Connecting the Dots Between Microbes


I may not be a cosmetic chemist but my role for Cosmetics & Toiletries is scanning news, patents and literature to highlight relevant observations and procure forward-thinking content to advance your product development efforts. Naturally this means searching ours and relevant industries for concepts that spark ideas. Here are some interesting points that hopefully connect to your overall project “constellation.” This month’s focus is on microbes.

• Microflora and Balance

Except in medical settings, it seems that gone are the days of skin cleansers that indiscriminately wipe out the “good bugs” and leave behind a lipid-depleted, epidermal wasteland. This unforeseen outcome, along with the growing natural/wellness trend, has shifted many manufacturers toward supporting skin’s natural microflora and, in return, its homeostasis.

In relation, a study from the University of Guelph published in Biology Letters revealed that red squirrels living in low-stress environments exhibit a healthier, more diverse microbiome. According to former graduate student Mason Stothart, “The greater the stress in the squirrels, the less bacterial diversity they had, which can indicate poor health.” His group found that lower stress hormones equaled a more diverse microbiome.

For some time, companies have invested in pre- and pro-biotic,1, 2 as well as microflora research in general,3, 4 and such work has enabled the development of products with activity against only specific bacteria. Even preservatives, whose purpose is to fend off bacteria, have been developed to do their job yet maintain skin’s microflora. The industry has definitely embraced the body’s “bugs” as important to skin care.

• Microbe-on-Microbe Warfare

Perhaps even more interesting are new efforts to leverage microbes against one another. Take foot malodor, for example. According to an invention by Reindl et al., isovaleric acid is the main culprit behind foot odor. It is generated by the enzymatic conversion of leucine by bacteria. Interestingly, a similar process uses microorganisms to generate isovaleric acid and create a major flavor constituent in Swiss cheese. (So it’s no coincidence that stinky feet sometimes smell cheesy.)

Reindl and colleagues found that products formulated with specific microbes can inhibit both the growth of isovaleric acid-producing organisms and their production of the acid.

Nestec has taken a different approach, using a Lactobacillus johnsonii bacteria strain to inhibit the ability of pathogenic flora to adhere to skin—literally pulling the rug out from beneath them. It’s not too far-reaching to envision this microbe-on-microbe tactic in future product applications.

• Give and Take

Going back to the idea of balance, however, is the fact that we still need “good bugs”—sometimes more than what we started with. In fact, a few years ago, work from Caltech found that commensal gut bacteria could treat autism-related symptoms in mice. Sarkis Mazmanian, professor of biology there, stated “I don’t think it’s far-fetched that, within a decade or so, doctors might examine your microbiome ... and if they identify an organism you are missing, you might be prescribed an FDA-approved pill that contains microbes—or microbial products—to restore [them].”

• Endpoint

Obviously, microbes have been around forever. Just ask Ötzi, the Copper Age Man. His latest autopsy revealed that Helicobacter pylori existed some 5,300 years ago, and is still present in half of all humans today. The point being: if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. It appears the industry is taking this to heart—and skin.

I welcome your feedback—send me a note at [email protected].


More in Literature/Data