Approaching skin microbiome innovation

The skin microbiome trend and concept are increasingly popular with consumers as a way of thinking about maintaining healthy skin and industry are always seeking out exciting, innovative ideas to build on this receptivity. With Dove being one of the first multinational ranges to market products with a microbiome-friendly claim, the space is primed and ready to grow in size.

It is our aim at NBIC to become leaders in research excellence and translate the best scientific findings into industry know-how and eventually consumer claims. We’ve put together some key opinions and research that stands out amongst other resources to encourage you to find innovative angles in your exploration.

So what is a biofilm relative to a microbiome? 

As we illustrated in January’s issue of Cosmetics & Toiletries,

“A biofilm is the predominant way the microbiome (the total genetic composition of all species present) of any ecological niche including skin will establish itself.”

To start with, a great review of the skin microbiome space was published by the US thought leader, Deanna Utroske in June 2019 reviewing the approach to-date by companies large and small, from ingredient suppliers to finished product manufacturers. The article sets the scene and also touches on consumer expectations and education. Understanding that claims are paramount in skincare, she reviews the current situation,

“Products are being described as ‘microbiome gentle’, ‘skin-flora friendly’, ‘supporting the skin’s microbiota’; and products promise to ‘restore skin’s instinctive defenses’, ‘support skin’s balanced environment’, and the microbiome itself is being described as ‘skin’s own microflora’, ‘the skin’s natural ecosystem’, or ‘the skin’s bacterial ecosystem’. Further ‘skin ecology’ or the skin microbiome being ‘the living protective layer on your skin’, the terms ‘microbiome beauty’, ‘probiotic care’, and just ‘micro b’ to describe the products in this space.”

The industry is immersed in open Innovation, listening out for new ideas and encouraging expert debate in front of consumers. The Secret Life of Skin’s Content Hub, run by Swiss ingredient supplier DSM, offers lots of information and inspiration, including skin microbiome basics and a glossary. Late last year, the DSM research group also published a comprehensive scientific review giving an overview of the current knowledge, which included available sampling and analysis techniques, as well as approaches to help restore and balance the structure and functionality of the skin microbiota.

One of the key papers in the skin microbiome space, supported by Unilever, has been on Consumer Safety Considerations of Skin and Oral Microbiome Perturbation. Professor Andrew McBain from Manchester University states,

“Personal care regimes can affect the microbiomes of the skin and the oral cavity, and it is important to ensure that they do not unsafely disrupt these microbiomes or compromise health. This paper involved the input of 31 specialists in microbial risk assessment, microbiome research, microbial ecology, bioinformatics, mathematical modelling, and immunology.”

Skin surface is an arid and desquamating environment. As one of the leading consultants to the personal care industry, Dr Anthony Rawlings states,

“Our understanding around how, and what, microbes bind to in healthy skin is still in its infancy. We have to focus on the fragile interface of the upper skin layer, the stratum corneum, to understand that this desquamating yet constantly rebuilding tissue undergoes maturation to arrive at its intrinsic hygroscopic properties. While this physical and chemical barrier acts as a substrate for the attachment of bacteria, cell shedding counteracts this in order to prevent infection and a variety of lipid and protein molecules present in the skin aim to inhibit and control microbial growth.”

There are many examples of industry interest in this field of science and Unilever is one company possibly active in this area of research, as evidenced recently by a published patent and a PhD post based at the Quadram Institute. The patent outlines a topical prebiotic composition, comprising of a saccharide isomerate for personal care application to the skin, scalp, axilla or oral cavity. The prebiotic formula aims at ‘microbiome balancing’ through preferentially promoting the growth of good bacteria, as well as contributing to the natural defense system of the human body.

A recently advertised PhD studentship funded by Unilever “aims to investigate the interactions of the host with the microbiota during the early life development to explore and exploit the microbiome for development of the next generation of skin care maintaining skin health across the life course. Despite the increasing recognition of the importance of the skin microbiome health, there has been little investigation of the baby skin microbiome, and almost no investigation of the longitudinal development of that microbiome after birth. This research focuses on development and evolution of the human skin microbiome and the impact of microbial disturbances in early years on skin health. The multi-disciplinary project, using samples from an ongoing pregnancy and infant cohort, will involve a combination of wet and dry lab techniques/skills including; next generation sequencing, bioinformatics, microbial culturing, and cell culture”.

Understanding the nature of the ‘healthy skin microbiome’ is a baseline for any skincare claim, as well as for venturing further into the different skin environments such as the underarm, scalp and feminine hygiene. As the old microbiology rule goes, the surface dictates the microbial characteristics of its occupants.

Dr Katerina Steventon, NBIC Senior Innovation Consultant