Quarterly review: Q2 2021 the future of science and innovation

The future of science and innovation in the skin microbiome from a wide range of experts in the field

We are back with our second ‘In the Pulse’ article of 2021!

For this edition of our quarterly review series, we are diving into the future of science and innovation within the skin microbiome.

We put five key questions to a range of experts across academia and industry (scroll-down for the full list of contributors) to find out what they see as the most prominent innovation-driven trends and challenges in this rapidly developing field.

We hear how natural ‘biological tools’ could lead to the next big innovation, and that ongoing research is expected to continue to provide new ways to alter and strengthen our natural skin microbiome composition – with potential applications across health, beauty and personal care.

However, obstacles remain! Our specialists highlight that we still have a long way to go as we build on our understanding of the biology of the human skin microbiome and its functional implications. Also called out are research challenges, and the need to ensure that new products with microbiome-related claims are supported by strong evidence. So, sit tight and read on…  

What will be the next breakthrough innovation in skin microbiome?

Many of the breakthroughs predicted are centered around effectively using natural biological tools to manipulate the skin microbiome, as well as gaining an improved understanding of the microbiome in context of the wider body, with skin health, cosmetics and ageing all named as potential breakthrough areas. We take a look at some of the answers in depth below…

Julie O’Sullivan, Postdoctoral Researcher at APC Microbiome: “Biological tools – including bacteriocins, phage therapy, antibiotics, probiotics and prebiotics – have the power to manipulate the skin microbiota both directly and indirectly, and these tools will be increasingly employed in the treatment of skin infections in the future.”

Markus Egert, Professor for Microbiology & Hygiene at Furtwangen University and Founding Member of Institute of Precision Medicine: “The identification of microbial metabolites that clearly help to improve skin health, similar to butyrate in the intestinal tract. This would help to better differentiate ‘beneficial’ from ‘adverse’ microorganisms. Another breakthrough would be achieving a better (functional) understanding of the interaction of the skin microbiome with the other microbiomes of the human body.”

These predictions are reiterated by Dr Greg Hillebrand, who also suggests that concentrating on specific areas of the skin and keeping unmet need at the forefront will drive innovation.

Greg Hillebrand, Senior Principal Research Scientist at Amway R&D’s Global Discovery:The next (or first!) platform innovation will need to be aligned with the inherent biology of the human skin-microbiome ecology. Given the tremendous variation in microbiome composition and function across skin niches, it may need to be skin-site-specific (for example, scalp versus face). Of course, the next breakthrough innovation will fill an unmet need or have significant advantages over current solutions, something I think is easy to lose sight of when developing microbiome-based skin care.”

What are the most attractive applications and/or benefits with the biggest consumer potential?

Products for skin conditions – such as infections, impurities, dandruff and body odor – across both cosmetics and medicine have been highlighted as key areas of consumer interest by our experts, along with the opportunity for more personalized care…

Marisa Meloni, Founder and CEO at VitroScreen.: “The most attractive applications, ranking in order of the most interest, include personalized care, scalp health, deodorants, skin pathologies and beauty from within (food supplements). Within the already established application – that is, intimate hygiene, daily treatment and toiletries – a new attractive benefit could be to associate product mildness with a plus with respect to microbioma balance.”

Savanne Holster, Product Manager, Skin Health & Personal Care: “Incorporating the knowledge of host–microbiome interactions in the formulation of new products will pave the way for personalized medicine and cosmetics. I believe that in terms of the human microbiome, there is never a ‘one-size fits all’. For instance, prebiotics and probiotics could be linked to specific skin subtypes to enhance their beneficial effects.”

In line with skin microbiome trends that we have seen emerging due to the COVID-19 pandemic, hygiene has also been emphasized as a growing area of consumer potential.

Jason Harcup, Global Vice President Skin Care R&D, Global Vice President Prestige Division R&D, Vice President R&D New Business Creation Unit, Head of Trumbull R&D Site: “The obvious, but nonetheless the most attractive, continues to be in hygiene – especially during and coming out of the pandemic year that the world has just been through together. Microbiomic interventions for dysbiosis – whether in dandruff, malodor, oral health, or in protection against pathogens – are of huge relevance.”

What are the main trends you see at the moment regarding genomic techniques for measuring the skin microbiome?

The skin microbiome is most commonly measured using gene-sequencing approaches to assess what microbes are present. Genomic tools and methods are growing in use and evolving rapidly, so we asked our panel about the key trends within this fast-paced area…

Kristin Neumann, CEO at MyMicrobiome: “Still the easiest and most common way to measure the skin microbiome is 16s rRNA sequencing, but as techniques evolve, we are looking now at more inclusive analyses like whole-genome sequencing and metabolomics. A combination of these two techniques would be ideal.”

Radhika Bongoni, Head of Business Development, Skin Health & Personal Care: “Species-level classification, understanding cross-kingdom microbes on skin, metabolites and live versus dead bacteria are the main technical trends. Also, phages and demonstrating effectiveness for skin care and the microbiome i.e. biostatistics to prove the effects are shaping the future of the industry.”

As well as revealing the diversity of our skin microbiota, the genomic technologies available are enabling a better understanding of the microbiome’s role in skin conditions.

Jason Harcup: “Bioinformatics tools (network analysis, mediation analysis, machine learning) are self-reinforcing in their ability to unlock the network performance of microbiota. We have used these tools to very productive effect in elucidating the role of microbiome in both dry skin and pollution effects on skin. See Article in Scientific Reports and The Microbiome of Healthy Skin – Skin Microbiome Handbook”.

But the situation is even more complicated…

Marisa Meloni: “There are some limitations because, by using the genomic approach, we miss the most important information: how the bacterium is adapted to live on our skin, and whether it is still able to proliferate and colonize a surface and protect or damage (in the case of pathogens) the skin. A healthy and performant microbiome is not a matter of quantity of bacteria, but rather it is a matter of bacterial viability, adhesion, metabolism and crosstalk with other bacteria.”

What are the main challenges you see at the moment in skin microbiome research?

Looking at the emerging science and innovations reveals challenges as well as opportunities in the skin microbiome field. Some of the areas named by our specialists include difficulties in linking microbiome composition to the functional implications, standardizing research and ensuring that claims are backed up by data…

Rainer Simmering, Senior Scientist, Henkel AG & Co KGaA: “Since we know that every person has its own skin microbiome and it seems to be quite stable, one of the key challenges is to link certain skin conditions to the microbiome. Names of bacteria and yeast do help but there is a need for a holistic approach to understand the microbiome–host interaction. It is a bit of a chicken and egg issue – are skin conditions leading to a certain microbiome, or does the microbiome lead to the skin condition? I think it is both and many factors are intermingled. Resolving that task is key.”

Markus Egert: “The lack of understanding regarding the functional implications of the skin microbiome for skin health and disease. The lack of standardized techniques (molecular and bioinformatic) to analyze the skin microbiome. The temptation of many marketing departments to use the microbiome to make claims without substantial background data to support them.”

One of our experts further suggests that there remains a lack of understanding and experience even among the research community, in what is still a relatively new and emerging field.

Bernhard Paetzold, Co-Founder at S-Biomedic: “One problem is that because it is a hot field, many people just do studies without getting the necessary know-how or the right partners. There remains a flow of studies using inappropriate primers to analyze the skin microbiome, introducing many biases in the data generated. Proper data generation and analysis is crucial to understand the real picture.”

And it’s not only getting the research community up to speed that is seen as a challenge, as there is still more to be done for consumer education.

Radhika Bongoni:While more and more consumers are becoming more aware of the skin-related drivers behind the products, innovation and R&D is also improving dramatically. Educating a consumer with this advanced knowledge is a challenge!”

What do you wish to see in the market?

Echoing Dr Egert, almost all experts specified that they would love to see more responsibility and consistency in claims for products across various areas of health and beauty, with robust evidence to show that that microbiome-based modes of action are adding something extra to our skincare routines.

Rainer Simmering: “I would love to see products on the market with a solid scientific background behind their claims. I am not asking always for big in-vivo studies, like we need for pharma products, but a sound scientific dataset is required for such products – otherwise we will flood the market with non-effective products, which the consumer will not use any longer. The skin microbiome has so much potential to be a long-term subject in cosmetics, it would be a shame for it to burn out as ‘just a hot topic’.”

Katerina Steventon, Senior Innovation Consultant at National Biofilms Innovation Centre: “As a consumer, I would like to see new brands with efficacious products and fully substantiated claims entering this space, for both topical skincare and oral supplements to harness the skin–gut axis. I have a combination skin type prone to acne, so there lies a challenge to address two different environments – oily and dry skin – with technologies that go beyond the ‘microbiome friendly’ label on the oily T-zone. In five years, I hope we will understand skin microbiome much better – the trend is here to stay. I believe that understanding of ‘how microbes live’, that is, biofilm formation and cooperation of different microbial species, is the next big thing! We at The National Biofilms Innovation Centre are facilitating fast translation of new research from academia to industry, so that new science is commercialized for the benefit of the consumer.”

So as our knowledge of skin microbiome science develops, our specialists also want to see rapid and effective translation to ensure that technical innovations materialize in the products we see as a consumer.

Anthony Rawlings, Director at AVR Consulting Limited: “What I would like to see are technical innovations that manipulate bacterial receptor–corneocyte antigen binding and/or proof of relevance of the down regulation of the corneocyte antigens using new technology beyond the effects of glycerol. Understanding the effects of currently utilized humectants is just conceptual innovation that the consumer already experiences with current commercial formulations. The time is ripe for breakthrough innovation.”

Browse the Content Hub for more and follow us on Instagram if you are interested in reading more about current and emerging trends in the skin microbiome.


Aline Hueber

Project Director Skin Microbiome, DSM

Dr Radhika Bongoni

Head of Business Development, Skin Health & Personal Care, BaseClear B.V.

Dr Markus Egert

Professor for Microbiology & Hygiene, Furtwangen University; Founding Member, Institute of Precision Medicine.

Dr Jason Harcup

Global Vice President Skin Care R&D, Global Vice President Prestige Division R&D, Vice President R&D New Business Creation Unit, Head of Trumbull R&D Site, USA.

Dr Greg Hillebrand

Senior Principal Research Scientist, Amway R&D’s Global Discovery.

Dr Savanne Holster

Product Manager, Skin health & Personal Care, BaseClear B.V.

Dr Marisa Meloni

Founder and CEO, VitroScreen.

Dr Kristin Neumann

CEO, MyMicrobiome.

Dr Julie O’Sullivan

Postdoctoral Researcher, APC Microbiome Ireland.

Dr Bernhard Paetzold

Co-Founder, S-Biomedic.

Professor Anthony Vincent Rawlings

Director, AVR Consulting Limited.

Dr Rainer Simmering

Senior Scientist, Henkel AG & Co KGaA.

Dr Katerina Steventon PhD MSc

Senior Innovation Consultant, National Biofilms Innovation Centre.

Dr. Riccardo Sfriso

Lead Scientist Skin Microbiome Scientific affairs Skin Care, DSM

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