Nurturing your microbiome: more or less?

The microbiome landscape is exploding. Increasing research depicting the skin microbiome as the key to nurturing healthy skin has secured it a place on ‘trends to watch’ in 2020. Beauty professionals and brands alike are tipping the skin microbiome as a movement that will shape the decade. The microbiome is here to stay but, as with any new trend, comes a million new questions (and in this case billions of new microorganisms).

The challenge is fierce. While research and development are certainly gaining momentum, consumer interest has been piqued and curiosity is growing at a faster rate than ever, imploring the science to keep up. According to reports by Mintel, the use of the probiotic Lactobacillus in skincare products in the US grew 98% from 2013-17.[1] Google searches for microbiome also increased by 110% from 2018 to 2019.

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Brands are investing heavily in this sector: Gallinée, one of the first brands to make a mark in the microbiome field, held a Christmas pop-up in London last year; La Roche-Posay, a brand renowned for its dermatological heritage, continues to broaden its microbiome offering, adding live microorganisms to products; and Mother Dirt is looking to launch biome-friendly deodorants.

The appetite to understand the microbiome and the range of products is huge: as we have increasingly seen with skincare over the last few years, Instagram is playing a significant role in supporting the educational journey. There are over 10,000 posts with #skinmicrobiome. Any beauty products that promise to balance the biome are in high demand: yet what is the perfect balance? And how as consumers should we be incorporating these products into our regimes?

“We still know relatively little about the impact of cosmetic products and ingredients on the microbiome – research is moving fast but we have a lot to learn”, says Lavienja Schruers-Braam, co-founder of the cosmetic brand Vavin.

It’s true: there is no one definitive right answer for what a healthy, balanced microbiome is. The microorganisms that make-up our microbiome live in an ever-changing community, which varies from person to person. As the field is still relatively nascent, many experts in the field are increasingly aware of brands over-using or over-promising claims about probioitics or prebioitics. “There aren’t really many studies that show a strong correlation between the use of these products and long-term implications for the skin microbiome” says scientist and skincare lover Marcia – otherwise known on Instagram as @skinminimalist.

girl maskYet, the view that nurturing the microbiome may be best done by using the old adage ‘less is more’ is becoming increasingly popular. Marcia continues “what I do believe can make a big different are products that are gentle, such as cleansers with a suitable pH that do not strip the skin of its natural microflora. As consumers, we need to move away from misconceptions like “squeaky clean” skin is good – as this is not the case.” Lavienja agrees, “the first step in achieving a balance skin microbiome is mild cleansing products – no alcohol and no sulphates. For example, the most expensive creams in the world may not deliver the promised spectacular results – whether for skin health or anti-ageing –  if you are starting your routine with a harsh that causes a dysbiosis of the microbiome.”

But, if you are tempted to expand your skincare routine with a biome-based product, Dr Katerina Steventon, a renowned skincare expert, is impressed by the Belgian based company . It focuses on “scientifically proven and effective solutions to protect, strengthen and restore skin flora in acne and sensitive skin – their research and innovation in topical probiotics is commendable!”. 

So, while research continues to teach us more and more about our skin and its inhabitants, for now at least, we should embrace the ‘less is more’ mentality and encourage the natural healthy bacteria on our skin to thrive and keep our skin healthy!

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