Our five top skin microbiome trends of 2023: protecting and restoring microbial balance

The skin microbiome is going mainstream, with its growing popularity in recent years bringing it to the forefront of public awareness. As our understanding of the skin microbiome expands, skincare trends and innovations have continued to expand across various territories – including areas such as skin microbiome profiling, holistic living and the environment – with the ultimate aim of protecting and restoring balance to support the skin. Let’s explore skin microbiome trends from the past few months and how they are shaping the skin care industry.

1. Skin microbiome profiling: sequencing to uncover the secrets of your skin

Earlier this year, we shared an article from Bio-Me on next-generation sequencing for microbial profiling (see here). This touches on a core trend within the microbiome field, as the emergence of next-generation sequencing approaches and metagenomics in recent years represents a significant advance that has revolutionized the study of microbial communities [1,2]. With the technologies now available making it possible to extract valuable personalized information from a simple skin swab, this has continued to foster a wealth of new insights that help us understand the importance of the microbiome for our wellbeing and how our microbial dynamics change in relation to factors such as age [1,2].

As well as microbial DNA profiling, we are also now seeing innovation in other approaches to identify interactions between microbiota and skin . This includes metatranscriptomics, where RNA transcripts within the microbiome are used to identify which genes are actively expressed; and metabolomics, which involves analyzing the metabolites produced by the microbiome to identify the metabolic pathways involved, providing a functional readout of a microbial community’s activities and the potential impact on the human host. These approaches have also been complemented by an increase in multi-omics, where data are integrated from multiple omics approaches. This includes the integration of metagenomics, metatranscriptomics and metabolomics so that we can gain a more comprehensive understanding of the interactions between the microbiome, skin, environment, and other factors. 

These advances continue to feed into the development of diagnostic tools, new therapeutics and dermatological and cosmetic skincare products [1,2,3]. Skin microbiome tests, such as that of Gallinée, are also gaining popularity at consumer level for those who are interested in gaining deeper insights into their own unique skin ecosystem. These tests are often available as at-home kits and can be used to identify the types and levels of microorganisms present, which can vary between different individuals. The results can provide valuable information about the status  of a consumer’s skin microbiome, and guide informed decisions about the optimal skin care routine and product choices [4].

2. Personalized skin care: mapping and addressing individual needs

In line with this, personalized care is another trend that continues to grow within the skin microbiome field – where diagnostics and skincare treatments can be tailored for the unique needs of each individual based on the skin microbiome and other intrinsic characteristics, such as their genetics and lifestyle [5,6]. In the context of the skin microbiome, personalized care involves developing a skincare or therapeutic regimen tailored to an individual’s skin type and microbial status, with the primary aim of protecting or restoring balance. For instance, by understanding the unique composition of a person’s skin microbiome, skincare products can be selected to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria while minimizing the growth of harmful bacteria, helping to maintain a balance within the skin microbial community.   

This concept has gained increasing attention as more research has highlighted the role that the skin microbiome plays in relation to our skin. It offers the potential to create individualized treatment plans for conditions such as acne and eczema, for example, where the imbalances in the skin microbiome have been shown to contribute to the triggering and development of the disorders but where other intrinsic factors such as host genetics or age could be at play [7,8,9]. For those suffering from atopic dermatitis, which is linked to skin microbiome dysbiosis with reduced bacterial diversity and elevated abundance of Staphylococcus aureus, recent work has focused on identifying associations between the skin microbiome and patient cofactors with the aim of developing new personalized treatments – particularly those targeting the atopic-dermatitis-associated microbiome [8].

Increasing awareness of how skin microbiome dysbiosis and its interplay with host factors can also contribute to dry and oily skin and processes such as skin aging has also fed into an increase in skincare companies harnessing advanced technologies to help address specific skin concerns while maintaining a  balance to restore or protect the delicate skin. This has led to the development of targeted products that aim to address these needs, with increasing microbiome-related claims [9,10,11].

3. Skin microbiome balance: finding holistic equilibrium

As our understanding of the skin microbiome deepens and wider awareness grows, the significance of maintaining its balance has become increasingly evident. This includes maintaining a microbiome that is diverse as well as balanced [12]. However, with the skin microbiome being an incredibly diverse and complex ecosystem, maintaining balance can be challenging. Many potential sources of disruption exist in the modern world – for example, laundry detergents, dish washer soap, beauty and personal care products that use harsh chemicals, environmental influences such as climate and pollution, and lifestyle choices such as diet and hygiene [13].

In response, we are seeing increasing research around ways to help protect and enhance the natural powers of the skin and its microbiome, and a wave of interest from people that seek to live in a holistic way to support this. For example, when it comes to beauty and personal care, products that include gentle, non-disruptive ingredients that work in harmony with the skin’s microbiome, and avoid harsh chemicals and irritants that can compromise its balance, continue to prove popular. Developers such as dsm-firmenich also now offer a range of microbiome-friendly formulations to support such products (see examples here), and others companies such as MyMicrobiome now offer microbiome-friendly testing and certification to help meet these needs (find out more about this here).

There is also continued interest in the potential of diet to influence the skin and gut microbiome, as well as the influence of the environment that we live in and how to protect against it [14, 15, 16,17,18]. The impact of UV on the skin and its microbiome and the protective potential of sun care and UV filters, for instance, has recently been highlighted by the DSM’s Sun-Smart Community (see here) [19].

4. Prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics: the power trio

Prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics have featured on The Secret Life of Skin many times for their ability to help restore and promote microbial balance (find one of our past articles here), and we continue to see their popularity rise due to the beneficial effects for our skin.

Growing consumer awareness and interest, coupled with improving biological knowledge and technology, continues to drive developers to innovate and reimagine established products, feeding into the exploration of new avenues in the use of biotics. Synbiotics, for instance, contain a mix of pre- and probiotics with synergistic effects, and are helping to enhance the design and optimization of different products based on an individual and their  goals. Ritual Synbiotic+ is one example that has been cited as a top biotic product [20]. Containing a mix of pre-, pro-and postbiotics – including live Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Bifidobacterium animalis bacteria – clinical trials have shown that this product supports the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut and may help provide relief from bloating, gas and diarrhea. Meanwhile, HUM Skin Squad Pre+Probiotic has been developed to support the skin. Alongside konjac root extract, it contains a proprietary blend of various bacteria – Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Bacillus subtilis, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bacillus coagulans, Lactobacillus paracasei, Bifidobacterium lactis and Lactobacillus salivarius – and may help strengthen the skin barrier and manage acne by reducing breakouts [20].

Although more widely used as dietary supplements, biotics can also be used to benefit the skin when applied topically, where they can help protect and enhance the skin barrier and help normalize microbiome composition [21,22]. Over the past year, new cleansers and moisturizers, for example, have appeared on the market that support the skin by replenishing the good bacteria on the skin’s surface, helping to protect sensitive skin from irritants [23]. This trend is expected to continue in both beauty and personal care and the therapeutic space, following previous research that has shown beneficial effects from topical biotics for the treatment of certain inflammatory skin conditions, such as acne, rosacea and psoriasis, and in wound healing [24].

5. Environment: guarding against invisible threats

The impact of environmental factors on the skin and its microbiome has been receiving increasing attention over recent months, building on foundational evidence that indicates that geographical location and numerous external influences can significantly contribute to variation and disruptions in the skin microbiome of different individuals [24].

Variation in skin microbial communities has been found between people living in urban and rural environments [24]. External conditions such as harsh climates, changing seasons and increased exposure to pollution and UV radiation have been shown to damage the skin barrier and increase its sensitivity whilst also disrupting the balance of microorganisms on our skin [18,25,26,27,28]. These influences interact and combine with other host intrinsic factors and the skin microbiome, with these effects collectively referred to as the skin interactome (find out more about this concept here). Although the influence of the environment on the skin microbiome remains to be fully investigated, it is an active area of research and we expect to see new insights in the coming months and years – particularly in the face of increasing urbanization and climate change [29].

Within industry, increasing consumer interest in the impact of the environment on our skin is also reflected by the release of products designed to protect the skin against potential threats such as urban pollution and seasonal conditions, while also protecting the skin microbiome. Antioxidant-rich ingredients, sunscreens and barrier-repairing components in skincare products, for example, can help protect against external stressors and support the skin and microbiome. Going forward, there is an opportunity for developers to further explore the use and combination of ingredients that offer benefits such as UV protection and skin-microbiome-friendly qualities to help guard against the full spectrum of invisible threats associated with modern and urban living.

Skin microbiome trends discussed within this article were identified through social listening software and horizon scanning across consumer and supporting literature, also pulling in themes from our own contributor and editorial content over the past 12 months.

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.


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