterial gel and scrupulously scrub our cutting boards to avoid the bacteria that causes foodborne illness. But, it turns out that all bacteria isn’t bad. We talked to Dr. Roshini Raj, a board-certified Gastroenterologist and Internist at NYU’s Langone Medical Center, TODAY show medical correspondant, and creator of TULA, a probiotic skincare line, to get the inside scoop on probiotics.

Becca Freeman: Let’s start at the beginning: what are probiotics? And what do they do?
Dr. Roshini Raj: Probiotics, also known as “good” bacteria, are living microorganisms that are naturally found in our bodies. In fact, about 90 percent of your body is made up of bacteria. Probiotics help you maintain a healthy balance of intestinal microbes and aid in general digestion, which is one of the top areas of ailment for a majority of Americans.

Besides staving off stomach aches, new research is exploring the link between intestinal bacteria and general immunity, mental health, and even cancer risk. Recent studies also show that probiotics can improve the health of your skin both when ingested and when applied topically, an area I’ve been focused on recently!

new research is exploring the link between intestinal bacteria and general immunity, mental health, and even cancer risk

BF: Why the sudden popularity of probiotics?
RR: Research into the benefits of probiotics has exploded in the past few years. Within the medical community, we are learning more about the diverse benefits of probiotics well beyond the digestive tract and the public is catching on to this as well. In fact, the number of people who Googled “probiotics” tripled from 2014 to 2015!

BF: How do I know if I should jump on the probiotic bandwagon?
RR: There’s little risk in taking them, both internally and topically, and it’s worth trying to see if they help address your concerns. Probiotics can be helpful if you suffer from IBS, Crohn’s disease or GERD. You can’t get too much of a good thing, and healthy bacteria is absolutely a good thing.

BF: OK, I’m sold, but how do I start a probiotic routine?
RR: If you’re a healthy eater, you’re probably already getting regular doses of probiotics from foods like yogurt, kefir or kimchi. Fermented foods such as such as yogurt or sauerkraut are good sources of probiotics. You can also find them in veggies like kimchi, kombucha or miso. My personal favorite source is tempeh.
If you’re new to getting probiotics through food or supplements, I suggest introducing them slowly. With the start of any oral probiotic regimen, some people can occasionally experience mild diarrhea, gas, or bloating, which should subside within a few days. In addition, it’s always best to check with a doctor before adding probiotics through supplements as some probiotics can interfere with other medications and health conditions.

BF: What should I look for in a probiotic supplement?
RR: If you want to add a supplement, ask your doctor for brands she recommends. Supplements with probiotics are everywhere these days and most of them have not been studied very well. As they are food supplements, probiotics do not have to be regulated by FDA so it’s always best to check with your doctor.

Image courtesy of TULA

Dr. Roshini Raj at home. Image courtesy of TULA

BF: What changes should I expect when I add probiotics to my diet?
RR: Aside from improved gut well-being and bowel regularity, you will notice improvements in your general health and appearance of your skin. There is a well-known link between the health of your gut and the health of your skin. If you suffer from acne, rosacea or eczema, probiotics might help clear up your skin since those conditions can also be caused by poor digestion and an imbalance in gut bacteria.

BF: Speaking of skin, how did you start to explore the relationship between skincare and probiotics?
RR: In the past 5 years, we’ve seen studies show that probiotics can have powerful skincare benefits. In fact, the American Academy of Dermatology has called them the “new beauty breakthrough” thanks to their ability to protect the skin and decrease skin redness and calm inflammation.

One of the most important benefits in probiotic skincare is that the “good” bacteria is able to act as a natural defense mechanism. The balancing effect that we’ve seen on the digestive system is now something we can show works in a topical solution. Probiotics form a protective layer on the skin’s surface and help strengthen your skin’s natural defense mechanisms to ultimately reduce inflammation, clear up skin, aid in redness, and reduce skin sensitivity.

BF: Tell us more about the science behind your new skincare line, TULA?
RR: Our skin is exposed to environmental stressors like air pollution, allergens, toxins, and UV ray exposure every day and our body-friendly probiotic complex stimulates the production of vital defense cells to make our skin healthier and more resistant to damage and aging.

We spent years working on our patented Probiotic Technology, and included other nutritious ingredients like Omega 3 and 6 essential fatty acids, blueberries, turmeric and white tea extracts to protect, strengthen and nourish the skin. We like to say that our products are like a “healthy smoothie” for your skin, feeding your skin the same way a healthy diet nourishes your body.

Special offer: if you’re ready to try topical probiotics, The Broadcast readers can get 20% off of their order + free shipping when you purchase at TULA.com with the code lola20.

Becca heads marketing for LOLA. When she isn't talking tampons, she enjoys searching for NYC's best chilaquiles, reading books that were probably meant for teenagers, and following dogs that wear clothes on Instagram.