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Increasingly in recent years, both scientific and beauty research have been pushing the case for bacteria. Skin flora, as it’s known, and which refers to the microorganisms that reside on skin, could in fact help in the pursuit of the perfect complexion, it seems. It’s a thought bound to give germophobes goosebumps (or worse, a rash). I, for one, have largely been sceptical.

Anyone who knows me knows that cleanliness rules my life. I change my pillowcase every three days, clean my mobile phone with antibacterial wipes every night, and never touch my face without washing my hands with soap. Still, I told myself that there has to be something to all the research surrounding the benefits of skin flora.

According to Dr Georgia Lee, a GP with a special interest in aesthetics, there are three types: one derives benefits from – but isn’t harmful to – the host (aka us), the second can cause diseases, and the third kind has a mutually beneficial relationship with the host. Over at IDS clinic, Dr Ian Tan points out that we shouldn’t try to get rid of the bacteria and microorganisms living on our faces. “There is strong evidence to show that skin flora helps to control the organisms that can cause diseases to humans, modulates our immune response and skin barrier function, and is integral to skin health,” he tells me.

To better understand how, I turned to the academic Julian Marchesi, an expert in the area as professor of clinical microbe research and deputy director of the Centre for Digestive and Gut Health at Imperial College London. “Don’t just think about skin as a surface,” he says. “There’s actually a colony of microorganisms living on you that all have functions, many of which relate to health.

“It is very important to maintain the balance of skin flora because our body works in unison with it. The microorganisms act like a barrier to protect skin from invading organisms. Think of it as a symbiotic relationship. We provide them with somewhere to live, and they provide us with protection against organisms trying to get in.”

This explains the rise – and growing interest – in products that work to control or stabilise skin flora. (They include topical pharmaceuticals, points out Dr Tan.) But French luxury giant Dior is going one step further to not just balance, but also actively encourage “good” skin flora behaviour with its reformulated Dior Hydra Life range.

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Clockwise from top: Dior Hydra Life Fresh Hydration Sorbet Creme ($110), Deep Hydration Sorbet Water Essence ($110), and Extra Plump Smooth Balm Mask ($92)

At the heart of it is haberlea leaf extract, which has been found to stimulate skin flora to produce more lipids, fatty acids and humectants, thereby boosting skin’s moisture retention abilities and strengthening its protective barrier for healthier skin. When this happens, skin cells will in turn produce proteins and see an increase in natural moisturising factors, hydrating and strengthening skin’s barrier even more.

“The usual approach to skin flora in cosmetics has been to maintain the balance of  good and bad ones,” says Edouard Mauvais-Jarvis, Parfums Christian Dior’s environmental and scientific communication director. “The skin is an ecosystem, but very often people forget (that skin flora is like) a fourth layer of skin. This is the first time that skin flora is being used in skincare this way.”

The updated Dior Hydra Life line spans nine products: an essence, a moisturiser, three masks and four cleansers ($62-$110). However, the all important haberlea leaf extract is only added to the Deep Hydration Sorbet Water Essence, Fresh Hydration Sorbet Creme, and Extra Plump Smooth Balm Mask (the only leave-on product among the range’s trio of face masks). According to Mauvais-Jarvis, the brand was selective because it did not see much sense in including it in skincare products that would be washed off fairly quickly.

Anchoring the full range, though, is mallow extract, which has long been a core ingredient in Hydra Life. It supposedly stimulates water circulation in the deeper layers of skin to boost hydration, helping cells to perform optimally. Together with haberlea extract, skin is said to become stronger, healthier and more hydrated.

In a nutshell, think of this as a collection of probiotics for your face that boosts “helpful” bacteria and microorganisms to keep skin healthy. Putting it to the test, I found the two star products – the essence and moisturiser – lightweight, with a cooling sensation that’s perfect for use in our humid weather. Plus, the former has fruit acids to tone and brighten, while the latter intensely hydrates, leaving a glow without excessive shine.

The most surprising result was how fresh and dewy my complexion looked after. My pores looked more refined, and there was no tightness or oiliness visible even after a gruelling 12-hour work day. No, I still can’t bring myself to touch my face without thoroughly washing my hands. And don’t get me started on the gravity of a dirty phone on skin. But with these bottles of “bacteria”, I’ll relent a little.

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This story first appeared in Female’s July 2017 issue.

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