Beauty & the microbiome: Protecting our eyes, our environment & our microbiome

Alex Fisher, Senior Beauty Analyst for market research provider Mintel, provides an overview of the key takeaways from Mintel’s “Redefine beauty with the microbiome”. Looking at global trends and insights, Mintel has identified a wealth of opportunities in health and beauty provided by the microbiome in a post-COVID world. We summarise the recent report, exploring the latest trends and products on the market. (Please note, products are not recommended or endorsed by The Secret Life of Skin.)

Gen Z have their eyes on probiotics

With COVID-19-associated measures such as mask-wearing and remote working part of our new normal, reports of several skin health conditions have been on the rise.

As well as ‘maskne’ – acne caused by frequent and extensive mask wearing – Gen Z has also reported that they are feeling the effects in the delicate skin around the eyes.

The combination of mask use and increased screen time has been manifesting in dark circles, fine lines and dehydration around the delicate eye contour.

How does this work? Well, regular mask use directs irritants and bacteria directly into this sensitive area, exposing and disturbing the delicate balance of microorganisms that live in and around our eyes. (You can read more about maskne here.) Meanwhile, blue light from increased screen time causes issues as it further degrades the eye contour and leads to dark circles.

The impact is such that, in Mintel’s 2020 survey, nearly half (49%) of 16-24-year-old skincare product users in the UK reported the presence of dark circles, highlighting an emerging need for eye-skin protection.

The onslaught of eye-contour aggressors, as well as an increasing focus on preventative care and well-being among younger generations, has created a demand for new and innovative solutions to help protect the sensitive eye microbiome. So, what’s out there already?

Deeply moisturises the skin around the delicate eye area and contains a strengthening probiotic (live bacteria) complex to help smooth lines and reduce puffiness and dark circles.

  • Vital Hydra Solution Biome Eye Cream by Dr Jart+

A blend of prebiotic and probiotic complexes (not sure what these are? Find out here or keep reading), plus hyaluronic acid, helps strengthen the skin’s moisture barrier around the eyes to hydrate skin.

  • Green Tangerine Vita C Dark Circle Eye Cream by Goodal

A combination of vitamin C, vitamin P and green tangerine extract helps clear up and brighten the skin around your eyes. Adenosine and peptide ingredients also boost elasticity to firm the skin and reduce dark circles.

Notably for Gen Z, it’s not just remote working that’s increasing screen time.

Andrew McDougall, Global Beauty & Personal Care Analyst at Mintel, has further highlighted that Gen Z tends to spend longer online outside of work and invests more time in e-gaming than older generations. This is thought to be increasing the value placed on products targeting e-hydration (as well as brain health and focus), particularly as consumer understanding of the microbiome continues to grow.

Waterless products offers a sustainable solution

Sustainability is a rising trend within beauty and personal care, with many of us seeking to reduce our environmental impact by simplifying our use of products and making more informed and responsible choices. Don’t take our word for it: in France, for example, 61% of beauty and personal care product buyers aged 16–24 years are more loyal to brands acting to minimize their environmental impact.

Emerging microbiome research and awareness is driving an increasing demand for the inclusion of microbiome-associated ingredients in skincare products – notably prebiotics (non-digestible food ingredients that ‘feed’ our healthy bacteria) and probiotics (live bacteria).  As such, bacterial technology is now offering innovative eye-care solutions that better protect the skin microbiome while simultaneously providing a more sustainable solution to beauty through waterless products.

What is a waterless product? This term refers to skincare products which are either used without a liquid solution or through activation with water at the time of use – these can be powders or solids like a bar of soap. Waterless products are being introduced across a range of categories, including masks, shampoo and conditioner, setting powders, toothpaste, soap and more.

Waterless products have been growing in popularity as they are easy-to-use on the go, and they can deliver key active ingredients to the skin while also reducing water consumption across the skincare supply chain. The format enables higher-concentration products and extends shelf life, but reduces the need for preservatives and excessive packing and storage processes (such as refrigerated probiotics or prebiotics).

The result is an emerging market for convenient and environmentally conscious products with potent formulas and less waste, that also offer a new and engaging experience for your skincare ritual.

An increasing line of dry products has been appearing in shops and online, enabling beauty and personal care choices to become part of the global effort to live more sustainably. Some you might’ve seen include:

  • Waterless handwash powder by Nature & Decouvertes
    Contains 100% natural ingredients with probiotics to help maintain hand skin microbes.

  • Shower Powder with White Oyster Shell by Perlucine
    Sulphate-free and zero-waste, this body powder uses powdered oyster shells from Brittany to maintain the microbiome.

  • Cleansing Powder Scrub with Baking Soda by Bioré
    Powder scrub exfoliates to refine dead cells while also maintaining the microbiome.

While people often wish to choose the sustainable option, price has been shown to be a key factor for engagement in eco-friendly products. For example, more than two-thirds (76%) of UK women aged 16+ who use and buy facial skincare place priority on price when choosing between different skincare products.

Skin microbiome protection is a growing priority

Our microbiomes are the first line of defense for our bodies, and it is well established that they play a vital role in our natural immunity.

As research trickles into the mainstream, so does consumer appreciation of the microbiome. We are increasingly seeking products that respect and maintain the integrity and balance of the skin microbiota, with an improved understanding that such products can help our bodies to function, as well as improving how we look and feel.  

Skincare is one area that has seen an uplift in demand for products that are proven to support our microbiome – specifically around the addition of probiotics and prebiotics to beauty and personal care products such as washes, cleansers, serums and sprays. In fact, Mintel found that half of US adults (18+ years) that use soap, bath and shower products are expressing interest in microbiome-friendly products.

Several other health trends are thought to contribute to the rising demand.  We are more aware than ever of the threat of infectious outbreaks, such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused many of us to take a step back and re-evaluate our personal care practices. Indeed, our focus on well-being has intensified and compelled us to take a more holistic view of our health and hygiene, and to consider protective and preventative measures.

The rise of antimicrobial resistance and sepsis – which occur when harmful bacteria become resistant to antibiotic drugs – is another growing danger to our health, and may also be exacerbated by the increased hand-washing and sanitizing measures currently in place due to COVID-19. 

With the scene set for microbiome-based skincare products to become an established beauty staple, here are a few products already available that help maintain the natural functions of the skin microbiota:

  • Renewal Daily Cleanser by symbiome
    Formulated with xanana flower and lead oil from Brazil that regulates and protects the microbiome.
  • Crimson Beaty Face Serum by NINI Organics
    Incorporates quora noni, an intelligent microbiome protector, that regulates sebum in oily skin.
  • Shower gel by Nivea
    Relaunched following dermatological testing to ensure that it protects the microbiome. The product is also 99% biodegradable.

As well as beauty and personal care, our growing appreciation of the microbiome is generating an increase in food and drink products and supplements that contain ingredients to improve and protect the body’s microbiome.

It’s clear that the ‘new normal’ of the past year has had a profound effect on the way we see our health with new issues emerging that were previously encountered to a lesser degree, if at all. Indeed, who’d heard of ‘maskne’ before 2020? It’ll be interesting to see how the consumer perspective changes as and when we revert to a more open lifestyle and what new technologies will emerge to meet consumer’s expectations for improving their eye care, purchasing sustainably and protecting their skin microbiome.

Explore more microbiome basics in the How it works section of the Content Hub and follow us on Instagram for the latest updates!


1. Redefine Beauty with the Microbiome (Mintel, 2020).

Please note, all products mentioned above are not endorsed, recommended or affiliated with The Secret Life of Skin.

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