The Skin Microbiome: A New 'Organ' and How to Leverage It


"The microbiome is hot, and this is because the cost of genomics has drastically come down," said Magali Moreau, Ph.D., associate principal scientist for open innovation at L'Oréal. She added the perception of it has changed as well. "We view the microbiome more as a participant, for example, in metabolism, etc. It's like the discovery of a new organ." In other words, the microbiome is not just an inhabitant of skin, it is actively engaged with it.

These insights and others were presented at the Microbiome Symposium, organized jointly by L'Oréal and the NYSCC, and sponsored by L'Oréal and Givaudan Active Beauty. Held on June 5, 2018, at the L'Oréal headquarters HUB, the event sold out, as one might expect—underlining the interest from the industry in this emerging area of science.

As those in attendance had hoped, Moreau provided a view of how L'Oréal is approaching the microbiome for new product concepts, which fell into the three primary areas where the microbiome is extremely off balance: dandruff, acne and atopic dermatitis.

"We must understand these diseases and conditions to understand how to bring the microbiome back [into balance]; for example, addressing flare-ups and shifts in the microbiome to bring it back to a healthy state." This, in turn, provides the desired cosmetic effects.

She gave one example of unexpected findings in relation to dandruff. "We are very interested in the scalp microbiome, especially as it pertains to dandruff. Initially we thought it was not so diverse but found it to be moderately diverse... The amount of fungi on the scalp relates to dandruff but the ratio and balance between entities is key—so it's not just about providing total anti-bacterial solutions."

Another finding related to recent insights on acne. "We are learning the type of strain of P. acnes is crucial." Not every type is implicated in acne and some types are actually beneficial to skin. For additional insights from Moreau, visit our Cosmetics & Toiletries Facebook page, where we broadcasted a portion of her presentation, live.

"We view the microbiome more as a participant, for example, in metabolism, etc. It's like the discovery of a new organ."

The second half of the Microbiome Symposium focused on measurement techniques and the practical development of active ingredients to leverage the microbiome's potential. However, stepping back a moment, Denis Wahler, Ph.D., global manager for technology partnerships at Givaudan Active Beauty, first considered whether consumers were ready for this type of technology.

"Sixty percent of consumers are convinced of the positive effects of probiotics on health. And 41% of millennials are using probiotics in the United States; 45% of them are interested in trying probiotics for facial skin care." According to Mintel, interest in probiotics is coming initially from millennials, although there is interest from consumers 55+ as to how the microbiome relates to beauty. So the answer appears to be: yes.

Having established this, Wahler presented measurement techniques to assess the "stratum microbium," as he refers to it, showed how their combination in a new technique known as nanopore sequencing provided a total perspective.

Finally, he took these findings into a practical setting to focus efforts on active ingredients with real effects. "We have approached ingredients for three main purposes: to balance and enhance the microbiome, through probiotic strategies; to protect the microbiome for fundamental skin health; and to trigger or activate the microbiome for different skin effects." Wahler gave examples of acting on β-defensin, to protect the microbiome, and acting on precursors to activate the microbiome for skin whitening effects.

So, it seems the answer to our questions of whether the industry can leverage the microbiome, and if consumers are ready for it, is, in both cases: yes. Whether the recent interest is short-lived remains to be seen; but the amount of work ahead and pure volume of diversity in the microbiome itself suggest interest will last for the foreseeable future.

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