With all of her healthy eating, mindful living, Natarajasana-bending ways, Nadia Rahmat Kishlan – a member of the Female Collective and now a full-time model signed to local agency Upfront Models – is the embodiment of today’s wellness convert. Find balance and fill your life with goodness to radiate goodness, goes the mantra of the like-minded. She’s stumped when I bring up microbiome beauty though. Yet – unknown to her – she already sort of subscribes to its philosophy with all the Greek yogurt she laps up and swears by for its benefit to gut health.
The microbiome refers to the ecosystem of organisms that lives in the likes of one’s skin, hair and gut, comprising bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microbes. Before you recoil in disgust, experts like Nicolas Travis – founder of Singapore-born beauty brand Allies Of Skin – point out that much of this bacteria is actually good for you. It’s exactly what that shot of fermented strawberry-ginger-cayenne brew is supposed to work on – or rather, with – when it enters the intestines; its probiotic content improves digestion and overall well-being. The skin’s microbiome works the same way and – with the millennial-fuelled explosion of kombucha, keffir and kimchi – beauty brands are starting to recognise its value in the quest for the perfect complexion.
This year alone, at least eight companies have released products said to balance the skin’s microbiome or rid it of bad bacteria (say, the kind that causes acne), including powerhouses such as Dior and Lancome. The latter in fact updated its best-selling, decade-old concentrate, the Advanced Genefique Youth Activating Serum, recently with seven pre- and pro-biotics. Said to deliver essentials like lipids and amino acids to the microbiome, they reportedly boost skin’s resilience and youthful glow.
One of the most newfangled brands to debut here in 2019: Gallinee by French pharmacist Marie Drago that retails exclusively at Sephora and is based entirely on microbiome technology. Every one of its products contains a patented triple biotic complex that reportedly enriches the good bacteria in the skin’s microbiome. Drago’s inspiration? A pre- and pro-biotic focused diet that helped control symptoms of her gluten intolerance and got her thinking, why can’t the same science be applied to skin?
Indeed the growing obsession with wellness, natural beauty and holistic living might explain this new interest in microbiome beauty. As Dr SK Tan of the aesthetics institution IDS Clinic points out, research on the skin’s microbiome is fairly nascent, having only blossomed in the past five years or so, making skincare targeting it even newer. (He, for one, dabbled in the field as early as 2015, when he launched a capsule-form probiotic powder that prevents the development of acne-causing bacteria on the back.)
So how does the microbiome affect one’s complexion? According to Tan, studies so far have shown that there’s a direct relation between the two, with the microbiome responsible even for skin’s natural defence mechanism. In short, a healthy microbiome equals healthy skin, and microbiome-friendly skincare has generally been formulated to restore it to its normal, balanced state.
An even more underrated fact: that – just like in the gut – the littlest things can upset the “zen” of skin’s microbiome. Harsh cleansers, for example, can tip its pH balance off-kilter while antibiotics wipe out both beneficial and unwanted bacteria (explains why docs always stress that topical versions be used sparingly – and that microbiome-focused skincare is often recommended as an alternative for eczema or acne).
It’s only the start of a revolution, say experts like Elsie Rutterford, co-founder of the hip British label Bybi Beauty that introduced a cleanser packed with the chicory root-derived prebiotic Inulin two months ago. Tan however reminds that while a healthy skin microbiome is essential, it alone will not promise a flawless visage. Guess the key to everything really is balance.
Here, eight must-know skincare products from 2019 that work on the microbiome one way or another.