Demands rising for clinical data on the skin microbiome: Experts

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

Interest in human studies was rising especially fast as brands and manufacturers seek real-life efficacy and claims data [Getty Images]
Interest in human studies was rising especially fast as brands and manufacturers seek real-life efficacy and claims data [Getty Images]

Related tags skin microbiome microbiome Skin health skin 2.0 claims claims substantiation In vivo clinical trials Labskin Sequential Skin

Consumer interest in skin-friendly beauty products continues its rise, prompting an acceleration in microbiome claims validation and product testing both in vitro and in vivo, say testing experts.

Last year, Avon’s global director of skin care and trend innovation Anthony Gonzalez predicted the end of ‘anti-ageing’ skin care by 2024​. Why? Because consumers, Gonzalez said, were now increasingly knowledgeable and instead focused on specific skin issues and benefit-based products. And this trend towards skin health and personalised product care had accelerated in the thick of the global COVID-19 pandemic​.

For consumers, managing skin health was now a key priority. For experts and industry, this meant managing the delicate balance of individual skin microbiomes.

The ‘skin beyond skin’ movement

Skin 2.0​ was one of CosmeticsDesign-Europe’s key EMEA beauty trends to watch in 2022​ – a movement that saw consumer focus on the skin sharpen. But skin care desires had now evolved to encompass all body parts, from head to toe; scalp to body, and consumers were looking for products, rituals and routines to tap into broader wellbeing and self-care needs.

“I’ve been watching this trend for quite a few years, and it definitely has been gaining in popularity,”​ said Claire Tansey, director of operations at Irish research institute Atlantia Clinical Trials, speaking on the rise in interest around overall skin health.

Talking to attendees at a dedicated Skin Microbiome webinar earlier this month on clinical perspectives, Tansey added: “…There’s been a huge demand from consumers looking at skin-friendly cosmetics. Whether they’re calling it ‘microbiome’ or not is another thing but definitely the shift has gone from an anti-ageing approach to a healthy skin and healthy ageing approach. And that’s very much aligned with the microbiome aspect here.”

What all this meant for industry, she said, was a steadily rising need for clinical validation of products and ingredients in the skin microbiome and skin health category.

Exploring how products promote healthy skin

“From the ​in vivo side, we’re seeing companies wanting to investigate the effect of their product on the likes of trans epidermal water loss; how products are interacting with the skin [with] harsh ingredients like surfactants; or facial washes in the past that would have been designed towards getting rid of bacteria and now we’re seeing a really positive shift towards respecting the skin microbiome and keeping the balance intact. So, it’s really about exploring how products can work with the skin to promote a healthy skin,” ​Tansey said.

The same demands were being seen for in vitro​ testing, according to Éile Butler PhD, senior tech research manager at skin microbiology specialist Labskin, part of Deepverge (previously Integumen).

Labskin’s 3D human skin models​ provided an important bridge between preclinical and clinical trials, Butler said, testing aspects like barrier function, differentiation and inflammation markers in a standardised and cost-effective way. The company was also able to test specific parts of the skin via its 3D models, including scalp, underarm and groin, she said, and conduct tests on dysbiotic microbiomes with mimicked inflammatory conditions like acne and atopic dermatitis, even wounds.

However, Butler said this sort of in vitro​ testing was most helpful in obtaining insight on specific active ingredients or certain blends – helpful in bridging into longer in vivo​ clinical trials looking at long-term effects of final skin care products on the microbiome.

Human trials give ‘real results on real people’

Tansey agreed that longer 12+week human trials enabled aspects like water loss, skin hydration and redness to be considered – “key indicators of the overall skin health and healthy microbiome balance”.

“…From an ​in vivo perspective, I always view it as real results on real people. So, it’s a good indication of how the final product is going to work. It’s very different if you’re just taking one ingredient and testing it ​in vitro to then the final formulation because different aspects or different things in that formulation will enhance penetration into the skin or deliver an active in a different way,” ​she said.

“I always think it’s good validation to finish with an ​in vivo test result as this gives very credible, evidence-based results for the actual product that is going to market.”

Earlier this month, UK-Singapore startup Sequential Skin debuted its in vivo​ testing service Sequential Bio​, offering microbiome testing with various topical products for beauty and personal care companies worldwide – a move its co-founder and CEO Dr Oliver Worsley said was especially important in the microbiome field.

“There’s a significant complexity that needs to be taken into account, and our approach does exactly that, with controls to make sure we capture the microbiome diversity, and key biomarkers accurately,”​ Worsley said.

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