Looking forward to the future of skin microbiome research.  

Since its launch in 2019, the Secret Life of Skin has taken us on an incredible journey of exploration within the expansive realm of skin microbiome research. Now, five years on, what was once a lesser-known field requiring promotion and explanation has evolved into an established, rapidly expanding subject with thousands of yearly published research papers.

In recent articles, together with our team of creators and contributors, we have looked back at these past five years of skin microbiome research. Today though we intend to look forward. Where do we expect the ongoing journey in skin microbiome research to take us? What do we expect to be the prominent upcoming research focuses? And what developments can we hope these might generate over the course of the next decade?

We’ve spoken to the expert team of skin scientists at dsm-firmenich, Mathias Gempeler and  Martin Pagac,  as well as Dr. Barbara Brockway, one of the Secret Life of Skin’s top contributors, to get their thoughts on the future of this exciting research field. We are delighted to share those with you here.

1. How the skin microbiome is studied

When skin microbiome research was in its infancy, the focus was necessarily on establishing suitable sampling and measurement methods, gaining experience in conducting clinical studies, and generally developing reliable, accurate methodologies. However, recent technological innovations have facilitated a shift in this focus, enabling us to determine not only which bacteria and fungi are present on the skin, but to take a more holistic view and ask what is the function of specific microorganisms? And what results from their actions and interactions amongst themselves and with the skin?

Resolution versus cost

The relationship between the skin microbiome and health and disease has been studied and characterized using culture-dependent and culture-independent methods. Recently, advances in culture-independent methods in particular, such as high-throughput sequencing, have expanded our understanding of the role of the skin microbiome in maintaining health and promoting or combating disease. [1] Improvements to techniques, such as sample collection, processing, amplification and data analysis, as well as adoption of new technologies, including next-generation sequencing and metatranscriptomics, have helped to decrease the price of microbial profiling whilst increasing the resolution of data. This is a trend that we expect will continue in the future.

Continuous sampling

Furthermore, we anticipate that advances in microscopy and omics techniques will mean that cross-sectional studies, which look at data at a single point in time, will be replaced by longitudinal studies, employing continuous sampling. This will allow us to monitor the ‘ebb and flow’ of microbial communities in real time, and thereby better understand the impact of cosmetics and treatments on the skin microbiome.

Big data and AI

With these improved techniques and technologies generating increasingly more data, data analysis is becoming a formidable task, particularly given the abundance of microorganisms comprising the skin microbiome and the vast amount of biological information associated with each of them. However, advances in big data and artificial intelligence (AI)-related machine learning can enable analysis of huge data sets related to microorganisms and determine their relationships with health and diseases. [2]

Combined with the advancements in practical techniques and technologies, these significant improvements in data analysis are expected to generate novel insights into the skin microbiome. For example, we should be able to better understand multi-kingdom interactions, to develop novel therapeutics to treat dermatological conditions, to establish forensic applications, and to consolidate datasets originating from multiple technologies (multiomics), supporting a more holistic view of the skin microbiome. [1]

Functional benefits

Together, all these significant technological improvements are expected to allow scientists to understand and harness the functional benefits of the skin microbiome.

Until now the world has focused on developing microbiome-friendly products, and maintaining a balanced, diverse, and healthy microbiome. However, in the future we will be able to consider what individual microbes do on or for our skin, acting either on-site or indirectly via beneficial metabolites expressed in the gut (the gut-skin-brain axis).

Currently, the poor understanding of exactly which microbes have what impacts is limiting interest in the field of skin microbiome research from big brands. They require substantial data and evidence to support efficacy claims for ingredients and treatments, which current relative abundance studies cannot provide.

Overall, it has become clear that in the future the focus will not be what microbes are present on the skin, but what impact they and their metabolites will have on the skin in specific situations.

2. Ingredients and treatments

It is hoped and anticipated that an improved understanding of the functional benefits of the skin microbiota will open the door to products that are increasingly efficacious and specific/targeted. Ingredients and treatments that are ‘more targeted to’ and/or ‘better manage’ the skin microbiome and so encourage and maintain healthy skin and combat disease and changes due to aging, etc. These products could take numerous different forms.

Personalized skincare

Every individual has their own complex, varying, and dynamic skin microbiome, which is influenced by many factors. Currently, we know that the skin microbiomes of healthy individuals are ‘in balance’, known as eubiosis, and that if they become ‘out of balance’, dysbiosis, this leads to unpleasant skin conditions. However, we are not yet able to define what a healthy microbiome looks like. It is expected that AI-driven bioinformatics will soon give us a common formula that we will be able to use to judge how balanced and healthy an individual’s microbiome is. This will require not only a measurement of the type and numbers of microbes present, but also a multiomics analysis of their activity and impact on the skin.

Via this approach, it is hoped that big data and AI will become key enablers of a personalised approached to skincare, in which individuals will be able to use specific products suited to the state of their unique skin microbiome.

Feeding the skin microbiome

We anticipate that ingestibles and topical products, which are designed to help the skin work better with its microbiome, may also become more important. With the gut-brain-skin axis gaining prominence within the field of health and wellbeing, we believe we can expect to see growth of inside-outside cosmetics, which focus on encouraging a healthy relationship between the skin and its microbiome via nutrients for both the gut and the skin microbiome.

An improved understanding of the functional benefits of the skin microbiome will support development of these new treatment options, which could also reduce the overuse of antibiotics, and therefore aid in the fight against antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

Probiotics, which are “live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host”; prebiotics, which are “substrates that are selectively utilized by host microorganisms conferring a health benefit”; and postbiotics, which are a “preparation of inanimate microorganisms and/or their components that confer a health benefit on the host”, have all been highlighted as potential new therapeutics. [3]

In particular, we anticipate that populations of skin microbes that have been made less virulent using CRISPR gene editing could become ‘super-probiotics’ for the skin microbiome. And that the use of prebiotics associated with food, such as inulin, and other gut-friendly probiotics, are likely to be replaced by materials and microbes more closely associated with the skin.

That being said, we believe pre and post biotics hold the most potential in terms of providing functional benefits to the existing skin microbiome and improving skin health.

Using microbes as biomanufacturing platforms

An innovative route to products that might be difficult to manufacture, but that could address the underlying causes of sensitive skin and skin irritation, is in situ biomanufacturing using our skin’s resident microbes. Scientists aim to develop cosmetic solutions that harness our skin microbes, using their natural biological processes to produce beneficial metabolites, such as anti-inflammatory lipid mediators, on the surface of our skin. [4] By relying on transformation by the skin microbiome, the cosmetic actives will function only when needed and at the right physiological dosage.


Another way to help reduce the use of antibiotics is to harness the immense power of vaccines to protect us from life-changing conditions, such as acne, atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, and other hard-to-treat skin diseases. If children could be vaccinated pre-puberty and then be protected from severe acne, that would be a significant medical milestone. Vaccines are also a particularly attractive solution as they have the potential to be effective even against antibiotic resistant microbes such as MRSA. [5]

Such vaccines are likely to become available very soon as they are already the topic of significant interest, with multiple clinical trials underway, and Sanofi’s RIAce-001 mRNA vaccine likely to progress to Phase II trials.


We also anticipate that bacteriophages – viruses that selectively target and infect bacteria – could be utilised in combatting bacterial dysbiosis, and thereby managing dermatologic conditions such as acne, psoriasis, and atopic dermatitis. Thanks to the high specificity bacteriophages typically exhibit for their target bacteria, phage-replacement therapy is a promising therapeutic strategy for the control of pathogenic bacteria in dermatologic disease. [6]

Microbiome as a source of actives/drugs

Finally, we also anticipate that mining of the molecules produced by the skin microbiota could lead to discoveries of new compounds, not only for cosmetics but also other pharmaceutical areas. It could provide new antibiotics, new treatments for allergies, and many molecules for other potential applications.

3. Acceptance and adoption

These advancements in technology mean more biome-targeted products are on the horizon.

As these products become more available, we’ll likely see greater consumer awareness of the skin microbiome and calls for clearer, standardized labels on products with skin microbiome-modulating ingredients.

We’re thrilled to be part of this growing field and excited about what’s ahead in skin microbiome research!

Browse the Content Hub for more.


[1] T. M. Santiago-Rodriguez, B. L. François, J. M. Macklaim, E. Doukhanine and E. B. Hollister, “The Skin Microbiome: Current Techniques, Challenges, and Future Directions,” Microorganisms, vol. 11, p. 1222, 2023.

[2] T. Sun, X. Niu, Q. He, F. Chen and R.-Q. Qi, “Artificial Intelligence in microbiomes analysis: A review of applications in dermatology,” Frontiers in Microbiology, vol. 14, p. 1112010, 2023.

[3] T. Deng, H. Zheng, Y. Zhu, M. Liu, G. He, Y. Li, Y. Liu, J. Wu and H. Cheng, “Emerging Trends and Focus in Human Skin Microbiome Over the Last Decade: A Bibliometric Analysis and Literature Review,” Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology, vol. 16, p. 2153–2173, 2023.

[4] M. Pagac, “Harnessing the power of the skin microbiome: using skin-resident microbes as on-site biomanufacturing platforms,” The Secret Life of Skin, 15 February 2023. [Online]. Available: https://thesecretlifeofskin.com/2023/02/15/biomanufacturing-platform/. [Accessed 17 December 2023].

[5] B. Brockway, “Vaccines to combat skin diseases associated with the skin microbiome,” The Secret Life of Skin, 12 October 2023. [Online]. Available: https://thesecretlifeofskin.com/2023/10/12/vaccines-skin-microbiome-and-skin-diseases/. [Accessed 12 December 2023].

[6] N. Natarelli, N. Gahoonia and R. K. Sivamani, “Bacteriophages and the Microbiome in Dermatology: The Role of the Phageome and a Potential Therapeutic Strategy,” International Journal of Molecular Sciences, vol. 24, p. 2695, 2023.

Keep exploring

You have Successfully Subscribed!