As it turns out, microbes are team players, according to research from Rita Colwell, Ph.D., distinguished university professor and microbiologist at the University of Maryland. During the SCC Annual Meeting, she presented on informatics and what they reveal about the microbiome.
For example, differences in microflora exist between men and women, healthy and psoriatic skin, even the left and right hands in an individual. "The preference for left or right hand dominance shows up in these microbial differences," said Colwell.
Perhaps most interesting for product developers is evidence that there are polymicrobial aspects to disease; meaning more than one entity is typically involved. "We've been able to identify the species, strain and genus of microbes and how they function, as well as those exhibiting genetic antibacterial resistance."
What might this mean? During the Q&A session, a question about P. acnes provided an example. "P. acnes has generally been considered one of the primary actors in acne but it is also a commensal bacteria. The difference is in the strain of P. acnes." She emphasized the need to better understand the specific strains of bacteria being targeted.
In light of this work, traditional training for cosmetics chemists also was called to question. "As cosmetic chemists, we're trained to kill bacteria to preserve products," one attendee said. "But what does this do to the bacteria on the skin? And are refrigerated cosmetics next?"
Colwell responded, "Again, there is a need to better understand microbes [and strains]. It behooves the industry to understand what microbes are in their products and to modify accordingly."
The discussion ended in an agreement. "This is the new reality for cosmetics." And that microbes offer a layer of protection that cannot be overlooked.