Innovations in skin microbiome products: Saying yes to good bacteria!

Innovations in skin microbiome products: Saying yes to good bacteria!

By Bincy Bhaskar

Recently, a lot of buzz has been created by the word microbiome. Coined by  Nobel Laureate Joshua Lederberg, a microbiome is defined as the entire collection of micro-organisms living either inside or outside of your body. The knowledge about the types and the importance of these microbes for humans came to light after the completion of the Human Microbiome Project in 2012, carried out by the US National Institutes of Health. Since then, it has been a hot topic in healthcare, skincare, and even the food and beverage industry, with current estimates placing the global market value of the microbiome industry at $1.5 billion USD by 2025.

The role of the microbiome in the gut is well established and has been a vital topic in the field of healthcare and nutrition; see for example PreScouter’s article on how obesity can be influenced by the gut microbiome. However, information on the microbes that are lurking on the surface of the skin is new and is being labeled as the latest trend in medical science and the beauty industry. According to reports by Mintel, there have been huge advances in utilization of the skin microbiome in the cosmetics market, with growth estimated at a global CAGR of 6% between 2016 and 2021. It was also reported that the use of Lactobacillus-based probiotic skincare products increased by 98% in the United States from 2013 to 2017. Moreover, some of the key players in the cosmetics industry such as Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, BASF, and L’Oréal have already turned their attention toward harnessing the full potential of the skin microbiome.

So, what is the skin microbiome?

Human skin is a complex ecosystem harboring different types of micro-organisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and mites that are together known as the skin microbiome. The functions of the skin include protection against toxic environmental factors and invading pathogenic or infectious agents. The skin is colonized with microbes as soon as we are born, and the microbiome keeps on altering as we mature as a function of our age, diet, environment, and lifestyle. For example, oil-loving bacteria are the dominant bacteria in adolescence due to overactive sebaceous glands.

The skin microbiome plays an important part in skin protection — by forming a skin barrier — along with help from the immune system. However, various factors including diet, hormonal imbalance, lifestyle, and use of medications and cosmetics are seen to influence the composition of the skin microbiome. These factors can sometimes cause an imbalance in the microbiome, a condition known as “dysbiosis.” This disruption can then lead to several skin disorders, such as dandruff, acne, psoriasis, or atopic dermatitis.

How is the skin microbiome being targeted by the skincare industry?

The skincare market has embraced distinct approaches, targeting the skin microbiome on three different fronts:

  • Probiotics: Products with probiotics have “good bacteria,” in the form of either live cultures or lysates, to increase the number of favorable bacteria on the skin.
  • Prebiotics: Prebiotics act as food sources for the good bacteria, promoting their growth. They are usually short-chain oligosaccharides or polysaccharides.
  • Postbiotics: This involves the addition of the byproducts of probiotics to improve the composition of the skin’s beneficial bacteria, for example, by optimizing the skin pH. They are usually used along with pre- or probiotic treatments.

Innovative products in the field of the skin microbiome:

Here are some of the innovative companies targeting the skin microbiome that look to revolutionize the cosmetics industry.

AOBiome’s Mother Dirt

Massachusetts-based AOBiome’s Mother Dirt makes products aiming at maintaining and replenishing the good bacteria on the skin. AOBiome got the idea of starting this skincare line after one of its founders, David Whitlock, became curious about why horses like to roll in the dirt. They would eventually find that the ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) in the dirt break down ammonia in sweat to nitrite and nitric oxide, which have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, respectively. According to the brand, these AOBs used to populate on our skin naturally but have been destroyed with the advent of modern hygiene routines such as use of soaps, antibiotics, and shampoos.

Skin microbiome product from Mother Dirt
Source: Mother Dirt

Mother Dirt’s prominent biome-friendly product, the AO+ Mist, contains these live AOBs in the form of a probiotic spray. Other skincare products in this line include a moisturizer, shampoo, and cleanser, all of which are formulated with ingredients that replenish the skin with essential components and are also harmless to the skin microbiome.

CLR Berlin’s ProRenew Complex CLR

This product by CLR Berlin acts as an antiaging agent by improving the quality of skin, accelerating its renewal process, and supporting the shedding of dead skin cells. The research studies undertaken by the company showed an increase in the production of antimicrobial peptides and enzymes in skin, along with improvements in barrier functions and cell cohesion, which are essential for youthful skin. This product is obtained from a lysate of the probiotic bacteria Lactococcus lactis after fermentation under specific conditions.

Source: CLR Berlin

Lucas Meyer Cosmetics’ Defenscalp

Lucas Meyer Cosmetics launched a scalp microbiota-friendly antidandruff ingredient called Defenscalp. It contains the powerful rosebay plant extract titrated in oenothein B. Dandruff is caused by over-proliferation of a fungus (Malassezia species) due to an imbalance between sebum production on the scalp and the immune system. As per the studies performed by the company, this product regulated the Malassezia proliferation, without eliminating it totally from the scalp as the regular antidandruff ingredients work, thus balancing the microbiota equilibrium. It also showed a reduction in sebum production as well as in the appearance of dandruff flakes from the first use.

Bebe & Bella’s BeBella Probiotic Line

BeBella: The range of antiaging products from BeBella has tried to utilize the probiotic ferment filtrates (postbiotics) as a part of their skincare regimen. Several clinical studies conducted by BeBella for evaluating these products have shown softening of facial wrinkles, improved skin barrier function, and increased skin hydration resulting in firmer, more supple skin.


Skin microbiome product BeBella
Source: Bebe & Bella

Gallinée’s Happy Bacteria

This company refers to itself as the “first personal care brand to focus exclusively on the growing science of the human bacterial ecosystem” and has a huge range of products aiming at the skin’s microbiome. The company claims that their products help in the growth of healthy bacteria with probiotics (Lactobacillus species), prebiotics, and the postbiotic lactic acid, which is responsible for building a positive environment for the microbiome and softening the skin. Recently, Unilever Ventures has decided to act as a lead investor in the series A financing round of Gallinée Ltd. to develop a team, extend their product range, and finance R&D.


Source: Gallinée

Dermala’s #FOBO

Dermala’s range of products are specifically aimed at getting rid of acne. Acne is caused by a bacterium known as Cutibacterium acnes. During dysbiosis in the skin, C. acnes outgrows the good bacteria, resulting in inflamed skin and ultimately, acne. The dysbiosis can occur even in the gut, and this imbalance can worsen the inflammation happening on the skin. Hence, Dermala’s products focus on improving and balancing the skin as well as the gut microbiome with good bacteria. The topical acne products from Dermala contain a unique blend of prebiotics, postbiotics, and other compounds that help the good bacteria flourish, kill the acne-producing bacteria, unclog pores, and reduce inflammation.

Skin microbiome product from Dermala
Source: Dermala

Key challenges to overcome:

Although garnering a lot of attention and with numerous players taking their first strides into the skin microbiome market, the field is still in its infancy and will need to overcome some key challenges before it can make the jump from a trend into an established vertical. One issue is that claims and messaging are non-standardized and are often unclear. Different players will use different terms to refer to the same principles or even the same term to refer to different ingredients.

Strong clinical evidence is also lacking around a lot of the claims being put forward by the companies in this space. Studies either are not made publicly available, do not have the power or design to support certain claims, or are simply skipped by some companies before putting a product on the market with a series of positive claims. This is not something new in the cosmetics industry, but it is exacerbated whenever a new trend shows up and will need to be overcome to instill trust across the value chain and on to the end consumer.

Regulation will likely play a big role here but at the moment is not caught up with microbiotics for skin use in either Europe or North America. The US FDA announced recently that it is in the process of analyzing scientific data to validate the safety of pro- and postbiotics in skin products. The fact that some of the larger players in the skincare space (P&G, J&J, and L’Oréal, for example) have taken an interest indicates to us that targeting the skin microbiome is here to stay, and we will likely see these challenges tackled and sorted in the near future!

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