Fermentation in personal care?
WHEN FOOD AND WELLNESS INFLUENCE THE BEAUTY INDUSTRY
What is Fermentation?
Fermentation is a metabolic process in which compounds are broken down by micro-organisms, such as bacteria and yeast, into simpler and smaller compounds such as enzymes, carbohydrates, amino acids, vitamins… We all consume fermented foods and drinks: wine, vinegar, kombucha, sauerkraut, bread, kefir, cheese, yogurt and the list goes on! Fermentation is a very effective process to increase preservation, improve nutrients bioavailability and ease digestion. Fermented food is also proven to be helpful for gut health which can support skin health.
“The global fermented food and ingredient market is projected to grow from $512.19bn in 2018 to $689.34bn by 2023, bolstered by beauty brands.” Say WGSN Consumers increased focus on fermented food is now reflecting into beauty.
Fermentation seems to bring together naturality, science trust and efficacy. According to Mintel, 28% of all skin care products launched between December 2018 and November 2019 contained fermented ingredients; 54% of these products with ferments claimed anti-aging effects; and 16% of women in the United States reported they were interested in using skin care products containing fermented ingredients. If we look at Korea, fermented food and fermented skincare are old news.
We saw microbiome beauty soar during the global pandemic though, with a strong concern for skin barrier protection which propelled “biotics” to reach new heights. Fermented beauty is an extension of this trend. So how do these fermented ingredients work when applied directly onto the skin? Let’s try and decode what this trend is about and understand the different technologies and potential traps.
Are Ferments and Biotics the same?
Ferments are not all “biotics”. Let’s define biotics to lay the groundwork. The WHO (World Health Organization)/ FAO(Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN) define probiotics as “Live microorganisms, which when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host” (WHO/FAO, 2002).
While Gut dendritic cells are present outside the intestinal mucosa, Skin dendritic cells are only present in the dermis, which means that so-called Probiotics applied topically won't have much impact if they don't reach the dermis. Having said that, if living microorganisms were to penetrate into the skin, they would have a rather irritating effect which is not the intent at all.
There are no probiotics in topical products. What can be found in personal care products are probiotic lysates or filtrates which are cell-free, therefore not live and called: postbiotics. They can have “ferment” in their INCI.
Prebiotics are compounds rich in sugars and fibers that support the growth of beneficial bacteria and allowing them to better compete with detrimental ones. They can be plant extracts or the result of a fermentation process.
What does the INCI tell us about an ingredient?
Breaking news! If an ingredient contains “ferment” in the INCI, it means it’s derived from a fermentation process! It doesn’t mean it’s a postbiotic.
On the other hand, an ingredient can be obtained from a fermentation process and not showing it in its INCI, such as: - Squalatne - Sodium Hyaluronate - Ceramides - AHAs - Amino acids - Enzymatically esterified emollients Please note that the INCI is not enough to know an ingredient’s manufacturing process. Ask your supplier.
What are the fermentation benefits?
Fermentation enhances the effectiveness of natural ingredients by improving the quality of active phytochemicals and facilitating better skin absorption.
That’s the theory. But the biotechnology process itself can differ and result in different skin/ hair benefits. Lactobacillus Ginseng Root Ferment is Korean Red Ginseng fermented with Kimchi Lactobacillus. It offers smaller active molecules in higher concentration (Ginsenosides) than its non-fermented counterpart which provides better skin penetration. In vitro studies are used to substantiate some anti-aging benefits. In Vitro is a good start but nothing beats clinical trials.
Best to question the process to understand the ingredients benefits better:
- Is the ingredient obtained a by-product of the fermentation or an enzymatic cut of the actual plant extract?
- Which microorganism was used? How many?
- Is the strain used a new discovery with specific skin benefits or a lab strain?
- Is a smaller molecule always a sign of better efficacy?
- Is it a sustainable process?
The answers will guide you towards the right choice for what you’re trying to achieve and to make sure it matches your brand values.
Can fermentation support sustainability claims?
Ask your suppliers. Fermentation comes in many forms during a manufacturing process.
Let’s take isoamyl Laurate for instance, a light emollient. It can be produced via conventional esterification requiring high temperatures and creating large amounts of waste. It can also be produced by an ecoefficient enzymatic process leading to a minimised environmental footprint. Same INCI but very different impact.
Let’s take specific Marine Ferments: once a water sample is collected from a chosen location and the microorganism has been isolated, identified and characterised, it can be fermented over and over again and tested to confirm its expected benefits. There’s no need to keep harvesting, it’s all lab and computer work from there.
Here are some examples of international brands promoting fermented ingredients:
Where to from here?
There has been an increase in patent filings related to ferments, and many big brands in the beauty industry have started incorporating ferments into their products as next-generation natural ingredients. These brands will play a major role in creating awareness among beauty enthusiasts regarding the benefits of ferments.
Contact your preferred suppliers, discuss with them what you’re working on and find out about their fermented ingredients, their manufacturing process and substantiated claims. This way you can make informed choices and communicate clearly about your products with your customers and the end consumers.
This article was published earlier this month in the Science of Beauty Magazine June/ July 2022 edition.
You can access the whole magazine if you're an ASCC member.