What is the skin microbiome, and why does it matter to the beauty industry?

By Lucy Whitehouse

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Skin care products Bacteria

What is the skin microbiome, and why does it matter to the beauty industry?
The relationship between the microbiome and healthy skin has been described by commentators as ‘the next microbiome frontier’, with huge potential tipped for the beauty and personal care industry.

But what exactly is the microbiome, and how can beauty and skin players respond to its opportunities? In this trends feature piece, we examine the science and consumer interest behind the trend.

What is microbiome?

Microbiome refers to the collection of microbes - i.e. bacteria, fungi, viruses, etc. - that live in or on human cells.

The food industry has long been marketing products - yoghurts, drinks - with claims that they can balance or promote healthy gut bacteria. Now this trend, on the back of increasing research into the diversity of the microbiome of the skin,​ is moving into skin care.

What is the cosmetic potential of microbiome?

In recent years, cosmetic formulators have started to delve into the way the human biome can relate to, and impact on, healthy skin.

Indeed, as recently as the start of this month, major global health and personal care player Johnson & Johnson released new skin care and microbiome research.

According to a new report in C&En,​ this type of research could soon translate into product portfolios in personal care.

Cosmetic formulators are taking tentative first steps toward applying some of the lessons learned from the project to develop their own microbiome franchises. They are designing health-enhancing skin care products that contain live bacteria, bacteria extracts, or ingredients meant to enhance skin microbe activity,​” the report notes.

“They see many opportunities emerging from research that suggests a strong connection between a balanced microbiome and healthy skin.”

There is some criticism of the rising trend, however, with evidence of the benefits of such products currently limited, and safety and efficacy concerns taking centre stage.

Who’s leading the field in skin care?

Players like startup firms AOBiome - makers of skin care products containing ammonia oxidizing bacteria - and Gallinée - creators of products containing ‘probiotics’ and ‘prebiotics’ - are highlighted in the C&En report, and it seems that generally, startups are leading innovation in this field.

J&J’s recent research, however, suggests the bigger players are now starting to take note, and investing seriously in the trend.

Indeed, the company is working with a biotech firm, S-Biomedic, to develop bacterial treatment for both therapeutic and cosmetics applications at its startup incubator in Beerse, Belgium.

Other major players said to be investing in the field are P&G and L’Oréal, while on an ingredients level, manufacturers BASF, Givaudan, Vantage Specialty Ingredients and Azitra are all among the increasing list of those who have launched products aimed at enhancing the microbiome.

Further background and predictions are available in the C&En report here.

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