The gut microbiome has exploded into the public consciousness in recent years. A quick glance at Google Trends shows a surge in searches for “gut microbiome” starting in 2015. In comparison, searches for “skin microbiome” are significantly lower (see figure below).
Much of this can be correlated with the research in these different areas, with almost 12,000 science articles published on the gut microbiome last year, compared to 340 papers on the skin microbiome and only eight on scalp.
“Knowledge is growing fast on the skin microbiome, thanks to the advance in testing methods,” Marie Drago told us. “It’s still a fraction of the knowledge on the gut microbiome. But the big advantage of skin microbes compared to the gut ones is how easy they are to access, with a simple swab in the right place.”
Drago founded Gallinée in 2014. Following the company’s acquisition by Shiseido in 2022, she became Gallinée’s Chief Creative Officer.
According to Euromonitor International's Product Claims and Positioning database, there was a 78% increase between 2019 and 2022 in the number of products within beauty and personal care claiming to contain “probiotics”.
Drago noted that the US is “clearly leading the market in “probiotic” products, even if the actives are actually postbiotics”.
“European brands, especially the ones sold in the pharmacy sector, have integrated microbiome-based products in their formula and started to communicate on it,” she added. “Probiotic is also a keyword you see a lot in Asia, even if knowledge of the microbiome is quite low. But Asia clearly leads the way in fermented ingredients!”
Postbiotics are defined as a “preparation of inanimate microorganisms and/or their components that confers a health benefit on the host” (ISAPP, 2021). Since the microorganisms and their components are not alive, postbiotics are easier to use when formulating topical products, said Drago.
“Postbiotics have been used for decades in topical skincare, but only now do we understand the mechanism of action. It means we also see a flurry of novel skincare ingredients, thanks to the amazing work of some ingredient manufacturers,” she said.
“You still have excellent efficacy while having good shelf life and sensoriality. But a lot of brands are experimenting with live topical probiotics, such as Lactobio, Skinome, and Yun,” she noted.
While the gut-skin axis, that bidirectional communication between the gut and the skin, is still in its infancy, the market is already seeing probiotic-based gut-skin axis supplements launching, said Drago. (For an extensive review of the science: Microorganisms, 2021, 9(2), 353)
“Gallinée is doing a whole range with the aim to help with different skin conditions. On the rest of the market, you see mostly well documented strains with the addition of some well proven prebiotics on top,” she said.
“Claims are extremely difficult in the supplement market. That why you often see words such as “glow”, “clear” and other words evocative of an effect.”
And it’s not just around claims that there are some regulatory challenges, particularly for topicals, she said. “Live probiotics are clashing against the need for challenge tests in beauty, where you have to prove nothing is growing in your products,” she said. “Vocabulary is also a challenge, especially for the word probiotic that can be misused by some brands.”
“The microbiome is the answer!”
It’s not just probiotics and postbiotics, with Drago also saying there is a lot more we could do around prebiotics, and how to stimulate precise bacteria on the skin.
Some prebiotic-based products are already on the market, like, for example, Colgate-Palmolive’s Sanex brand that launched in 2021 with inulin and butyloctanol. While Colgate-Palmolive acknowledged at the time of launch that butyloctanol is not a “traditional prebiotic ingredient”, data published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science supported its prebiotic potential to inhibit odor-causing Corynebacterium and boost skin-friendly Staphylococcus.
For the wider skin microbiome category, what comes next and where are the current knowledge gaps? “Just like the gut microbiome, we are always looking for better testing methods,” said Drago. “Better diagnostics are also key, as we could create truly personalized skincare going forward.”
In March 2023, Gallinée launched consumer skin microbiome test kits with Sequential Skin, enabling the analysis of 20 types of skin bacteria diversity by simply applying a patch to the forehead for 10 seconds. “I think it’s a great first step,” said Drago.
“I love how skin microbiome solutions are moving into new categories: scalp, oral care, gut-skin,” she added. “It opens a lot of possibilities in a market that can sometimes feel saturated.
“The microbiome space is also perfect for the deep trends in beauty: minimalism, holistic beauty and cleanical products. As always, the microbiome is the answer!”