In this mini-series, Kit Wallen, Russell Research Director JooMo Ltd., explains the science that drives the brand, and why they are steering clear of ‘probiotic’ and ‘prebiotic’ skin care claims.
In this first part, we hear about why there’s a difference between microbiome-related skin care and probiotic/prebiotic claims, and what that difference is.
Can you please outline the difference between microbiome-related skin care and probiotic/prebiotic claims?
Creating a healthy skin microbiome is a prerequisite for all ‘3rd Wave Cosmetics’, but there are currently two main camps of thought about how best to achieve this: Probiotics versus Biodiversity.
The two concepts are actually polar opposites of each other: the Probiotic lobby are interested in whether single species can make the skin healthy, while the Biodiversity group (led by JooMo) believe that maximising the skin’s microbial biodiversity is the key.
Before addressing this issue however just a quick word on Prebiotics: Prebiotics are food ingredients that induce the growth or activity of beneficial microorganisms (e.g., bacteria and fungi) in the gastrointestinal tract.
In diet, prebiotics are typically non-digestible fiber compounds that pass undigested through the upper part of the gastrointestinal tract and stimulate the growth or activity of advantageous bacteria that colonize the large bowel by acting as substrate for them.
For skin health the term Prebiotic becomes rather meaningless, but some products claim that they ‘feed’ the skin’s microbiome: they normally use the same ingredients used for the gut (eg chicory).
Even leaving aside the fact that the skin’s natural flora is very different from that of the gut (and has a very different function), the idea that skin microbes need to be fed in the same way as gut flora makes absolutely no sense unless we believe that we humans are actually able to digest food through our skin!
How do you think the industry can go about making the messaging clear on the difference between microbiome-related skin care, and probiotic skin care?
As so often is the case hard science must come first. Whereas comparisons between the skin and the the gut is a useful way of explaining the microbiome to a wider audience (who may be more familiar with issues such as probiotics and biodiversity in the context of our intestinal flora), leaping to assume that ‘what works for the gut must work for the skin’ is to misunderstand the crucial differences.
The education that’s needed is to familiarise the general public with a simple overview of the crucial main function of the skin’s microbiome: it directly protect humans from pathogenic invaders and helps our immune system to maintain and regulate that delicate balance between effective protection and damaging inflammation.
Last word on probiotics: even if probiotics were shown to have some health benefits, there really is no point throwing probiotics onto an incorrect skin environment - it’s like throwing grass seed in a barren desert, doomed to failure.
Unless the skin’s environment is made stable and attractive to the correct resident microbes (the route JooMo take) the ecosystem won’t thrive.