From Kombucha to Kefir, probiotics have become commonplace in the health food market as consumers recognise the benefits of ‘good’ or ‘friendly’ bacteria in their diets. The live bacteria and yeasts are promoted as having various health benefits and can often be seen added to yogurts, or taken as food supplements. This trend, like many others, has firmly influenced the cosmetics and beauty care industry as brands and consumers embrace the biome-balancing benefits of such ingredients when applied topically to the skin.
As a result, health-conscious consumers are looking for ways to introduce ‘good’ bacteria into their skincare. According to Mintel, 38% of female consumers are interested in probiotics as a skincare ingredient. This boom in popularity means the global probiotic cosmetic products market is anticipated to reach USD 37.8 million by 2025, growing at a CAGR of 7.6% from 2017 to 2025. Today, the sector is largely dominated by Western countries, but the APAC market is expected to see the fastest growth in this area, particularly in China and India where such products are positioned as a natural alternative to products that include chemical ingredients.
With this rising interest sparking new product development, cosmetic formulators are creating skincare products that contain key live bacteria and other probiotic ingredients to enhance and protect microbiome activity. Insights from Mintel’s Global New Products Database revealed the use of the probiotic Lactobacillus in skincare products in the US grew 98% from 2013 – 2017. While a report by Research and Markets forecasts that microorganisms will be the most dominant category, with product launches expected across the haircare, oral care, and dermo-cosmetics categories.
“These types of ingredients work in harmony with your skin microbiota to protect and sustain it whilst reinforcing and revitalising skin” said Rouah Al-Wakeel, Director, RAW Cosmetics Limited and advisor to in-cosmetics Asia and Global.
Starting with the skin microbiome products
The skin microbiome is perhaps one of beauty’s biggest buzzwords over recent years. Coined by Nobel Laureate and American molecular biologist, Joshua Lederberg, the term refers to the “whole community of organisms that live on the skin” according to Professor Carsten Flohr, a dermatologist who specialises in eczema. The microbiome is made up of bacteria, viruses, yeasts and fungi, however, the primary focus for skincare is bacteria. There are over a thousand different species of bacteria that live on the skin that coexist in harmony. However, a number of factors such as diet, hormonal imbalance and the use of cosmetics can disrupt the composition of the skin microbiome.
“Organisms on the skin’s surface play an important role in communicating with and educating the cutaneous arm of the immune system and keeping the skin healthy. When your skin’s microbiome is in balance, it helps offset factors that can negatively impact the skin, such as redness, dryness and a weakened surface leading to early signs of ageing from environmental attack” comments biotech scientist and CEO of Good Science Beauty, Dr. Suzanne Saffie-Siebert. “Just like with your gut, having a diverse balance is the key to a happy microbiome” adds Professor Flohr.
Tackling skin conditions with Beauty Biohacking
Closely linked to the immune system, an imbalance in the skin microbiome is known as ‘dysbiosis’ and this disruption in the microbiome make-up can lead to skin disorders such as eczema, acne, psoriasis or dandruff. Similar to the way in which oral probiotics increase the diversity of bacteria in the gut, probiotics applied to the skin can help to increase the number of favourable bacteria on the body’s largest organ to help alleviate and tackle skin disorders.
Unfortunately, excessive use of harsh antibacterial cleansers and soaps can strip the skin of its healthy microflora, ultimately damaging the skin’s natural ecosystem. This can cause the skin to become dry, over-sensitive or lead to breakouts. “We were raised with the germ theory, meaning that we were taught to eradicate germs using antibacterial soaps and gel until our skin was ‘clean’ or bacteria-free. However, healthy skin is anything but ‘clean’ by that definition. Healing and nourishing your skin’s microbiome is critical to the health of your skin” says Dr. Whitney Bowe, NYC-based dermatologist and author of The Beauty of Dirty Skin. In addition, probiotics can boost the skin’s natural defence against environmental aggressors such as pollution, restoring the skin’s equilibrium.
Probiotic skincare, from moisturisers to one-off treatments, can provide benefits to all skin types however there is evidence to suggest they are particularly beneficial to those with chronic inflammation. “For those with acne, or skin conditions like rosacea and eczema, probiotics can yield calmer skin and better control over breakouts” explains Dr. Francesca Fusco.
According to the International Journal of Women’s Dermatology, probiotics modify several factors in the pathophysiology of acne development and have been shown to directly inhibit Propionibacterium acnes through the production of antibacterial proteins. For those with acne-prone skin, using probiotics topically “creates an optimal environment for the good bugs, swinging the balance in your favour against zit-causing bacteria — the primary culprit being Propionibacterium acnes,” according to Dr. Rhonda Klein, Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology and Partner at Modern Dermatology in Connecticut. “I predict that in the next few years, acne won’t be treated with antibiotics but with probiotics. It makes so much more sense to feed the good guys and starve the bad ones (in this case, the acne bacteria)” says Marie Drago, founder of probiotic skincare brand, Galinée.
Another recent study by the American Academy of Dermatology found that because the body’s immune system recognises these living organisms as foreign, it automatically provides a defensive response which results in reduced inflammation, redness and bumps. According to Dr. Bowe, probiotics act as a protective shield by preventing bad microorganisms from provoking an immune reaction which “creates a more calming environment for the skin” as well as producing natural antibiotics – called antimicrobial peptides – that combat bad bacteria.
Formulating for the future of probiotics and skin health
The skin microbiome is highly individualised, frequently changing in response to a wide variety of internal and external factors. With this in mind, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to formulating with probiotics and it is likely that certain strains of bacteria will be more beneficial for certain complexions. “One challenge in the development of these skincare products is that each person may have a different need in terms of their skin microflora and that it is also inherently different in different body parts” Dr. Suzanne Saffie-Siebert comments. This could, however, offer greater opportunities for personalisation – another rising trend in the skincare and cosmetics space.
A quick look at recent ingredient and finished-product launches reveal a whole host of beauty and personal care products focused around probiotics, and many of the key players in the cosmetics industry – such as BASF, Unilever and L’Oréal – are already taking full advantage of the skin microbiome trend. Lucas Meyer Cosmetics, for example, launched a scalp microbiota-friendly anti-dandruff ingredient called Defenscalp. Studies carried out by the company showed the ingredient regulated the Malassezia proliferation without eliminating it totally from the scalp, thus balancing the microbiota equilibrium. Elsewhere, CLR Berlin’s ProRenew Complex CLR™ acts as an anti-ageing agent by increasing the production of antimicrobial peptides and enzymes in skin, along with improvements in barrier functions and cell cohesion, which are essential for a youthful complexion. This product is obtained from a lysate of the probiotic bacteria Lactococcus lactis after fermentation and under specific conditions.
Opportunities and key challenges
An inclination towards organic ingredients coupled with the success of probiotics in the food and beverage industry has spurred demand for probiotic skincare. This delivers huge opportunities for the cosmetics and personal care industry; however, the field is still relatively new and there are a number of key challenges for formulators, marketers, suppliers and the wider industry to overcome.
Probiotic beauty products have a naturally short shelf life and so they must be formulated in a specific manner and differently to fresh foods that aim to aid digestive health. “It’s really problematic for a cosmetic to contain actual live bacteria, so most actually contain fragments of bacterial cell walls that can elicit immune response” comments cosmetic chemist, Kelly Dobos.
In addition, bacterial products require aseptic conditions which presents a clear challenge for packaging and may raise some safety concerns around contamination. With this in mind, the industry is likely to see an increased focus on delivering effective approaches to manufacturing, packaging and distribution which will improve the efficacy of probiotic ingredients throughout the supply chain. A good example of an innovative production technique is ESSE which uses airless glass packaging and a preservative-free formula for its Probiotic Serum skincare line. Claimed to be the world’s first probiotic serum, microbes are encapsulated and suspended in an oil base, reanimating and dividing when they come into contact with water on the skin’s surface.
For marketers, a lack of standardisation around claims muddies the waters when it comes to messaging. With the industry still in its infancy, this is matched with a lack of strong clinical evidence to back up such claims, meaning professionals at all stages of new product development need to consider and overcome this if they want to instil trust in their customer base.
Finally, with limited clinical evidence to support this youthful trend, regulation is likely to play a big role in the future of the probiotics cosmetics market. Whilst it does not currently regulate the use of probiotics in skincare, the FDA announced just last year that it is analysing scientific data to validate the safety of using such products.
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