The Legend of the skin microbiota

Mar 25, 20190 comments

The Legend of the skin microbiota

By Patric Gonry
Safety Assessor
S&C Consultancy.

Bacteria are finally cool. Skin care is suddenly beyond the care of skin cells, skin lipids and collagen. The personal care industry is now also responsible for a zillion more cells, called the skin microbiota. The skin microbiota is the collection of all life on our skin: bacteria, fungi, yeast, viruses and microscopic animals.

There is not a micrometer of doubt that the skin microbiota is vital to the skin. This is supported by thousands of articles.

The overwhelming interest in our microorganisms finds its roots in our very existence. One of the main reasons we were able to survive million years ago, amongst all the ferocious and mighty beasts was that we could eat what the other animals couldn’t eat: fermented fruits. Fermented food (a diplomatic word for rotten food) contains toxins produced by bacteria to avoid that their food would be attractive. An example of these toxins is ethanol. We humans can resist these toxins (especially ethanol). From that day on, our alliance with the microorganisms was forged… forever. We continued to perfect our alliance by using fermentation to preserve food and even make it more nutritious. A popular example is the German Sauerkraut or the Polish Bigos: cabbage fermented by lactobacillus bacteria. The cabbage is already healthy. The fermented one contains more vitamin C and B-vitamins.

The food industry understood longtime ago the importance of microorganisms, but microorganisms had always a negative connotation. Therefor a beautiful word was born – probiotic. It means living bacteria with a beneficial effect on our gut. However, something was overlooked. Bacteria living in nature have different gene expressions than a probiotic cultivated in a factory. Often the probiotic did not survive the stomach. Therefor a prebiotic was needed. A prebiotic is a polysaccharide with a beneficial effect on the microbiota. The prebiotic supports the probiotic to survive and even to grow. Prebiotics are naturally present in mother milk to help the gut bacteria of the baby. Microorganisms can survive harsh conditions if they only get food. Prebiotics are superfood for probiotics. The word prebiotic is not used in food, as legally it needs to be called fiber.

The importance of the skin microbiota for the health of our skin is finally recognized by the personal care industry. Microbiota derived claims are actually not a new trend. It is an innovative discovery to treat the skin more efficiently. The skin microbiota is one of the most protective layers of the skin. It is the outer layer in direct contact with the hostile environment. It is the most resourceful layer producing countless powerful antimicrobial peptides, and protective acids. When this microbial layer is out of balance, the skin is in troubles. All skin problems are related to an unbalance of the skin microbiota such as acne, dermatitis, dandruff, inflammation and even premature aging.

Cosmetic brands want to go for probiotic claims to support the skin microbiota, because this word is well established amongst the consumers and it avoids mentioning the bacteria-word. However, there are several technical and legal challenges. It is not advisable to have living microorganisms in a product. Most brands are using therefor dead probiotics, which is misleading, as this is not a probiotic anymore. You will need also a microscope to discover the scientific proof of the effect of probiotics, because a probiotic will need to adapt to an extremely hostile skin surface. To survive on the skin the probiotic needs to form a connective biofilm. To do so the probiotic will need food. And here we are again at the prebiotic.

Legal claims regarding the skin microbiota will be at the level of mild to the microbiota, supporting, prevention, sensitive skin.