Fostering open innovation on the skin microbiome

A conversation with Dr. Lavienja Schreurs-Braam, Founder of Vavin, on collaboration and open innovation within the skincare industry

In a world where consumers have access to skincare information at their fingertips, it is arguably more important than ever for brands and beauty professionals to responsibly educate consumers – and each other.

Many skincare brands are purposefully pivoting to this new way of nurturing and fostering a relationship with their audiences: they are transparent about their ingredients and the role they play in the products. Vavin in one example of this – founded in 2005 by Dr. Lavienja Schreurs-Braam and cosmetologist Patrick Gonry.

We spoke to Dr. Schreurs-Braam on the formation of the skincare brand and the importance of collaboration to foster open innovation and development in the skincare industry in this digital age.

Since Vavin’s inception in 2005, how has the skincare market changed?

The skincare market has changed drastically. Not only are we looking to our microbiome as a sign of skin health, but the trend of minimalism has really hit the industry. Consumers are now much more engaged and are actively seeking out the newest trends, products, and ingredients – this provides a huge opportunity but also a responsibility for brands and beauty professionals to educate them appropriately. Gone are the days when skincare focused solely on skin sensation: products now strive to improve overall skin health.

Yet, we must remember that we still know so little about the impact of cosmetic products and ingredients on the skin microbiome.


What do you think is next in the revolution of the skincare industry?

The industry is very awake to the fact that the microbiome holds the secrets for healthy, balanced skin, so is naturally a focus in innovation and research.

However, I see a need for brands to join forces – this will enable more discussion and open innovation. To facilitate this, researchers and scientists, brands, consumers, and beauty professionals should all be part of the conversation.

Niche, or disruptor, brands will engage with consumers in a different way to some of the larger brands and may also collect different data points – each gaining valuable insights. Equally, research undertaken by public and academic institutions has its place in the dialogue: while cosmetic skin conditions may not be high on their research agenda, the learnings may correlate. This form of collaboration, establishing open partnerships, has potential to move the whole industry forward when there is a consensus that, as a collective, the industry will benefit from more research.

One initiative may be an ‘open’ database between different brands and organizations to collect and build data points in order to investigate associations between specific personal characteristics and the skin microbiome. However, we have to be realistic and recognize the challenges in doing this because at the end of the day we are all competitors. It will take a leap of faith.


You mention the importance of education. What has been your biggest challenge at Vavin with educating your customers?

One of our biggest challenges has actually been educating and supporting beauty professionals. Consumers have access to so much information online and it is difficult to find independent, scientifically proven knowledge relating to skincare. That’s why it is important to us at Vavin to educate beauty professionals on how to best communicate the importance of a healthy, balanced microbiome with their customers. We have been working with organizations to establish how we educate customers and consumers alike.

Compared to the benefits of active ingredients – which often have spectacular and visible results –  the benefits of a balanced skin microbiome are not as instant. There is also the consideration of talking beyond the benefits including the role of the other ingredients in a formulation: emulsifiers, preservatives and so on, which are all important for shelf-life. This is cosmetic chemistry: it’s a steeper learning curve.


What advice would you give to a start-up company looking to bring a product to the market?

Don’t underestimate the importance of communication and marketing. I have often seen that you can have a very good or innovative idea on product development but struggle to penetrate this competitive market. Personally, as a scientist, this saddens me, as product development and ideation should be the most important aspect and focus – but all products need a market.  


Finally, what is your favourite fact about the microbiome?

I find it fascinating how microorganisms work as a community. For example, one bacterium is able to use skin products, like dead skin cells, keratin, and fatty acids, as nutrition for other microorganisms. I like to think about the commensal relationship we have with the bacteria that inhabits our bodies. 


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