Skin Microbiome Innovation: Esse brand profile

By Lucy Whitehouse contact

- Last updated on GMT

Skin Microbiome Innovation: Esse brand profile
The skin’s natural bacteria landscape, otherwise known as its microbiome, has potential for testing and for inspiring new product development within the beauty and personal care industry. In this brand profile series, we take a look at the companies leading the way.

Find out more and register ​​HERE​​ to join us at the Cosmetics Design Summit 2019: Skin Microbiome Innovation​.

This two-day conference is packed with expert speakers and groundbreaking research, amd takes place in Amsterdam, 24-25 June.

The exciting event is sponsored by DSM​ and Givaudan​ (Diamond sponsors); Solabia​, and Sabinsa​ (Platinum sponsors); Mibelle Biochemistry​ and Atlantia​ (Gold sponsors), and Indena​ (supporter).

Why the skin’s microbiome?

The skin’s microbiome, now it can be mapped in a way that is increasingly time efficient and affordable, is offering huge potential for the beauty and personal care industry.

Indeed, Bloomberg is even now reporting on the potential for the microbiome, with a recent article​ laying out the progress so far in the science around the skin’s microbiome, and the interest in its potential by players big and small (a focus is given to Unilever’s efforts in this area).

“Even corporations that built brands dedicated to killing bacteria are investing in microbiome research and startups, sometimes on the sly,” the article explains.

“In 2016 the Clorox Co., maker of microbe-annihilating Clorox Bleach, acquired Renew Life Formulas Inc., which sells prebiotic and probiotic supplements. This January, Unilever Ventures Ltd., the conglomerate’s investment arm, took a minority stake in Gallinée, a tiny London-based startup whose slogan is ‘Happy skin needs happy bacteria.’”

Esse: brand in the spotlight

We caught up with the founder of Esse Skin Care​, Trevor Steyn, to hear the full details of the brand and where he thinks the skin microbiome trend is going.

“I think the precipitous drop in the cost of gene sequencing has caused the change in our perception of skin,” he says, suggesting why the skin’s microbiome is entering the spotlight now.

“Lower costs allowed The Human Microbiome Project to highlight the importance of the skin microbiome.

“Once it was clear that skin health was dependent on the state of its microbes, probiotics were the next obvious step … an effort to add keystone species that improve the health of the whole ecosystem.

“It seems that this concept is intuitive for consumers and I think that this is driving the “trend”.

“The cost of sequencing is now low enough that we offer microbiome analysis at our concept store. Things should get interesting when clients are able to see the effect of the products they use on their skin microbiome.”

The following Q&A with Steyn explores what Esse is doing in the skin microbiome space, and the story of the brand so far.

What is the defining ethos or idea behind Esse?

When we started out in 2002 the idea was to use African plant actives in certified organic products. That changed quite sharply around 2010 with the first findings of the Human Microbiome Project. We started to use prebiotics and probiotic extracts in all our leave-on products.

The defining ethos at the moment is almost “paleo-skincare”. As close as possible, we expose skin to the conditions for which it has evolved in an effort to optimise skin health. This may sound low-tech and hippie but it isn’t.

We have cultured our own new probiotics and other biotech actives and we’re constantly innovating in the skin microbiome space. It’s not easy to beat two million years of evolution.

Going back to setting up the company: can you explain any major challenges/hurdles you had to overcome?

In 2002 we were one of the first skincare lines to certify organic with Ecocert. We were too early for the market and the company nearly died before the organic trend caught on.

In 2010, when we shifted our focus toward probiotics, we were also too early.

Educating a market in a new concept is always a challenge, so it is a relief to see that we were on the right track with this one.

Can you describe a major high point in your story so far?

In Feb 2015 we launched our Probiotic Serum with 1 billion live probiotics per ml.

Getting this through the EU regulators was definitely a high point. It paved the way for other live probiotic launches.

Standout product?

That would still be the Probiotic Serum from our Esse Plus line. Encapsulated live Lactobacillus probiotics in airless glass packaging.

Are you expecting any key challenges or opportunities in the coming period? 

Differentiating ourselves from other probiotic brands is going to be really tough.

Not all probiotic claims are equal. A probiotic is defined as a live microbe that has a beneficial effect.

The busier the market for probiotics becomes, the harder it is to get key pieces of information across to consumers.

We went through this at the beginning of the organic trend. There was a phase during which it was a free-for-all with loads of brands claiming that they were organic.

Eventually the regulators had to step in to protect the consumer. It seems likely that this will happen in the probiotic space, so that would be an opportunity.

Quickfire facts & figures:

Launch date: ​Some time in 2002

Employees (size of company): ​79 globally

Products:​ 57 retail including the foundations and sunscreen that will launch in May (46 before launches); also 49 professional-use products for skin therapists.

Retail channels: ​Salon and spa channel

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