Quarterly review: Q4 2020 conferences round-up

In our first On the Pulse review of 2021, we’re taking a step back to review the insights 2020 brought us and what this means for the year(s) ahead.

Despite 2020 being a turbulent year, the personal care industry continued to make strides and – with all events gone virtual – the best and the brightest in the sector were able to share their insights and inventions from the comfort of their own homes.

Here, we’re taking a dive into the key themes explored during 2020 and revisiting top trends which continue to make waves.

Personalization of skin care, the gut-skin axis and formulating products to reflect the natural skin microbial composition all continue to generate noise in the scientific community.

Meanwhile, new approaches and inventions have come to light in the areas of anti-ageing, pollution, stress, and color cosmetics. In the field of the skin microbiome, the topics of multi-omics (a biological analysis approach focused on the “omes”) and quorum sensing (ability of bacteria populations to communicate with each other and coordinate group behaviour) have also emerged.

The themes and insights covered here were presented at the 31st International Federation of Societies of Cosmetic Chemists (IFSCC) Congress, the Microbiome Skin Connect EU (10-11 November) and the 7th Microbiome & Probiotics R&D & Business Collaboration Forum Europe (30 November-1 December) events. These virtual events took place towards the end of 2020 and covered cutting-edge life science, future formulation and function, and novel concepts.

Growing trends:

Personalization of skin care, the gut-skin axis and formulating products to reflect the natural skin microbial composition all continue to generate noise in the scientific community.


Increasingly, consumers are wanting more personalized solutions to problems and this is very much the case when it comes to skincare where the demand is huge. Indeed, Givaudan noted that 96% of consumers interviewed would consider personalization an important factor for their beauty products.

As the microbiome is unique for each person – much like a fingerprint – this triggers the idea of customized approaches to meet individual needs. Existing products on the market are typically clustered by key skin types rather than customized to more specific individual needs. As such, there is potential for microbiome data, learnings around the human genome, and technological advances to provide more tailored solutions.

Gut-skin axis

We are more aware than ever of the link that exists between gut and skin health. Moving from simply ‘you are what you eat’, to identifying specific species and supplements that could aid common skin disorders, many of the top personal care brands are exploring this connection in greater depth, including the idea of beauty from within” products.

There is ample evidence that dysbiosis of the gut microbiome and the resulting inflammation can trigger of exacerbate inflammation on the skin – often via leaky gut syndrome. As such, there are a number of clinical studies reporting promising results for oral probiotics alone or in combination with topical treatments for inflammatory skin diseases – such as acne, eczema, and rosacea. As presented by L’Oréal, examples of the gut-skin axis extending to include the brain in skin and neurogenerative disorders are also being researched.

Rewilding skin

Consumers are increasingly driven to understand the origins of cosmetics so as to be able to make more sustainable and ethical choices. Resultingly, new products emerging on the scene are focusing on using fewer ingredients which require fewer steps. Indeed, the idea behind microbiome skincare is to create an environment on the skin that allows natural microbial diversity to flourish. As such, formulations which reflect the composition of healthy human sebum, and containing postbiotics, to moisturize the skin and support barrier function are coming to the fore This is the current positioning chosen by most of the “microbiome related” products we see at the moment on the market. 

Novel research:


Presenting company: L’Oréal

Key takeaways:

Many different approaches are taken to reduce the effects of ageing on the skin and, increasingly, the beneficial impact of modifying the skin microbiome in some way is being leveraged.

Lancôme has developed a serum formulation containing seven pre-/pro- biotic fractions to improve skin dryness, roughness, and tightness, and decrease signs of ageing after two months of application. Further, the company claims the formulation provides effective recovery of the skin microbiome following skin aggression resulting from over-cleansing.

The serum has been clinically tested on Asian (Chinese and Japanese female volunteers) skin and includes the following fractions: Bifidobacterium longum, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, two Lactobacillus extracts, two long-chain sugars, and one single sugar.


A combination of 7 pre- and probiotic fractions on skin care formula targeting skin microbiome and decreasing dryness and tightness. (A Gueniche et al.)

Designing specific skin care formula targeting the microbiome and decreasing aging signs. (A Gueniche et al.)

Presenting company:

Key takeaways:

Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) is a key catechin (phenolic compound with antioxidant activity) found in green tea. It therefore has implications for skin health due to its antioxidant and soothing capabilities. However, in its natural state, the chemical’s stability and bioavailability are both low.

To combat this, the company has developed a new, stabilized version – an Epigallocatechin gallatyl glucoside. It was found that the antioxidant property of this bioengineered compound outperformed even vitamin C.

Since oxidative stress often causes inflammation typical of aged skin, the researchers turned their attention to two major inflammatory mediators of the skin – PGE2 and IL-8. Resultingly, they observed anti-inflammatory effects which has implications for the development of anti-ageing treatments.

Notably, this new stabilized compound was found to be activated (via hydrolysis) by a microbial form of the carbohydrate-hydrolyzing enzyme, alpha glucosidase, present in the skin’s commensal bacteria.


Epigallocatechin Gallatyl Glucoside as an antioxidant activated by the microbiome (A Scandolera et al.)


Presenting company: L’Oréal

Key takeaways:

In a bid to move skin microbiome research on from ‘who is there?’ to ‘what are they doing there’? the company has looked to understand the role of components of the skin microbiome by focusing on the identification of microbial and metabolic changes associated with chronic exposure to pollution using multi-omics*.

(*Multi-omics is a biological analysis approach focused on the “omes” which encompasses shotgun metagenomics, metabolomics, and proteomics.)

The team took an integrated, multi-omics approach using several techniques in combination to demonstrate that changes in composition and functional capability of skin microbiota were associated with chronic exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) – components of pollution. Indeed, exposure levels of PAHs increased microbial diversity in a dose-dependent manner.

The results demonstrated an association between pollutant exposure and a disequilibrium in the skin microbiota and its metabolites which, in turn, could influence the skin’s clinical conditions and account for pollution-induced declines in skin quality.

Source: Metabolomics, the cornerstone between microbiome and skin functions to understand pollution mediated effects (N Misra et al.)


Presenting company: Bloomage Bioactive

Key takeaways:

In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, stress and wellbeing has been a hot topic in 2020 and there is awareness that our mental state has an impact on our physical wellbeing with an increasing interest self-care (more on this here).

Bloomage addressed the effect of stress on the skin microbiome by exploring how internal cognitive aspects (stress and anxiety) influence the skin microbial composition of adolescents. Indeed, they found that the amount of stress an individual experiences correlates with the disruption of the skin microbiome balance. The effect of this is, of course, a decline of the skin’s overall health.

It should be noted that skin health during a time of stress and anxiety is also negatively impacted via the gut-brain-axis, due to the impact of stress on the gut microbiome.

Source: Evaluation of the effects of stress on adolescent skin microbiome (A Wang & W Yue)

Colour cosmetics*

*Colour cosmetics is a broad term which encompasses different categories of products for skin, eyes, cheeks, and lips, which aim to enhance overall physical appearance.

Presenting company: Toshiki Pigment Co., Ltd

Key takeaways:

The skin microbiome is increasingly being considered within the field of colour cosmetics with companies aiming to answer the question: do makeup products affect the skin microbiome?

Here, the researchers assessed the growth inhibitory potential of 5 different plant extracts, the best of which – meaning the one which selectively inhibited the growth of Staphylococcus aureus – was subsequently used in four different foundations. The chosen extract – Perilla Ocymoides leaf extract (Shiso) – resulted in a selective growth inhibition of S. aureus without significantly impacting S. epidermis when present at 2.5%. Its use in foundation therefore helps reduces the risk of developing a skin infection with its application.

Source: Development of makeup products that improve the skin condition (N Uekusa et al.)

Quorum sensing* and atopic dermatitis (AD)

*Quorum sensing refers to the ability to detect and respond to cell population density by gene regulation which allows individual bacteria within colonies to coordinate and carry out colony-wide functions.

Presenting company: Silab

Key takeaways:

S. aureus has previously been associated with atopic dermatitis (AD) development, yet it has been hypothesized that some S. epidermis strains (also part of the normal skin microbiome) may contribute to AD skin damage via similar mechanisms.

Silab found that some S. epidermidis strains produced strong cysteine protease activity and identified the root of this to be Extracellular cysteine protease (EcpA). Both abundance of S. epidermidis and the subsequent expression of EcpA mRNA were observed to be increased on AD-affected skin, correlating well with disease severity.

This activity was able to be impeded by another commensal bacteria, S. hominis, which was shown to interfere with S. epidermidis quorum sensing, thus inhibiting its EcpA expression.

Source: Quorum sensing of Staphylococcus epidermidis: a deleterious role in atopic dermatitis (L Cau et al.)

Beyond the topics described above, two wider themes were highly covered: technology and the microbiome, and skin health more generally. Some key contributions have been outlined below:


  • Givaudan – The company has developed a personalized skincare approach using machine learning to perform quick skin microbiome profiling. The ability to define skin microbiome signatures allows the use of the skin microbiota as a bioindicator for various skin conditions (oily, dry etc) – parameters included sebum, hydrating, sensitivity, and age (C Zanchetta et al.)
  • BASF & Biomillenia – The companies developed a high-throughput testing platform, “microbiome-on-chip” to screen the effects of a large library of active cosmetic ingredients on the skin microbiome (M Gault et al.)
  • BASF – To better mimic atopic dermatitis, the companies created a 3D reconstruction of human skin to reproduce and study atopic dermatitis in vitro (S Cadau et al.)
  • YUN Probiotherapy – Formulating with live bacteria remains a challenge meaning most probiotic products are suspected in cosmetic oil rather than being water-based. YUN is tackling developing topical water-based probiotic formulations with a micro-encapsulation technology which combines sufficient bacterial dosage with a longer shelf-life, using lactobacilli to reduce acne symptoms.
  • DSM and Pechoin – Facial mapping technologies have recently become a standard to visualize effects of moisturizers. Using a five site-specific facial microbiome profiling, this contribution examined the effect of a formulation containing a known plant-based sebum inhibitor on women with elevated facial sebum levels, associated with oily skin and associated skin complaints. The study measured participants’ sebum levels and microbiome profiles, enabling visualization of the facial sebum map as well as analysis of microbiome composition. Results showed that there were site-specific reductions in sebum – and correlating microbiome composition – as a result of the treatment, indicating that sebum distribution in the face is more complex than the familiar “T-zone”.

Skin health (general)

  • N Nokami et al. – This study assessed the relationship between facial skin parameters – such as moisture content, sebum, and pH – and the skin microbiome. They measured these parameters four times a year, and skin microbiome samples were collected twice a year, to track seasonal changes. They found significant differences in the skin microbiomes in summer and winter – likely due to its adaptation to different habitat conditions.
  • T Okamoto et al. – This contribution highlighted the potential use of microvesicles (MVs) derived from particular Coagulase negative Staphylococci (CoNS) as a skincare ingredient to support the skin barrier. This is because they showed that these microvesicles were engulfed by keratinocytes and promote gene expression of factors related to skin barrier function, such as filaggrin.
  • K Hirose et al. – Also focusing on CoNS, this paper looked at these bacteria as beneficial to skin health – an assumption made after assessing their lipase activity. By promoting the growth of CoNS (via casei bacteria), the authors showed that it promoted the existence of other commensal bacteria and the expression of an antibacterial peptide, thus helping balance the skin’s microbiome.
  • Z Shichen & Q Peijin – This contribution proposed newly-identified Acinetobacter strains as potential new probiotic ingredients for cosmetics. In an in vitro study, the group identified these strains (SM5 and SZH2) and found the fermentation products exhibited antioxidant promoted keratinocyte proliferation and migration properties which could be utilised in cosmetic use to benefit skin health.

Of course, this is just a snapshot of the novel discoveries and inventions that are continuing to come to light and in a very difficult year. Watch this space!

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