Microbial diversity: 'key benchmark in the coming Third Wave cosmetic revolution'

By Lucy Whitehouse

- Last updated on GMT

Microbial diversity: 'key benchmark in the coming Third Wave cosmetic revolution'

Related tags Skin Gut flora

The impact of the microbiome on skin care is fast becoming a key area of research and innovation for the beauty and personal care industry. We caught up with a brand at the forefront of development.

JooMo, UK-based skin care company, last year launched what it called the world’s first 100% natural face wash, and is dedicated to the idea that working in synergy with the skin’s natural bacteria is the future for skin care.

The company recently published a peer reviewed research paper in ‘Cosmetics’ journal,​ which offered a new mechanism for measuring skin health. We caught up with the paper’s author, Kit Wallen Russell, co-founder of JooMo and director of the R&D arm of JooMo.

Do you think there is a genuine appetite among consumers for products that work with the skin’s natural microbiome?

There’s a skin allergy epidemic raging across the Western world, and the rate of increase has been getting worse in recent years.

When looking at the causes for this epidemic, most of the focus has been on the gut microbiome - the consensus amongst health experts now is that having a healthy gut microflora is key to preventing allergies and other chronic conditions.

What has been neglected however is recognition that it is in fact the skin - the largest organ in the body - that holds the largest range of bacteria and other microorganisms.

My latest peer reviewed research paper published in Cosmetics directly deals with this issue and is the first to clearly illustrate how microbial diversity on the skin is key to good health. The common belief that the skin’s bacteria need to be exterminated for healthy skin is proved wrong. Bacteria normally only become harmful to the host when the balance is disturbed and diversity isn’t preserved.

So third wave cosmetics, using technology such as that found in JooMo, is the beginning of a new era for the industry and is being driven by a growing consumer led anger at the role current generation skin care products have played in exacerbating the skin allergy epidemic. These upset the natural balance of microbes on the skin, causing previously harmless ones to become harmful.

Using the discovery in my publication of a mechanism to test for skin health, the damaging effect of the current skin care products can be tested. This will further prove to consumers that they need to make the switch to products which preserve the skin’s natural environment and maintain diversity of bacteria on the skin.

Is this consumer interest rising? If so, why now?

Realisation by consumers of the part played by synthetic chemical ingredients in causing this skin health crisis has directly led to the huge growth in the use of so-called ‘natural’ (2nd wave) cosmetic products.

Unfortunately, what most consumers haven’t realised is that most so-called ‘natural’ products still contain harsh chemically altered ingredients such as soaps and preservatives - the same ingredients that have been major factors in causing the allergy epidemic in the first place by destroying the natural diversity of microbes on the skin.

So-called ‘natural’ industry regulators have bowed to pressure from their members, resulting in a very loose definition of what can be labelled as ‘natural’. In short, anything can be labelled ‘natural’ so long as it contains a few natural ingredients.

But switched-on consumers who have pressed for honest labelling on food products are now insisting that the same standards be applied to the cosmetics industry too.

And these consumers are usually the same people who understand the need for a healthy gut flora and who understand, therefore, the direct parallels with the skin microbiome. They are leading the way in demanding third wave health giving cosmetics that enhance the skin’s immune system through its symbiotic relationship with its own microflora, preserving the diversity of them on the skin, rather than destroying it.

What products are currently on the market (JooMo products, and any others) that are responding to/leading the trends?

There are really two camps: firstly, the probiotic companies such as Aurelia, Esse, and Mother Dirt who introduce bacteria to the skin much in the way that Danone claim to add ‘good bacteria’ to the gut.

Secondly, companies such as JooMo who believe that there is little point in introducing microbes to damaged skin where these microbes will not thrive - it’s a bit like trying to spread grass seed on a desert!

Also there is really no need to introduce microbes to the skin anyway, as we are in contact with the correct species in our everyday environment - the air and soil around us. In this respect the skin microbiome is different from the gut, as the gut is isolated from the external environment and therefore can’t replenish itself. Indeed some studies have suggested that the gut microbiome is laid down at birth, and we’re all stuck with that fixed microbiota diversity for the rest of our lives!

JooMo believe that the crucial issue for our skin is to create the conditions where a healthy skin microbiota can flourish, working symbiotically with our immune system so that the skin can heal itself.

Do you think they’re reaching the full potential of the trend, or is there more room to grow and develop these products? Where next for the trend?

We are only at the start of a revolution that will put an end to the era of the vast 20th century synthetic chemical industry.

In many ways the industry will return to the days before harsh chemical preservatives and cleaners were introduced in so much as third wave cosmetics will only use natural products with which the human species has learned to live in harmony over hundreds of thousands of years - ingredients which the human immune system will be familiar with will not, therefore, trigger an immune response.

The difference between now and the past is that modern research and technology have allowed us to create the most effective balance of safe natural ingredients that maximises the microbial diversity on the skin. JooMo’s MIRR technology, for instance, uses cutting edge research to create a system that allows all the natural ingredients to work in synergy, meaning that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. 

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