COVID-19 fuels online 'skinbiotics' surge – and big beauty is joining fast

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Data from Lumina Intelligence shows a 236% probiotic cosmetic product hike in the last two years and rising online engagement with these offerings [Getty Images]
Data from Lumina Intelligence shows a 236% probiotic cosmetic product hike in the last two years and rising online engagement with these offerings [Getty Images]

Related tags probiotics prebiotics postbiotics skin microbiome microbiome Skin health skinbiotics Lumina Intelligence

The pandemic’s relentless push to digital retail and even mask wearing have helped online probiotic cosmetic products more than double in two years across 25 countries tracked by Lumina Intelligence.

Since Lumina published a digital market-focused skinbiotics report​ in May 2019, the probiotic cosmetics product count had increased from 122 SKUs from 58 brands to 289 SKUs from 138 brands – a 236% hike in two years.

And many of these new entrants were from bigger cosmetic houses clamouring into a still-nascent sector pioneered by smaller firms and probiotics specialists.

Clinique and L’Oréal joining the skinbiotic movement

“The market continues to be quite fragmented, but we see more and more big companies entering the space,” ​said Ewa Hudson, director of insights at Lumina Intelligence.

“Brands like Clinique and L’Oreal, Andalou Naturals and Eminence have joined the probiotic-focused brands like Tula and Mother Dirt – brands that know how to behave in the online space and attract new customers,” ​Hudson told CosmeticsDesign-Europe.

The Lumina report had focused on digital engagement, especially the rising influence of reviews and ratings, and found these grew 264% in 2020 and 348% in 2019 across the 25 countries surveyed spanning six continents, including France, Spain, the US, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Japan and Australia, among others.

Cosmetic claims and probiotics – ‘it’s still a little bit cowboy country’

Globally and online, skinbiotic products making inflammation claims were the most frequently reviewed, followed by skin health; acne; healthy ageing; and eczema.

“Especially with COVID, my understanding is that many people who wear masks will have more frequent onsets of acne and eczema and so will look for these kinds of products,” ​Hudson said.

And for beauty and cosmetics, she said this was a space lightly regulated and policed regarding claims compared to the food and supplement sectors, where in the EU even the term ‘probiotic’ was banned on-product and considered an unauthorized health claim, though some Member States had begun to circumvent the bloc’s strict health claim rules.

Unlike probiotic food supplements, for instance, probiotic cosmetics rarely bothered to state how many millions or billions of each probiotic or postbiotic (dead probiotics) strain they possessed – known as colony forming units (CFU) – a legal requirement in some jurisdictions and which many consumers look to as a signal of product efficacy.

“It’s still a little bit cowboy country with claims and labelling,” ​Hudson said, noting an unsettled US class action against Clinique​ over its probiotic cosmetics that in fact contained postbiotics.

Beauty consumers want to ‘feel a benefit’ – skinbiotics continues to grow

“But the category grows regardless,” ​she said. “Overall, probiotic cosmetics reviews grew faster than probiotic supplements, although in Europe it was about the same. Many consumers simply don’t check the labels for the ingredients. As long as they can feel a benefit, they will buy it.”

Ratings bear this out: Across all 25 countries, users rated skinbiotic products on average at 4.5/5, Lumina findings showed.

At the same time, rapidly evolving scientific understanding of the skin (and gut) microbiomes and the role played by nutrients like probiotics in skin health was helping legitimise the category and filtering through to the public in varying degrees.

“Consumer awareness of the microbiome concept has reached the level where it can be used as a marketing tool,” ​Hudson said.

Skinbiotic reviews and ratings growing fast globally and in Europe

In 2020, there were a total of 120,000 skinbiotic reviews – a 1,200% jump from 2018 with China and the US dominant but countries like Spain and South Korea rising fastest.

Reviews grew 186% in Europe in 2020 to reach 18,900 or about one-sixth of total reviews captured by Lumina’s digital market trackers, reflecting the relative reticence toward online retail among many Europeans, pre-COVID at least.

Spain accounted for more than half of these reviews, with 10,300, growing 900% in 2020, followed by Germany (4,000 reviews and 200% growth), France (1,600 reviews and 145% growth) and the UK (1,400 and 45% decline).

Hudson said European e-tail channels were “much more fragmented than say the US where there is a greater concentration in e-tailers like Walmart, Amazon and Walgreen plus direct-to-consumer websites”.

“In Europe you’re talking about loads of smaller online pharmacies. Amazon is strong in certain countries like France, UK, Germany, but not others.”

Grand View Research estimated the global market for probiotic cosmetics to be worth €200m in 2020.

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