The future of skin microbial testing

Innovations in microbial testing has the potential to revolutionise the beauty and personal care industry. In our last interview with Tom van den Bogert, Project Manager Metagenomics, at BaseClear, we discussed the current landscape, technical developments and challenges for the industry.

Enthused by the advancements and future trends in the field of microbial testing. We revisit our conversation with Tom on what this means for consumers and the personal care industry in part two.

You can read part one of the interview here.

The skin microbiome is marked as one of the biggest trends in personal care. Do you see this trend as well?

Yes, we do see the huge attention on skin at the moment. When it comes to skin research, we are involved in research ranging from determining the effect of live bacteria or bioactives from microbes as cosmetic ingredients, to complete clinical trials to evaluate the effectiveness of medicines on skin ailments where the microbiota may play an important role. There is so much potential here, but we do need to keep in mind what is possible, and what is not.

This is a discussion I have quite often with other researchers: what can we deduce from our research? It is very important to consider this and ensure there are no false or misleading conclusions. On a scientific level, we are constantly trying to improve the approaches. Different technologies and small adjustments can potentially change the outcome of the analysis. Keeping this in mind is crucial when there is such an interest in the microbiome and high-quality research takes time.

During microbial testing or analysis, you generate an enormous amount of data. How can we, as consumers, best interpret this?

The first thing to look at is the microbial diversity. This gives an indication of how many different bacteria you have and their abundance distribution. We calculate this and, to some extent more clearly for the gut microbiota due to larger availability of research, and we see that overall a higher diverse microbiota is linked to more favourable health parameters. For skin, this is not yet as clearly defined, but this comes back to determining what a healthy microbiota – skin or gut – actually is.

With the diversity of the bacteria in and on the body – where do you test?

This is hugely important and depends on the questions you have, whether this is as a researcher or consumer: what is the goal? For some studies, you test specific areas relating to where the skin issues are, or where the products will be used. For others, you test the lower back, as the bacteria are more abundant here, this may give a very different picture.

Do you have an example of this?

This area of research is questioning our definition of ‘healthy’ – what is a ‘healthy’ microbiome? We need to be careful not conclude that a certain microbiome is better than another. We simply don’t know what this is at the moment. We need to go back to the basics: what is a healthy skin, and a healthy microbiome?

So, where is the research going? What will this bring for consumers?

With regard to skin microbiota targeted products, I think that the research is and will move further towards personal skincare or making the products more suitable for specific problem areas, such as eczema.

Of course, there are some products in this area already available on the market. But with further research, this is really where the future lies and where product development will be going. Think personalized products, with personalized solutions, depending on your microbiome supplemented with the bacteria that you need. Imagine going to the doctor and being prescribed a product that is suitable for your needs, and your health, based on testing your microbiome.

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